After working with some of the world’s most famous classical singers, it comes as no surprise that Welsh National Opera has signed another big name.
But unlike Bryn Terfel, Geraint Evans and Dame Gwyneth Jones, the latest recruit isn’t renowned for his work on the opera stage.
For the new cast member is Stephen Fry who is one of the country’s favourite actors, comedians, directors and TV presenters.
He will appear in the latest production from Welsh National Youth Opera, which will be premiered by the young singers this summer.
Benjamin Britten’s Paul Bunyan will feature the voice of the popular polymath, whose acting credits include Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster.
Fry, long-time host of the BBC television quiz show QI, has pre-recorded the off stage spoken role of the larger-than-life character Paul Bunyan, who is the boss of a group of lumberjacks and has a vision of what America could be.
He will be incorporated into the production – which opens at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on August 23 as part of the nationwide Britten centenary celebrations – via voice-over and visual projection.
For Fry, an opera lover and lifelong Richard Wagner fan, it is the perfect role. It isn’t his first foray into the opera world as he has previously played the Major-Domo in a recording of Ariadne auf Naxos for Chandos Records and he provided the translation for Kenneth Branagh’s film The Magic Flute, which celebrated Mozart’s 250th anniversary. He also appeared in the BBC film Wagner Me which followed preparations for the 2009 Bayreuth Festival.
“As a lifelong opera lover I’m thrilled to be part of Welsh National Youth Opera’s new production of Paul Bunyan,” said Fry.
“Harnessing the energy and passion of this young company is an extremely appropriate way to celebrate Benjamin Britten’s centenary year, and I hope that the young singers, musicians and technical students will spread their enthusiasm for this fantastic art-form to their friends and families.”
Paula Scott, producer for WNO Max – the education and community arm of the Cardiff-based opera company – said they were thrilled with the studio recording which was made by Fry last week.
“It was an absolute privilege to work alongside such a talented performer and a genuinely lovely man,” she said.
“WNO’s youth opera company is thrilled that he’s part of this unique centenary production of Britten’s Paul Bunyan.”
As well as the main cast, the production will also feature more than 100 members of the South Wales Valleys community choir Only Boys Aloud, who were finalists in last year’s series of Britain’s Got Talent.
Welsh National Youth Opera was established in 1996 and its first performance was Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice in July 1997.
The company is open to any young people aged between 16 and 25 with an interest in performing opera or working behind the scenes for an opera company. Auditions and productions are held biennially.
Paul Bunyan involves a cast of 40 singers, 35 orchestral players, eight technical students, 13 costume makers and 10 wigs and make-up students.
Paul Bunyan was composed by Britten to a libretto by W H Auden. It premiered at Columbia University on May 5, 1941, to largely negative reviews. But Britten revised it in 1976.
The story is based on the folkloric American lumberjack, Paul Bunyan, with the music incorporating a variety of American styles, including folk songs, blues and hymns.
Welsh National Youth Opera’s production is among a number of commemorations taking place throughout the UK this year to mark the centenary of Britten’s birth.
Among them is a concert by BBC National Chorus of Wales at BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff on May 8 which will feature choral works by Britten, including The Building of the House, AMDG and Ballad of Heroes.