Most people would be flattered if they were cast in a role younger than they are. But for 32-year-old Welsh soprano Fflur Wyn, it’s getting beyond a joke. ‘Playing a 12-year-old, while fun to do, is not so flattering,’ she says. Wyn (whose first name is pronounced ‘Fleer’) is talking about her star part in ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Will Todd’s promenade piece for Opera Holland Park. ‘I don’t want to get pigeon-holed because I am quite small. But it’s work.’ Three years ago she played a similarly aged girl, who befriends a man with dementia, in ‘The Lion’s Face’ (Elena Langer’s opera at Linbury Studio).
Her latest role also involves her playing a young girl, but also a polar bear, a cow… and God. It’s the world premiere of ‘How the Whale Became’, an opera by Julian Philips based on Ted Hughes’s children’s stories. Librettist Edward Kemp has created a joined up narrative for Hughes’s individual stories in a fun family opera, which director Natalie Abrahami declares to be ‘suitable for ages five to 105’. In it, God, using his Making Machine, has a go at perfecting the animals, though not all of them are a success. Meanwhile, in this evolutionary themed tale, there is the parallel development of instruments, for instance a progression from toy piano to celeste to upright and finally a concert grand. Of course Wyn, who was born and raised in Carmarthenshire but now lives in Kew, has sung lots of conventional opera roles too, since her professional debut in Michael Berkeley’s ‘Jane Eyre’, 14 years ago. And although she admits that of her countryfolk, ‘I think we are self-deprecating and always putting ourselves down,’ clearly her upbringing in the Land of Song has been fundamental to her success. The daughter of a baptist minster father and a pianist/choral conductor mother, she has been performing since she was three years old – initially in church and then in eisteddfods. This held her in good stead when she arrived at the Royal Academy of Music. ‘At the Academy, we had to stand up and sing in the different song classes once a week. That was second nature to me; I had sing in front of 5,000 people before quite a few times, but the other singers in the class had never performed in public before.’
Add to that the fact that she has mastered the art of singing for the most demanding audience of all – children. They do not sit quietly if they don’t like a show. ‘No,’ says Wyn, ‘and why should they? They tell you straight; there is no holding back with children. But I love that because it is a challenge for us as performers. If we can get through to them and keep their interest, then, we have done something really important.’
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