Roy Stevens is not Albanian and has no ancestors who are. Yet the Modesto tenor will play the Eastern European country's national hero in an opera for the country's 100th anniversary celebration.
He will portray the title role in "Skanderbeg" in the capital city of Tirana in 2012.
Stevens said he was as surprised as anyone to be offered the part.
"Can you imagine the U.S. choosing a foreigner to play George Washington or Abe Lincoln in a national celebration?" he said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
It helped that Stevens looks a lot like the Russian actor who portrayed Skanderbeg in a 1950s film version.
In any case, he said he is thrilled to take on the challenge.
"This is the kind of role that fires my imagination," he said.
Albania has just 3.6 million people and is located near Greece and countries from the former Yugoslavia. Born in 1405, Skanderbeg was a general, whose name means "Lord Alexander," after Alexander the Great. Known as "the Dragon of Albania," Skanderbeg is famous for fending off the armies of the Ottoman Empire for more than two decades.
"He was the only bright light in 3,000 years of Albanian history," Stevens said.
Stevens was tapped to play Skanderbeg after performing King Herod in the opera "Salome" in Albania in November.
Stevens said he isn't worried about singing in Albanian because he has a knack for learning languages. He has sung professionally in 11 languages at more than 100 theaters worldwide, including Teatro alla Scala in Italy, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Dresden Semperoper in Germany.
A 1975 Modesto High School graduate, Stevens has appeared in Modesto most recently in Townsend Opera Players productions at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
With three years until the performance, it's possible that "Skanderbeg" may never come together, Stevens said. But he thinks it will and is looking forward to the opportunity.
"It's an incredible honor for a foreigner to be asked to portray the national hero of another country."