Carmarthen-born tenor Wynne Evans might well be best recognised as the irrepressible character Gio Compario from the brain-cementing Go Compare adverts, but he’s also been a success opera singer for over fifteen years.
Evans comes from a family rich in artistic tradition. His brother, Mark, is also an opera singer and his parents ran The Lyric Theatre in Carmarthen for over two decades. Wynne’s debut album, A Song In My Heart, went to number one in the UK classical charts earlier this month.
You had a homecoming concert at The Lyric Theatre in Carmarthen last night – how did it go?
It was superb thanks. I’m currently at my dad’s home in Carmarthen now. My parents ran The Lyric for twenty years so it’s easily my favourite venue in the world.
When did you first get a taste for opera?
I don’t know really. I didn’t really know what opera was as a kid. My older brother Mark went to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama so I just followed in his footsteps.
Do you remember your first public performance?
I think it would’ve been when I was eight-years-old in 1980 at the Civic Hall in Carmarthen. It was a production of Oliver! I didn’t really enjoy it – my biggest fear, even to this day, is giving an impromptu performance and musicals are full of those. If you asked me to sing on the spot in a pub I couldn’t do it.
Your album A Song In My Heart is inspired by the American tenor Mario Lanza – do you think he was responsible for bringing opera to a wider audience?
He definitely was. Lanza was the first ever crossover opera singer. I wanted to be loyal to the songs in their film format - I didn’t want any bluster. I don’t see the album as a hardcore opera album - it’s more of an easy listening album… and the ideal gift for Mother’s Day!
You’ve signed a six-album deal with Warner Music – who are you looking to collaborate with in the future?
I don’t know really. It’s pretty obvious if I say Tom (Jones) or Shirley (Bassey) isn’t it? Or maybe even Barry Manilow? He’s the king of the key change. I’ll work with anyone who’ll have me!
How was the character Gio Compario from the Go Compare adverts born?
Gio Compario was originally supposed to be a thin, suave Italian dandy. I turned up at the recording studio and the advertising team felt I needed to give the character more life so I began to gesticulate more when singing. The advertising team then decided I needed to take on the role of Gio - I wasn’t going to argue with them - this was the same team that invented the Smash, Hamlet and Sheila’s Wheels adverts.
Is Gio Compario ripping up the opera rulebook?
I don’t know about that. I’ve been a serious opera singer for 15 fifteen years and to me the adverts are just 40 second comic operas.
How have you come to terms with your overnight fame?
I feel like I’ve put in my apprenticeship for some time so I’ve not been overawed by it. Gio is just a character to me – like Paul O’ Grady has the character Lily Savage. It did amaze me how quickly the popularity of the advert spread – I think Gio is the first big advertising character in the age of social media.
How important is it for Wales to have a home for opera?
It’s absolutely vital. Wales Millennium Centre is a fantastic venue for all the arts – where else can you see the Bolshoi Ballet and We Will Rock You in the same place? Welsh people don’t have to trek to London to see their favourite shows anymore.
Which character can you relate to most in the world of opera?
I’m not sure as nearly of all them topped themselves! Possibly Rodolfo from La bohème, although I don’t think I could relate to his loss.
Why do you think Wales has produced so many successful singers?
There are so many opportunities to sing in Wales and there’s absolutely no stigma attached to it – we love expressing ourselves through song. I think performance in Wales is instilled from a young age as well with school Eisteddfods and, of course, the National Eisteddfod.
How do we keep the arts flourishing in a time of austerity?
We just have to keep moving. My parents ran The Lyric with no government funding and turned over a profit every year. We have to continue to make a wider appeal of the arts. I recently appeared in the opera Anne Nicole in Covent Garden. It was great to see people in the audience wearing jeans and a t-shirt. For example, if you can only afford to put on two productions instead of three, make sure those productions are absolute belters – keep audiences coming back for quality.
You’re a big Spurs fan. Do you think they can win the Champions League?
I really hope so – we definitely need (Gareth) Bale back as soon as possible. I’ve been a Spurs fan since I was six – a cool kid and I were the only boys in school who supported them. Someone asked me recently if I’d rather have a number one album or Spurs win the Champions League and I opted for the number one album. Now the album’s gone to number one I hope I haven’t jinxed it!
Wynne Evans’ debut album A Song In My Heart is out now.
Michael Took was asking the questions.