Music on TV

There's a real Roberto Alagna story to be told some day, but for now "The Star" - Sunday's opener to the Channel 4 Naked Classics series - will do nicely. Starting where The House left off, it put the genre's norms into reverse. Barely a note was sung to camera. Instead it entered a nether world of publicists, managers and record executives in which the tenor himself, like God, was often a presence to be inferred rather than directly observed.

For one who has served time watching these circles, it rang gruesomely true. It caught the authentic flavour of a recording session at the point of burnout, complete with nit-picking corrections, frayed voices and star walk-off. "It's very simple," the man from EMI dissembled, "Roberto, er, is tired tonight." In Paris, a peeved Jonathan Miller had his rehearsal two-timed in favour of an appearance at a government party, where in turn Alagna arrived too late to sing. Best of all was the New York publicist's search for a line that would turn Alagna into the Fourth Tenor. After devising a poster to sell him as a hunk who happened to make beautiful music, she decided his life was "a great Rocky story". Alagna came over on screen well enough, sparky and engaging, but if he is a hunk, I'm Ernest Hemingway.

"The Star" also had the flavour of an editorial line being cooked up, about the perils of pressure. Subtle at first, leaving the music business's own words to speak for it, the line came into its own once Miller had moaned that "we never know where we are with him". Vox pops at a New York Met interval all seemed to have bought it. One of them was allowed to call Alagna a nervous wreck, even though he had a cold and had already lost his voice once before the performance. The programme's final chilling caption read "Roberto now has a new agent".

You could read this two ways: either he wanted less "pressure", or better publicity than he was getting. There were no direct clues. Alagna seemed happy to go along with the lifestyle, driving through the night from a Lyon performance to a Paris rehearsal and bouncing back from his flop at the Met to launch his best-selling duets album. Anyway, on a world scale of pressures, the opera circuit scores quite low - two minutes of ITV's Hollywood Lovers on Wednesday night were enough to show what big- time stress is. Alagna looks as though he will survive, especially with the public support that broadcasts like this manufacture (even the Royal Opera learnt once more after The House that there's no such thing as bad publicity).

Try as it might, Naked Classics can't avoid being a part of the PR industry it criticises, but it is a big advance on the old-style portraits made in active collusion with record companies. EMI was cast in the Mephisto role, a corporate-sized blow-up of The House's Keith Cooper. The programme's director Henry Singer managed to catch a career on the brink of going out of control, just before the careerist noticed.

Alagna has what it takes to get a grip. Others are not so lucky.

BBC2 has stayed in the creative world proper for its Sound on Film series, also new this week (Tuesday), where composers and directors indulge in 15-minute collaborations. Pity about the running order: only viewers who didn't abandon the mix of pretension and cosiness in One in a Million will have seen Blight. Here John Smith let images of derelict houses and reiterated spoken memories convey the heartbreak of extending the M11, while Jocelyn Pook's score grew from drones to lyrical elegy. By deftly using Steve Reich's device of turning speech fragments into melody, the soundtrack provided an essential link between film and music and helped make a focused, integrated piece of work.

It felt especially powerful after Terry Braun's whimsical tale of a composer and daughter sketching scores and going out for lottery tickets - the numbers chosen by a musical device. Django Bates supplied a busy Third Stream-ish accompaniment that kept hopping between big-band harmonies and Sixties plinks, and appeared as a traffic warden. The music sounded stuck on as an afterthought, like improvising to a silent movie, and didn't touch the sense of inevitable binding together of sight and sound that Blight reached. It had to be, and was, an Arts Council commission, too unmotivated to exist except as a response to a funding scheme. Still, the Council should be pleased with this first instalment - one hit out of two is not a bad proportion for new music in any form.

Robert Maycock

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?