BBC launches biggest ever series on opera

Radio and TV stations will interweave performances with programmes about opera

The BBC's determination to popularise opera was emphasised today when it launched the biggest series of programmes it has ever commissioned about the artform.

Jan Younghusband, the new commissioning editor for music and events, said it would be the BBC's "largest ever celebration of the genre". She added: "I've worked all my life in television and I've never seen so much opera in one go. It's an incredible collection of original programmes."

The programmes will crisscross BBC2 and BBC4 and Radios 2 and 3. They will include a three-part series on Italian opera fronted by Antonio Pappano, the Royal Opera's music director, a man programme-makers believe could become something of a TV star.

Elsewhere, Stephen Fry will expound on his love of Wagner and confront the Nazi "stain" on the composer's reputation, while Rick Stein will examine the links between food and the works of composers such as Verdi, Rossini and Puccini. Gareth Malone, from BBC2's The Choir, goes to Glyndebourne to become choirmaster on his first opera.

Rolando Villazón, meanwhile, examines what makes a great tenor while Dame Kiri Te Kanawa does the same for sopranos, giving the wise advice to singers: "If in doubt – smile."

Younghusband, who moved to the BBC last September from Channel 4, where she was head of arts, said she was keen to have programmes which were "from the engine room": putting practitioners centre-stage. Other highlights include Diva Diaries on BBC4, following Danielle de Niese as she makes her debut as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro at the Met in New York, and a behind-the-scenes look at Graham Vick's productions of Aida and Othello. There will also be full-length operas, including the Royal Opera House's The Marriage of Figaro and Glyndebourne's Don Giovanni.

On the radio, Radio 3's breakfast programme will next week begin the search for "the nation's favourite aria". Station controller Roger Wright said: "It will be entirely down to listeners who are passionate in their views. Who knows whether Nessun Dorma will finally be replaced by something else?"

There will also be an A-Z of opera, the regular Saturday night opera will be a supplemented by another on Thursday afternoons, and there will be one-off programmes such as one on why it is mostly operatic heroines who suffer the most gruesome of deaths.

Younghusband said the programmes announced today were just the beginning. "You're going to be seeing more. It's part of a much bigger long-term commitment to opera." She said she wanted more people to fall in love with the genre. "Opera is good fun. It's this crazy and mad entertainment, and I want it to be popular. I want as many people as possible to see the thing I love."


Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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