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8.8.04

Does Anyone Want to Be Pavarotti?

It was only a matter of time before some television genius came up with a reality TV show I might actually watch. Unfortunately, for now it's only in Great Britain. Stephen Moss reported (Has anyone seen my vazhny?, May 19) in The Guardian on a show called I Want To Be Pavarotti, which was to be broadcast on BBC4 on May 29. It was a single episode featuring a voice teacher and three of his students:

Robert Alderson, principal vocal tutor at Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music, doesn't beat about the bush. After about three minutes of my first-ever singing lesson, he is showing signs of dismay. "You've certainly not got a natural instinct for this," he says in his blunt Mancunian way. Cue collapse of would-be opera sensation.
The show's Web site has some information about the three "contestants":
Mario Chalilopoulos isn't an obvious candidate for the world of opera. Having sung The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round on Pop Idol [the British version of American Idol], Pete Waterman told Mario he'd heard 'frogs with more talent'. Suffice it to say, he never made it past the first round. But Robert Alderson watched that episode of Pop Idol and heard in Mario the makings of a fantastic tenor. We follow their journey as Mario travels from Middlesborough to meet Robert and is transformed from a 20-year-old drifter to a singer with real talent and ambition. After only 10 lessons, Mario bravely takes to the stage to sing a recital in front of his friends, family and peers with amazing results.

Thirty-four-year-old Mike Bracegirdle was a Finance Director earning more than £150,000 a year, with a beautiful wife, a Mercedes and a seven bedroom house. But he decided to give up the job to follow his lifelong dream of becoming a great tenor, going to study with Robert as a postgraduate at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. After just six weeks at the college, Mike gets the lead part in the end of year opera—an amazing feat considering that everyone else going for the part has been singing for years. We follow Mike as he prepares for the part of Tom Rakewell in The Rake's Progress and as he discovers the huge personal sacrifices he's going to have to make if he's to follow his dreams.

David Shaw is a 17-year-old from Oldham. His parents, Roy (a cab driver) and Christine (a schoolteacher), do everything they can to send David for lessons with Robert. David even has a job icing cakes in a supermarket to supplement the family's income. We go with him to the audition that will decide whether or not he gets a place at the Royal Northern College of Music as an undergraduate, and wait nervously with Roy and Christine as the letter arrives that they hope will tell them David's dream has become a reality.
Since I enjoyed listening to the NPR report on aspiring operatic soprano Maria Jooste (Training to Be a Diva, July 30), who has been in the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Washington National Opera this past year, I would probably end up watching such a show on television.

I think the show's title has turned out to be unfortunate, if the new book about Pavarotti can be believed. Tim Page got his hands on an advance copy of Herbert Breslin's The King and I: The Uncensored Tale of Luciano Pavarotti's Rise to Fame by His Manager, Friend and Sometime Adversary (to be released by Doubleday in October) and published an article about it (Rend Me a Tenor: Pavarotti Takes a Beating in Manager's Book, August 3) in the Washington Post. The author presents his work as "the story of a very beautiful, simple, lovely guy who turned into a very determined, aggressive and somewhat unhappy superstar." You have to read the excerpts quoted by Tim Page to believe how nasty it is.

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