BBC launches opera 'celebration' season

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa as Violetta in La Traviata at The Metropolitan Opera for What Makes a Great Soprano Dame Kiri will examine what makes a great soprano for BBC Two

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Opera stars Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Rolando Villazon have been lined up to take part in a wide-ranging BBC opera season.

They join the likes of Stephen Fry, Rick Stein and Katie Derham for Opera On The BBC, which starts on TV and radio and launches online this week.

Fry will front a BBC Four show about Wagner, in which he confronts the troubled legacy of the composer.

And Radio 3 will also launch a search to find the nation's favourite aria.

The top 10 will be revealed on 2 June and listeners can vote for their pick of the bunch.

Radio 3 Breakfast presenter Rob Cowan said: "From Che Faro to Nessun Dorma, I foresee an exciting battle for the top spot."

'Emotional power'

Sara Mohr-Pietsch, co-presenter added: "An aria can be hugely powerful and also intimate - it's the moment in an opera when a character steps out from the drama to share their innermost thoughts with the audience.

"I'm really looking forward to finding out which arias have captured listeners' hearts."

TV highlights will include Stephen Fry On Wagner, and TV chef Rick Stein's journey to trace the role of food in Italian opera, drawing parallels between cooking and composing.

Fry, whose passion for Wagner was ignited aged 10, said: "The sheer emotional power of his music is almost unmatched.

Antonio Pappano Antonio Pappano travels across Italy to explore the central role of opera

"It comes from within you like an extraordinary explosion. The depth and the range and the sound of it is extraordinary - it's there for life. It's like having a whole portal into another world.

"I wanted to make the piece because of course he's not a simple composer, it's a lot to confront."

BBC Four will also see Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera, travel through Italy in a three-part series to explore the central role of opera.

Tenor and Popstar To Operastar judge Villazon will look at what makes a great tenor for BBC Four, while Dame Kiri will find out what makes a superb soprano for BBC Two.

Opera On The BBC starts on Thursday on Radio 3 with Bellini's La Sonnambula from the Paris Opera, starring Natalie Dessay.

Roger Wright, controller of Radio 3 and BBC Proms director, said: "Opera on the BBC is a great opportunity to celebrate opera in a way that no other organisation can, linking our radio, television and online offerings to bring audiences something really special.

"Throughout the year, Radio 3 is the home of opera and we are looking forward to working with our BBC colleagues to give opera an even higher profile in our programming."

The season also includes The Proms, which will see performances by Placido Domingo and Bryn Terfel.

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