Who doesn’t love kicking back as a child and copying your favorites singers while imagining that you are that artist and taking the world by storm?
That the spotlights are on you and that you have transitioned from a dreaming child to a worldwide star.
That’s Lucas Meachem right now. The baritone, who is currently singing the role of Marcello at the Metropolitan Opera, is about to get one of his biggest audiences on the silver screen. It’s a long ways from his childhood experience of mimicking his favorite artists, as he told OperaWire in a recent interview.
“Axl Rose, Steven Tyler, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, you name it,” he listed off the singers he would mimic.
Did he know that he would be an artist at that moment? Not necessarily. But it all changed one day when his mother handed him a cassette tape. The artists in question? The Three Tenors.
“I loved it so much I would drive around in my 1983 gold Toyota Tercel hatchback and blast the tape on full volume,” Meachem revealed. “I felt so cool, like some kind of classical music gangster.”
But he quickly realized that it wasn’t so easy to mimic this kind of music – he had met his proverbial artist match.
“I had found a style of music I couldn’t imitate well and was up for the challenge of learning to sing that way vocally. It became my dream, and I became determined to do exactly that.”
That dream has led him all the way to the Metropolitan Opera, among major opera houses around the world. And more to the point, Meachem is set for his first-ever appearance on the Live in HD series with the Met, which will broadcast the Feb. 24 performance of “La Bohème” to tons of viewers around the globe.
“It’s a new way to experience live opera and for an artist, their performance is imprinted in the HD archive. It’s like the new art song or opera album,” he noted. “The masses that opera reaches around the world through the Met HD is insurmountable and astounding.”
He was particularly adamant that the experience for all involved in a transmission is completely different for both audience and artists alike.
“Acting wise, I am asked to hone in on the subtleties of the character by using more facial reactions instead of the large gestures that I’m used to on a large opera stage. Because of the cameras, a designated director for the HD productions is required and he gives you certain marks ahead of time that you’re required to ‘hit’ on stage,” he noted. “So, you have to remember the Zeffirelli production, while being in time with Maestro, deliver meaning to words, and sing pretty. It’s high stakes opera. You can feel it in the building. There’s a different energy and everybody is in it together.”
Hallowed Ground With Great Colleagues
Speaking of the Zeffirelli production, it is one of the most renowned in the history of the Met and perhaps opera, revered for its intricacy and hyperrealism. For Meachem, it’s like “walking on hallowed ground.”
“I’m no spring chicken when it comes to Marcello. I’ve sung it with singers such as Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, Ana-Maria Martinez and Joseph Calleja, and I’ve been in many first-rate productions,” he explained. “But the Zeffirelli production is a standout. It’s magical.
“It’s a jaw-dropping experience to see the curtain go up at the beginning of Act 2. From the stilt-walker to the live donkey to the dancing bear to the horse-drawn carriage, this Zeffirelli production is what you want every opera to be. It’s the ultimate theatrical extravagance. Two levels of chorus members on stage, hundreds of people walking around, it’s easy to get lost!”
He even expressed a sense of awe with the wardrobe.
“When I wore my third act coat for the first time, I ran across the many name tags of previous baritones who had sung Marcello before: Mariusz Kwiecien, Gerald Finley, Ludovic Tézier, Dwayne Croft, Peter Mattei, etc., and I saw my name on there too. I felt like I had made some special club of baritones from my dreams,” he noted.
Adding to the experience is the opportunity to take on a character that he feels at home with.
“I literally go on stage and just act like myself,” he attested. “I always try to find pieces of myself in each of my characters so that I can relate to them. Luckily, Marcello is not too far off from the person I am naturally. That helps with the in-the-moment acting decisions I make and I can quickly react to things around me. It’s a cool experience getting to perform characters who are so similar to who I am.”
And then, of course, come the colleagues.
“Susanna Phillips is a great stage partner and she gives so much. It’s inspiring to see how much Michael [Fabiano] and Sonya [Yoncheva] play off of each other in character. They are both very talented and their passion seems almost real. You can feel something special happening on stage with all of us in the final scene.
“‘Bohème’ is an ensemble piece so we all have to pull our individual weight by truly listening to each other. That’s the key to a good ‘Bohème:’ an equal partnership between all performers involved.”
After the Met, Meachem teaches a masterclass at the University of Minnesota and then takes on his first Athanaël in “Thaïs.” Then he heads over to Dresden for the title role in “Don Giovanni.” He feels rather differently about both characters, noting how different they are from him.
“We all know Don Giovanni as the ‘bad boy’ of opera and that is definitely not like me,” he noted. “I am a southern gentleman through and through and I have little to relate with Don Giovanni.
“What I see in him is a lack of sympathy to those around him and a carelessness to any potential repercussions to his actions.”
He did note that he might have affinity with the character’s “lack of fear in the face of danger.”
“Except if I was being pulled into the fires of hell. Maybe then I’d be scared.”
As for Athanaël, who goes from being a devout priest to lusting for a courtesan-turned-priestess, Meachem feels that it is too early to assess how he bonds with the character.
“I’m a practical guy so I can’t relate with this on a spiritual level but I have had a few hard life lessons thrown at me where my world was turned upside down. It’s a learning experience for Athanaël.”
After those two operas, the baritone has a ton of projects and noted that his first Verdi role is in the works at the Washington National Opera. He will take on Germont in “La Traviata.” He is also easing into the Mahler repertoire, debuting a piece that he’s wanted to perform for a long time now—Kindertotenlieder.
“It’s my first Mahler so I hope to continue down this path and perform his other orchestrated songs, too.”
As he looks ahead, Meachem can identify with many of the feelings one can garner as a youth copying your favorite artists. You have no idea what your future holds, but you stick with it and enjoy every moment.
“There’s an uncertainty for the career and anyone who pursues singing has to accept that type of lifestyle. It’s not easy but it does fit my temperament. I love to take on the next big thing and I love the excitement that that brings.
When I think that so much in my life depends on my two tiny vocal cords, it seems overwhelming. I try not to think about the chance that I might get kicked in the throat and this will all end. I just stay focused on the road ahead, take care of myself physically, and to add a big dose of cheese to the mix: believe in myself.”
Just as he did when he was a young child trying to imitate the Three Tenors. Now he’s graced some of the same stages they have and has more to come.