Classical Music Buzz > Classical music | The Guardian > TV review: Maestro at the Opera

Where has all the laughter disappeared to in the BBC's upper-class X Factor?

One of the TV comedy highlights of 2008 was Peter Snow, who says he loves classical music, attempting to conduct an orchestra. With a wild look in his eye and a maniacal grimace, he waved his arms about all over the place, beating two, then three, then maybe five. He demonstrated no talent or understanding for Prokofiev, whose Dance of the Knights he left not just dead but horrifically dismembered. It was a joy. Sadly, he was voted off and the show – Maestro, a talent show for posh people – became a lot less fun. I'd assumed that was the last we'd see of it.

Now though, four years on, here it is resurrected, in the form of Maestro at the Opera (BBC2). So there's singing this time, too. And drama. Though as television, drama is what it lacks. It's all a bit woolly and unclear: contestants have a go, then they get a bit of coaching, then they have another go. And it's all quite polite – no chair-swivelling, or get-off-that podium buzzers. There will be eliminations at some point, but not yet. Now it's more about gentle encouragement. That's all very well for the people taking part, but where's the fun for me?

So who is taking part? Well, not Peter Snow, or anyone who is as good value. We've got Trevor Nelson off the radio, who has no experience of opera and can't read music, though he does have a feeling for it, which is probably more important. The others do have some kind of background in classical music. Craig Revel Horwood, the Strictly judge, certain has the moves. Likewise Josie Lawrence, the comic actress, who basically mimes conducting. And Marcus the Sautoy, the maths dude, is very good at beating time and counting, though lacks some artistic expression – which is as you'd expect, really.

The thing is, none of them is very bad at it, so there's no Peter Snow moment. But then neither are any of them very good at it either. So Puccini, Bizet, Donizetti etc are neither murdered nor brought to life. And I'm neither laughing nor crying.

Sam Wollaston
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