Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ latest gig might surprise you: he recently played a disembodied voice in a new opera based on an unfinished Mark Twain novel.
The show, titled, “Mysterious 44” and based on the book “The Mysterious Stranger,” lasted 90 minutes and featured four live singers, a singing computer, surround-sound electronic score and video animation.
Eight characters were played by the four singers and Dawkins, who offered his voice to portray the character of August, described in a University of Manchester press release as “a renaissance man coming out of the dark ages.”
Dawkins wasn’t on stage in costume, though, as it was only his voice that was used to entertain the masses.
The book, which was purportedly inspired by Charles Darwin’s writings, is set in 1490, according to the university.
“It’s a story of religious murder, deception, corruption, superstition, genocide, and a mysterious stranger who leads a lad away from it all to start a life of secular compassion,” said Dr. Kevin Malone, who wrote the opera and who lectures at the University of Manchester.
Malone said the show isn’t meant to be anti-religious, though he noted that Dawkins’ atheism makes him a perfect fit (listen to a clip from Dawkins’ performance here).
“Although it is not meant as an anti-religious opera, it does argue for an approach to understanding the world which is based on science and reason, over superstition,” the professor added. “That is why I’m so delighted that Richard Dawkins, one of the country’s most influential atheists, is taking part.”
The atheist’s organization, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, even offered a grant to film the show in an effort to get it shown in schools and placed on YouTube, so it’s clear Dawkins — a staunch anti-theist — believes its message is valuable.
The show premiered in the U.K. on May 24 and had a repeat performance the following day at an arts festival.