Classical woes: BBC Radio 3 recruits Katherine Jenkins

Classical woes: BBC Radio 3 recruits Katherine Jenkins


norman lebrecht

October 18, 2021

In a clear sign of the classical station’s desperate confusion, it will devote two hours next weekend to the Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins.

The programme is titled ‘Mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins finds star quality in music’.

The blurb continues: Known to millions, mezzo soprano Katherine Jenkins has forged a unique musical path, from headlining at international sporting events and for dignitaries around the world, to starring in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel at the London Coliseum. Bridging the worlds of classical and pop, the multi-award-winning singer has released no fewer than fourteen No. 1 Albums to date, and in July of this year became a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music.

Jenkins, 41, is described in mass media as ‘an opera singer’. She has never sung an opera. She holds a music teacher’s diploma from the RAM and went on to make million-selling crossover records. Mention of her name provokes jealous rage among professional opera singers.

Her espousal by Radio 3 will further alienate its dwindling core-classical audience.

The generic watering down of a core-classical station has taken place under Radio 3 controller Alan Davey.



  • Allen says:

    I don’t believe in harping on about KJ, but she does not belong on R3.

    There must be hundreds of talented, up and coming singers more worthy of attention.

    Can’t help feeling that R3 is deliberately cocking a snook at what it sees as its traditional R3 audience.

    And don’t tell me, this will introduce more people to opera. No it won’t. It might introduce more people to KJ, and that’s as far as it goes.

    • V. Lind says:

      Whatever one thinks of KJ, she is a working singer. This programme uses her a a guest host, and while her selections may include some of her own work — the nature of the programme probably mandates that — some proportion of it is devoted to her consideration of the work and styles of others.

      I know little of her aside from the snide remarks I have read on SD for years — she has cut little swathe in Canada — so will be interested to hear this programme to see if she brings musical knowledge and intelligence to her themes.

      • Allen says:

        She has been known to make one or two unwise remarks herself – playing the class card for instance. Russell Watson has tried the same trick. They are clearly unaware of the modest backgrounds of opera singers like John Tomlinson and Thomas Allen, to name but two.

        If they can’t take it, they shouldn’t dish it out.

      • Stweart says:

        Can’t be any worse than listening to Georgia Mann
        slurring on.
        Bring back Ian Skelly !!!

        • Garry Humphreys says:

          Bring back Cormac Rigby, Peter Barker, Patricia Hughes, Tom Crowe, etc. – but unfortunately they are no longer available!

  • M McAlpine says:

    Of course there will be people who are jealous of success. But sour grapes is no answer. I can’t see that Kat has actually committed a crime in selling records or giving people pleasure, even if it is not my own particular taste. I do realise though that success is a crime among those whom it has missed.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The point is that it has nothing to do with classical music proper. It is watering-down the genre, to reassure potential audiences that it is really not all that old fogey stuff. It is an attempt to reach-out to people who hesitate to listen to something labelled ‘classical” because they think you need an academic degree to derive some pleasure from it. And pleasure is all that counts, on that level.

    • Allen says:

      You seem to have missed the point. Is this what R3 is for?

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Heaven forbid that the lower orders should be admitted into the hallowed halls of Radio 3!! What class snobbery and disdain is on display here.

        We are really getting confused messages; first Beethoven is a white-only, colonialist figure and a modern popular singer isn’t acceptable in ‘the academy’. Head spinning and jumping to conclusions; the two physical activities of choice.

        • Allen says:

          And you’ve monumentally missed the point. People from modest backgrounds ARE allowed on R3 – provided they can deliver.

          The issue is her performance, it’s KJ who brings up class. It’s a popular ploy to counter valid criticism.

    • Helen says:

      Not so much jealous as irritated by her trying to have her cake and eat it. Her fans are the worst offenders.

      She sings operatic arias but appears to resent the sort of comparison that all opera singers have to endure.

      Then there’s the “graduating from the Royal Academy of music” on her website. No mention that it was a teacher’s diploma, perhaps leaving readers with the wrong impression.

      Can’t have it both ways.

      • Gerry McDonald says:

        I think you’ll find there was a time when degrees in “musical performance” didn’t exist in England. You went through the Performance Course, came out with a meaningless certificate and you could either cut the cake or not. You can have a Master’s in performance and it may help you get an audition, it won’t do much to help you pass it!

    • John Soutter says:

      One person’ success is another’s waste of time … Look at Boris Johnson … if you can …

    • John Soutter says:

      One person’s success is another’s waste of space … eg Boris Johnson … Success? Do me a favour!

      • Warren stutely says:

        Almost as bad as middle class guilt ridden “tossers” who loathe and fear working class people they prefer to “theorise” from the safety of their ivory towers. Still it could be worse if they actually tried to help real people !!! Why don’t they just go and lean on a wall or measure the incline of kerbs

  • Alexander says:

    of course she is not an operatic singer nevertheless she is a nice person so I don’t think she can bring harm to anybody’s ears by singing on radio3, all the rest is “at controller’s expense” …
    P.S. briefly – whatevs 😉

    • Warren stutely says:

      Quite ridiculous. There are thousands of “nice people” that does not entitle their performance on radio 3

      • John Borstlap says:

        I’m a very nice person and once I auditioned to share my progress on my folksong course with a wider audience & was forcefully removed from the premises, and threatened that they would release the dogs if I didn’t stop protesting. The BBC is no longer what it was!


  • Cynical Bystander says:

    I doubt that anyone could now define the Radio 3 core-classical audience, let alone balance the output accordingly. Ms Jenkins is getting 2 hrs out of the many hours that they transmit each week. I would hazard a guess that the BBC will attract more listeners than will switch off and neither will be other than people choosing to listen or not. Whether you, me, or anyone else considers her an opera singer is neither here nor there. We will more likely than not not be listening or if we are it is to either condemn or condone the BBC’s seeming effrontery. And on a more personal note I shan’t be listening mainly because much of the R3 output is not to my taste and so for those who want to listen, enjoy. For those that don’t, you know where the off switch is. Increasingly I do and not because of the likes of Katherine Jenkins.


    I wonder if one day someone said:

    Katherine, you have a lovely voice but you’ll never make it as an opera star. But with your looks and personality you could become a recording star, so how about it? And the rest………………..!

    If opera singers are jealous – tant pis! As another contributor has said, no crime has been committed and KJ has clearly brought a lot of pleasure to millions. She’s under no obligation to make opera more widely accessible. Does Andre Rieu get people into concerts, apart from his own? Of course not. Crossovers, if that’s what we persist in calling them, have done nothing for the “serious” performing arts.

    • Warren stutely says:

      Stephen. You have a supreme gift for missing the point

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Totally agree. I don’t think opera singers are jealous as it’s no threat to their business model. Same with Rieu. Both KJ and Rieu bring pleasure to millions. Honestly, I would rather listen to both of them than to computer-generated electroacoustic music which is essentially designed to send cockroaches scurrying from domestic dwellings. I’m told dogs can hear the higher pitches.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    I’m no fan of crossover, but it probably serves a useful function. I guess Davie is assessed, at least in part, on his audience numbers. Bringing in Radio 3 first-timers, as this will surely do, is not such a bad thing.

    I can understand the resentment from more talented singers, but c’est la vie.

    The grotesque hype on her website, though, is most unbecoming.

    • Dave says:

      Do you mean Davie or Davey?

      One is the tories’ placeman now heading the BBC, and the other is the waste of space (unless you have his ear) heading Radio 3.

  • Singeril says:

    Opera signers aren’t jealous of her talent. They are concerned about their art form when someone who is not an opera singer claims to be one and gives the wrong impression of what an opera singer truly is. If Miss Jenkins wants to be called an opera singer, she should see what it is like to truly sing an entire opera in front of an audience, with orchestra and without amplification. She should learn a vast amount of repertoire in the various languages and dwell for years as a singer, learning the ropes, and undergoing all the rigors involved with establishing a career. Alas, anything short of that (as has been the case) is smoke and mirrors.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Some people regard a Hyundai as a car: I think of a Mercedes as a car. Horses for courses.

      • V. Lind says:

        I do not think I have ever seen such an arrant testimony of snobbery on this site. Which makes you leader in a crowded field.

        • Matias says:

          I wasn’t familiar with this singer so I found a few clips on YouTube. Her voice is dime a dozen.

          Why is it snobbery to call this out? Comparisons are made everywhere – formula 1, soccer, tennis, baseball, other types of music.

          Who’s the snob?

          • V. Lind says:

            I was referring to her (SSF’s) comment on cars, which clearly implied that rich folks’ cars were better than poor folks’ cars.

            I have never heard KJ. My only comments in this discussion have related to her right to be a guest presenter.

    • DavidM says:

      KJ does not claim to be an opera singer, it’s lazy journalists that label her one.

  • Rabengeraun says:

    Well, it can’t be worse than the recordings of bird-song and farmyard noises that I’ve heard on R3 recently that purport to be classical music

  • MacroV says:

    I don’t know what it is with Britain, elevating to stardom such mediocrities as Katherine Jenkins, Charlotte Church, or Paul Potts. Or passing them off as “classical” singers, anyway. OTOH, you gave the world Farokh Balsara, so I guess we can call it even.

  • John Soutter says:

    Crossover … surely you mean Crossroads … Stockhausen, Boulez, Birtwistle, Fernyhough on wonderful Radio One …? Tharrel be the day!

    • Warren stutely says:

      Well done. Keep it upon

    • M McAlpine says:

      I think Radio One has more sense than to broadcast Stockhausen, Boulez, Birtwistle, Fernyhough, etc.. They have this funny idea that they do want to keep their audience listening. At least with KJ I do not frantically reach for the OFF switch as I do when the said four gentlemen’s dreadful so-called ‘music’ comes through the speakers.

      • Warren stutely says:

        Perhaps you should stay in your cave along with 18th century science,technology and medicine. This would match your taste in music

  • Minnesota says:

    “Jealous rage” because of two hours? There is quite enough rage in the world now without trying to manufacture it on a classical music website. Calm down.

  • Anthony Mason says:

    It almost goes without saying that this SD comment on the BBC is manufactured rage. The Saturday slot is “Inside Music” where just once each week a line up of individuals connected to music get to play things they like. For one Saturday only, it happens to be Katherine Jenkins’ turn. A week later, it’s Simon Halsey, last Saturday it was “Conductor and keyboard player Steven Devine”. Move along now – and celebrate the Proms repeat on last night’s TV.

    • Dave says:

      So KD will be playing her own stuff, if earlier comments are right.

      I’d expect the same from the oleaginous empire-builder Halsey, who as I recall contributed to a recent podcast on top choral pieces by focusing only on what he had performed (or prepped for his pal Rattle – for which you may wish to read “got his elves to prep”).

  • pjl says:

    I am also appalled by this but other attempts to bring in new listeners to the Third Programme are better; eg Jess Gillam’s enthusiasm and open-mindedness. And we must PRAISE radio 3 for the good things such as broadcasting MIDSUMMER MARRIAGE live recently. When I was a kid it was not on for 24 hours and was taken over by Test match commentary in the summer (which I liked also especially when it rained and they played rare Johann Strauss from German radio stations).

    • Warren stutely says:

      I agree with you about Tippett but “our Jess” seems to think a rigorous critique of music can be supplanted by lots of laughin and bright clothes. More adorno and much less adorned(sorry) please

  • Gary Freer says:

    Wouldn’t it be fun if she actually did sing, unamplified, in an operatic production?

    Come on Katherine, you know you want to ….

  • JamesM says:

    This is a super idea isn’t it? In the interests of balance presumably Radio 2 will devote a couple of hours to Bruckner or the 2nd Viennese School. And Radio 1 will have feature a Lied of the day just before the 8 o’clock news. Can’t wait.

  • Anthony Sanderson says:

    Sliiiped Disc might like to reminded of its report, that Katherine Jenkins sung (was to sing when the article was written) in Rober and Hammerstien’s Carousel at the English National Opera in 2016.

    She got a good review in the Daily Telegraph at the time.

    “Well, was she any good? That’s bound to be the first question anyone asks about this revival of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s masterpiece, starring glamour girl Katherine Jenkins in what appears to be her first professional theatrical role.

    The answer is yes. As the ingénue Julie Jordan, she looks lovely and acts sweetly in a June Allyson girl-next-door way that never becomes simpering. Her singing is good too – both her big numbers, “If I loved you” and “What’s the use of wondering?” are shaped with warmth and feeling, though a fast vibrato creeps in whenever she puts pressure on the voice.”

    from Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe rise to the Rodgers and Hammerstein challenge – Carousel, London Coliseum, review

    We can hardly complain when BBC Radio 3 goes where the ENO has boldly gone before.

  • gareth says:

    Whilst I’m under no illusions as to Jenkins’s “crossover” status, merely stating that she “holds a music teacher’s diploma” from the Royal Academy of Music is a little disingenuous. She won a scholarship to study music at the RAM aged 17, after a decent career as a soprano chorister/soloist, and was made a Fellow of the RAM earlier this year.

  • Damien says:

    So Ms. Jenkins hasn’t sung opera That’s small potatoes. What classical music stations need is diversity from the staid, overly-played chestnuts from our past. By bringing in diversity doesn’t water down our musical futures, it ensures the survival of the whole.
    Said by one who has listened faithfully to classical music stations since the late ’50s.
    Damien Wilson, Madison, WI

  • Reader says:

    As I’m sure an old R3 hand like NL will know, the final choice of the music she plays won’t be hers, it’ll be the producer’s.

    Getting narked about an attempt by R3 to increase its audience is …errr… an attempt to increase the audience for this website. Or “clickbait” as it’s usually known.

  • Scott says:

    Separated at birth — Katherine Jenkins and … Ivanka Trump!

  • Maurice says:

    I don’t mind her singing what she likes and what enough other people like, and in any case the presenter of Inside Music rarely if ever plays anything performed by themselves (though there might be an exception when she “shares a favourite song from her native Wales”). But I do mind her being called an opera singer — that’s almost as bad as when a 10-year-old on Britain’s Got Talent tells Simon Cowell “I’m going to sing opera” before giving a jejune rendition of ‘O mio babbino caro’ .

  • La plus belle voix says:

    So which opera singers are, ostensibly, jealous of her success then? Names please. Write on one side of the paper only. In pencil. PS: use the sharp end.

  • Harry Dahlsjo says:

    Lady Christie isn’t really an opera singer, either.

  • Michael Varcoe-Cocks says:

    Calling her and a number of equally hyped performers “crossover” artists is just plain stupid and wrong. When Kiri recorded “West Side Story”, that was crossover: she was firmly established as an opera singer and “crossed over”!

    Pop singers who will sing “Nessun dorma” in any key into a microphone before 100,000 sycophantic fans are not doing “crossover”, because they have never “crossed over” any line. They just sing pop, hits from musicals and a tiny group of popular opera arias in an attempt to add a glaze of credibility.

    Do Italians refer to singers who just sing Neapolitan songs (much as I love them!) as OPERA singers? KJ et al may have reasonable voices and techniques, but please stop kidding their CD buyers and the [so-called] managers at R3 that they have any connection to opera. If they had, they’d sing in operas, which they don’t.

  • AndrewB says:

    There have always been classically trained singers who have gained popularity as crossover artists singing popular songs , alongside well known classical pieces. Moira Anderson for example never sang an operatic role as far as I know , but a lot of folks associated her with the popular operatic and operetta arias she sang. The press sometimes referred to her as an opera singer or operatic soprano.

    I don’t believe Katherine Jenkins calls herself an opera singer? On her website she is referred to as a classical singer with 14 number one albums. Perhaps classical crossover artiste would be more accurate.
    I seem to remember that she was asked to tour large arenas as Carmen some years ago , but wisely declined.

    She hasn’t actually hurt anyone , least of all the reputation of opera singers as she doesn’t perform in operas and is not billed as such on official publicity.

    Just occasionally a press report may refer to her as an opera singer, but such things are usually written by journalists who would call any classically based singing style ‘opera.’ Members of the public do this too .

    She studied in a well known conservatoire after a childhood of involvement in music. I am not sure which of the qualifications she has alongside her Honorary FRAM, but does that really matter? If it is LRAM teaching that is a diploma with a distinguished history, not something to be looked down upon. .
    Others with less practical training/ experience in music than her are allowed to offer their opinions on Radio 3 and a lot of people actually like her – hence her record sales.

    I can appreciate that not everyone likes the way that Radio 3 has changed its approach. I too wish it was still the channel that nourished my childhood classical music training.

    However , surely the time to do something about this was a few years ago when audience numbers were so low and this was publicized in the press. It was back then that we all needed to be regular listeners, but above all to encourage others to listen too .

    Like other things in British life people tend to assume they will always stay the same, always be there and only react if they feel something is under attack.

    Programmers and deciders react to the audience numbers unfortunately. Broadcasting involves justifying utilisation of budgets to get a slice of the overall BBC finance to be able to continue. We are lucky to still have Radio 3 at all . Use it or lose it!

    The programmers have felt justified as I read that the early morning Radio 3 shows revised and more ‘ popular’ in style ( some may feel watered down) were doing very well during the lockdowns.

  • Andrew says:

    A friend did a Songs of Praise with his chamber choir some years ago and Jenkins was wheeled in as the guest soloist. He wasn’ t very impressed with her musicianship. Absolutely no possibility of her managing a solo operatic role.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Jenkins seems like a thoroughly pleasant and lovely human being. I just wouldn’t walk next door to hear her sing but that doesn’t matter because millions of others would.

  • Yes, the production values of Katherine Jenkins’ recordings and videos are often painfully kitsch (though as the male chauvinist pig I am, her drop dead gorgeous beauty serves as an effective anesthetic.) Seriously though, all the contempt shown toward her shows that the classical music world, and especially the opera community, are their own worst enemies. Don’t 14 number one albums presenting a variant of the bel canto voice tell us something about opera, that it was once a popular art form and still has that potential? Shall we not get off our high horses, take a closer look at what Jenkins has done, and learn from it?

    If opera continues to be so hide-bound, so totally absorbed with the bel canto voice to the exclusion of all else, it will continue to be a dinosaur collapsing on the weight of its own flesh. The future of the genre lies in the hands of exactly the artists the opera world is most ready to discount and ignore. Those looking for new, smaller forms; those working with modern economic concepts; those creating new ways of using the voice that are variants of bel canto; those fully integrating music and theater, a goal set out by the Florentine Camerata 500 years ago; those creating a form of music theater based on modern theatrical theories; those using genuinely modern, relevant texts and topics.

    The opera world’s contemptuous comments about Jenkins are an many respects the arrogant cries of its own death.

    • Allen says:

      You think the future lies with K Jenkins? Is there a young audience for K Jenkins and Russell Watson? Think again.

      The “contempt” you refer to is a reaction to a common trick that tabloids love. Exaggerate the modest, unstuffy, girl-next-door (or “man in’t pub”, in the case of Russell Watson) image, denounce critics as snobs even when reasons are given and examples are provided and, worst of all, imply that better singers have relied upon their social background to get on in their profession. It is the lack of respect for years of study, disappointment in many cases, and hard work that grates.

      Most opera companies and orchestras are doing their best in difficult circumstances with outreach programmes to bring opera, and classical music generally, to as many people as possible, but K Jenkins is happy to undermine these efforts in promoting herself. She alone holds the secret to greater access, mocking those who are trying to keep the genre alive in the way that composers intended. Appalling, in my opinion.

      Jenkins sells lots of records. Good for her. But will she leave the “classical” genre (she calls herself a classical singer) in a better state than when she started? I doubt it.

      • Young or old, 14 number one albums speaks for itself. It’s important that we move beyond the genre “in the way composers intended.” We live in a different world, and we need different kinds of voices, different kinds of music theater following in the legacy of classical music traditions.

        • Allen says:

          As far as I can see, KJ has not brought anything remotely new to the table. If you can identify something, I’d like to know.

    • Adrienne says:

      “variant of the bel canto voice”

      That is a strange argument to use in defence of this singer. The only reason it is a “variant”, as you call it, is that it’s the best she can achieve. It is not “a new way of using the voice”.

      It appears to me that she is cynically exploiting a (predominantly) Anglo-Saxon suspicion of complete opera in order to sell easy-listening compilations, leaving listeners short-changed. No doubt an excellent business model, but that’s as far as it goes. It would be interesting to know how committed these listeners are, and how much time the recordings spend collecting dust after the latest novelty has worn off.

      I suggest you close your eyes next time you listen. I think you’ll find that there’s not much there, nothing that demands repeated listening, and certainly no new direction for opera.

  • Christopher Beynon says:

    I think we should wait and listen to the programme before forming an opinion. However, it is apparent that there has been a gradual ‘dumbing down’ over the years, as evidenced by programmes like Tearjerker and Classical Fix. They have even shortened the excellent Through the Night on Friday in order to accommodate some of this rubbish. Radio 3 must be the only station that sets out to alienate its own listeners.

    • V. Lind says:

      It’s not. As became apparent when the once-excellent (and still good in places) CBC began messing with what had been very good and pretty successful formats and programmes, broadcasters are not interested in pleasing the audiences they have.

      They are much more committed to trying to accommodate an audience they will never have (younger, more interested in pop than traditional cultural offerings, diverse — which in the case of CBC means a very disproportionate percentage of “indigenous” programming) and to hell with the probably declining number of listeners who sustained them through many years.

      They do not accept that private stations do pop much better, and CBC listeners are left with a melange of what the CBC thinks will retain longtime fans while attracting new ones. It has succeeded in neither. As someone whose association with CBC is both very long term and very intimate, I gave it up after a lifetime of devotion.

      I am happy to have replaced it in my affections with BBC radio (3, 4 and 4Extra — I know nothing of the other services except occasionally Radio Scotland — and devoutly hope it does not go a far as CBC did. But I fear it might, and the most visible, or audible, changes are indeed at 3.

      • Christopher Beynon says:

        Sad to hear your comments about CBC. Happily, I have found a station that is a bit like the old Radio 3 – YLE Klassinen, a Finnish broadcaster. After short but relevant info about the pieces (albeit in Finnish!), they just get on with the music, which is what you want.

  • CRogers says:

    One of the commentators here rightly asks the question: when has KJ ever called herself an ‘opera singer’? You have journalists calling her this. So why don’t the people moaning speak directly to the people spreading this misinformation? Here’s another question: do singers who sing in the opera houses and the classical concert repertoire really feel ‘jealous’? It’s like any job, the people who feel the happiest concentrate, primarily, on their own progression, and with that will come confidence and satisfaction. If anyone spends more time and energy on resenting and hating, then that’s a choice a person makes. Imagine you are KJ and after college you are approached by a record company and given an opportunity to record….. That’s the path she’s chosen and she’s progressed in the way she has. By all means make protests radio 3. But doesn’t radio 3, and for quite along time now, broadcast a number of other types of music? Anecdote: my sister was studying music at school. I wasn’t but had heard some opera and felt moved by it, so I started listening. I’d bought an album of operatic arias with Carlo Bergonzi. At lunchtimes my sister would say, you need to listen to Mozart on the radio this lunchtime. Not that bastard operatic rubbish. I just ignored her and followed my heart, instead of whatever her agenda was…..? Her behaviour could easily be seen as snobbish. Or did she want to share her passion for Mozart? Hard to know. The point is, where does anybody speak from when they sound prejudice or jealous?

  • Anthony Sanderson says:

    Katherine showed her versatility on America’s Dancing with the Stars.

    Singing with Placido Domingo.

    and dancing the Argentine Tango

  • Lance B Brady. says:

    Give Jenkins a slot on a dancing show where she belongs.

  • JamesM says:

    A thought that has often puzzled me:

    If, for example, a rap fan says I don’t listen to classical music because it’s rubbish then invariably people nod, say that’s fine, you are allowed to have your opinion.

    If a classical music fan says I don’t listen to, for example, rap music because I think it’s rubbish they are invariably called a snob.


    Please don’t say it’s a class thing ‘cos it ain’t

  • Anthony Wills says:

    Hold on guys, when I read about this in Private Eye I thought it meant KJ was getting a regular slot on Radio 3… she’s simply going to be hosting one particular edition of Inside Music, which is an interesting Saturday afternoon series because it features a different working musician choosing a wide range of music each week without a presenter jumping in. Last week (admittedly a repeat) it was the principal percussionist in the English National Opera orchestra.