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Rolando Villazon, reality TV star

January 18, 2010 |  2:27 pm

In December, Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón announced that he would return to the stage in March in a Vienna production of Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love," his first full-fledged opera performance since undergoing throat surgery last year.

But fans of the opera superstar don't have to wait until then to catch a glimpse of the singer in action. The U.K. television station ITV has enlisted Villazón as a panelist for its new reality television show "Popstar to Operastar." Though the broadcast is only viewable in the U.K., episodes have already found their way onto YouTube.

The show features eight pop singers who compete against each other by performing operatic arias. The competitors include Alex James (Blur), Bernie Nolan (The Nolans), Kym Marsh, Danny Jones (McFly), Darius Campbell, Marcella Detroit, Jimmy Osmond (the Osmonds) and Vanessa White (the Saturdays).

As with "American Idol," contestants are eliminated one by one as viewers vote for their favorite singers via cellphone or Internet. James was the first to receive the boot after receiving the lowest number of votes. "That is as far from opera as singing can be. Totally bad," Villazón was quoted as saying about James' performance.

Joining Villazón on the panel are Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins, British TV personality Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and American rock musician Meat Loaf.

During the season, Villazón coaches some of the contestants, offering backstage advice on technique and stage presence.

In the above clip, Villazón offers some advice to Danny Jones, a lead singer and guitarist for the British pop band McFly, who is one of the favorites to win.

"I think you started weak because you were nervous," Villazón tells him after a performance, prompting a series of boos from the more appreciative audience.

In an online video interview with the tabloid Daily Star, the famed tenor says he has never seen a reality TV show before. "Of course, I hear about the success of reality shows ... I think it's extremely interesting to be for the first time inside the show," said Villazón.

The mainstream press has not taken a liking to the new show. A critic for the Daily Telegraph called it "dumbed-down tripe" and slammed Villazón for his participation in what he sees as an unmitigated disaster.

"I have admired [Villazón] enormously, but he has in my eyes lost all his dignity and integrity by participating in this ghastly vulgar trash," wrote Rupert Christiansen.

The Independent has reported on the backlash against the show in the opera world, but also noted that some singers support it.

"I think it's a good thing that 'opera' is being presented in a prime-time slot," tenor Russell Watson told the newspaper. "I've been a huge supporter of popularizing this genre. Long may it continue."

-- David Ng


Villazon illness forces L.A. Opera and Metropolitan Opera to shuffle casting