Rimsky-Korsakov never outlined the plot of Sheherazade, let alone wrote a narrative. So, this new script by Matt Parry, spoken alongside the music, really is something new. How does it work?


Matt’s sort of invented a story from within the music itself, and it matches it so well – the script actually catches the music’s phrasing and syncopation, which brings the story alive. The crescendo of the story matches the crescendo of the music, and when it goes staccato, the dialogue is staccato, and when the music is dramatic and crashing you have thunderbolts and lightning flying across the King’s palace and so on.

Were you a fan of Sheherazade before you did the recording?

Yes. I first came across it about 15 years ago. It’s a wonderfully romantic, soaring and dramatic piece in its own right. What is strange now is that I almost can’t imagine it without the accompanying script. It was absolutely meant to be. If Rimsky-Korsakov himself was inspired by the Arabian Nights and all of that, then what Matt has done here is return the compliment in telling a story that was inspired by the music.

You play the part of Sinbad, a very hairy pirate. Given the many voices at your disposal, were you tempted to play it as someone famous?

Well, I was trying out all sorts of hairy pirate voices, but Matt said that he wanted it to sound something more like an incompetent English officer. It was only when I left the studio that I realised that I had done it pretty much as Paddy Ashdown. It varies between him and a slightly precocious public schoolboy! In a couple of years' time, it might have been done as David Cameron – upper class with a not brilliant attention to detail.

And you are, of course, joined by Brian Blessed, who plays the part of the Sultan Shakriar…

Brian is a masterstroke. I think it was Frank Muir who once said that someone playing a part had ‘not underplayed it’ – similarly, I don’t think you’ll get subtlety with Brian, but he’s fantastic. There’s one point where he has to shout ‘I ought to beat your pink buttocks!’ – when I left the recording studio, I asked if I could have that downloaded as a ringtone for my mobile.

Is it the sort of thing you could perform live, do you think?

That would be quite a challenge because it is so complicated. The script has been so carefully and precisely written to fit in with the music that it would take a lot of rehearsals. It would be great fun, though.

While the recording is for children – the subtitle is The Princess, the pirate and the baboon –there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?

The disc does a lot of things. It’s aimed at children, and it manages to be entertaining and dramatic, but also has the educational quality of drawing them in and hopefully introducing them to a great piece of classical music. And it in no way compromises the original, as on the CD, there is also a version without the script, so you can go back to the original if you want to.

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What are your musical tastes in general?

I’m terribly, terribly eclectic in my tastes. I was very involved in classical music several years ago, and being on the Olivier [awards] panel meant I saw a lot of opera. I also translated a couple – Weill’s Der Silbersee and Bizet’s Carmen – working with Charles Hazlewood as music director. I’m now going through another classical music phase and, with a view to future projects, Charles has got me listening to everything from Berg’s Lulu to Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea. We were thinking of doing something for Britten’s centenary in a couple years time and calling it ‘Britten’s Got Talent’…

Interview by Jeremy Pound


Details of Sheherazade: The Princess, the pirate and the baboon can be found here.