Opera singer to slug it out with the other Dames as she plays…well, an opera singer.

In a bid to grab an even greater slice of the TV ratings, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is to star in an episode of ITV's hit series Downton Abbey. The producers announced the casting for the fourth season of the show yesterday but wouldn’t say more, except to confirm that Dame Kiri would play an opera singer and houseguest. It was reported that she will sing during her visit.

Dame Kiri, who has limited her stage career in recent years to speaking roles, will presumably slug it out with Downton’s resident Dame, Maggie Smith, who will return in her role as the formidable Duchesss of Grantham. The veteran actress count will be high, even by Downton’s standards next season with Harriet Walter joining the cast as Lady Shackleton, an old friend of the Dowager Countess, while US star Shirley MacLaine is returning as Martha Levinson, the mother-in-law of the Earl of Grantham.

The series has won nine Emmys, two Golden Globes and a Screen Actors Guild Award – the first time the cast of a British television show has won this award.

The role call of opera singers attempting to make it on TV is a relatively short one. Perhaps Australia’s best example was June Bronhill, who took on the challenge of Mrs Crawford (the down under Mrs Slocombe) in the Aussie version of the popular UK sitcom, Are You Being Served.

Otherwise, the most common televisual outlet for opera singers remains The Muppet Show which to date has showcased the talents of Beverly Sills, Marilyn Horne, Renée Fleming, Plácido Domingo and Samuel Ramey.