How opera is taking on football in Gods Of The Game: ‘Every time I hear Nessun Dorma, I think about the missed penalties’
Comedian Lee Mack is certainly no wannabe Pavarotti.
In fact, he says, he had a fear that producers might make him sing when he signed up to appear in new football opera Gods Of The Game.
“See Lee Mack not sing,” he laughs. “They should use that as a selling point!”
It was curiosity about a musical genre he knew little about, tackling a sport he has always loved, that led to him signing up to provide commentary for the new work.
“I love football and I’ve only been to one opera in my life, with Holly Willoughby, she invited me – how showbiz is that?
“I’ve always liked the sound without even going to it and I just thought this was interesting – obviously I had a deep rooted fear that they would make me sing, because I can’t, but so far I haven’t had to, which is good for everyone!”
Combining a sport with working-class roots with what is frequently considered one of the more elitist forms of entertainment, football and opera might not seem the most obvious pairing but director Kwame Kwei-Armah, who’s also artistic director of the Young Vic theatre, hopes it will attract a new audience.
Singing and chants from real football fans are being incorporated into the work, which is pitched as both a glorious celebration of the sport and a bitter condemnation of its corruption.
Sky News was given access to one of the final rehearsals ahead of a series of live performances, one of which is being filmed for Sky Arts.
In a break from practising his lines, Mack revealed it includes one or two familiar crowd pleasers.
“I know a lot of these songs I’m hearing which I recognise from football chants, not realising that some of them are based originally in opera.”
Arguably the most famous operatic song, Nessun Dorma – which many will remember from the TV coverage of the Italia 90 World Cup – “gets an outing”.
Mack believes: “It’s the first time most people thought of opera as a mainstream thing because it was on every night, twice a day, because of the World Cup, and it just gets embedded into your brain.
“It doesn’t matter how many times I hear that song – and obviously the words have been changed for this story – I always get thrown back.
“Every time I hear it, I just think about the missed penalties… it’s so miserable.”
It is hoped the 90-minute opera will be a little more uplifting for audiences, with producers looking to capture all the drama of the beautiful game without getting opera aficionados offside.
Tenor David Webb says it should appeal to “anyone that loves a big spectacle”.
“I would argue that you will be a changed person after you’ve seen the show,” he told Sky News. “I would love for people to watch the show and hear some banging tunes.
“We’ve got Nessun Dorma, we’ve got some parts of Don Giovanni and then we’ve got five composers that have written together and we have also created these incredible dance routines.”
Webb proudly says: “We’re actually doing something that is reflecting life in art, and art and life.”
You can see Gods Of The Game at Grange Park Opera in Surrey from 6 October, or watch it on Sky Arts and Freeview on Sunday 20 November