One of LA Opera’s favorite baritones, Lucas Meachem opens the new season in one of his signature roles, Don Giovanni, his fifth LA Opera role, with performances from September 23 through October 15.
You have quite a history in Los Angeles.
My debut was Barber [in 2009]. That was amazing, because my father was living in Los Angeles at the time. I just remember him being so proud. It was really quite special for me.
Tannhäuser was also wonderful because any time I get to perform that piece I just feel like I’m in heaven, and The Marriage of Figaro is my favorite opera. So yeah, I’ve had some really amazing career highlights in L.A. But what puts The Ghosts of Versailles right at the top of the list for me, is that I was falling in love with my wife. I asked her to marry me during that production. And then to win a Grammy for it was pretty incredible. One of the most special moments of my life was giving the acceptance speech at the Grammys, to get up there in front of all those amazing artists and represent opera, LA Opera, all the cast and crew, the orchestra and the artists behind the scenes who made it all possible.
Left to right: Lucas Meachem in his company debut as Figaro in The Barber of Seville in 2009; as Wolfram in Tannhäuser in 2021; as Figaro in The Ghosts of Versailles in 2015; as the Count in The Marriage of Figaro in 2013, with Craig Colclough as Figaro.
How many times have you performed Don Giovanni?
I need to do the math! I’ve done enough to feel very comfortable with the role and I have a very specific idea of what I want to translate with him. Don Giovanni is no devil. He thinks differently for his time and he’s chastised for it. I find him to be a redeemable human, somebody who really sticks to his guns so much that he’s willing to die for it.
Did your conception of Giovanni come to you fairly easily, or did it develop through performing it numerous times?
I put a lot of stock into my first impressions of the roles that I do. It’s almost like your first impressions of meeting someone in real life; they’re normally right, you know? And I need to trust my gut with it. If the director wants something different than my idea, I am really open if we find correlations in the text. Text is king.
I find that the best rehearsal situations are when the director and I arrive together with a clear idea of what we’d like to do, and we find the best path forward to tell our story. We’re artists working together in collaboration.
I think about Don Giovanni in a humanistic way. I grew up in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina. At the end of a paved road, a dirt road begins, and at the end of that dirt road is where my house was. There wasn’t much classical music in my life, but I lived a lot, which I think shaped my ability to take in these characters and make them human. I always want to make my characters empathetic in some way. The audience might not end up in the same place as me, but if I can inspire some reaction, I feel complete.
How does the role fit in your voice?
Don Giovanni is a role like Carmen. We all have our ideal version, so it’s impossible to fit everyone’s ideals. At the end of the day, you just need to sing as beautifully as you can, with your voice, without changing anything. And that’s exactly how I approach the Don. I sing it in my way. I know that LA Opera hired me to sing this role, which gives me a lot of confidence as an artist. They wanted me, so I’m like “okay, I’m going to give you me and I’m never going to try to be anyone else or sound like anything else.”
The role honestly sits right in the middle of the voice all night long, which is sort of my money spot. So it’s a great role for me. It never goes too high—of course, I might put in a little high note at the end—and it never goes too low. If I’ve saved anything for the end of the night, I let it all go in the final scene. Luckily, I have a good friend in the pit in James Conlon who leads everyone together. And at the end, it’s all about the drama, so those lines aren’t as important from a vocal standpoint. Normally there’s bombastic stuff happening on the stage and it’s electric.
When you’re singing a production, your wife and son travel with you, right?
It’s fun and very fulfilling. It’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s a choice that my wife and I have made. We’re creating our vision of what we want our lives to look like. That’s a really special thing. He’s been with us to 10 countries at four years old, but the commonality we share with so many amazing parents out there is that we want what’s best for our son. As of now, it’s a beautiful experience for all of us. And for me, having us together is such a boon for my life and for my happiness. It's about the best thing ever.
Any there any dream roles you haven’t sung yet?
Rodrigo in Don Carlo. It’s just one of those roles that fits so perfectly that it feels truly written for me. And it’s not done so often. I’ve got places to go in the Verdi repertoire and even the heavier bel canto stuff as well. I’ve got some time.
What are your favorite things to do in Los Angeles?
We rent a house in West Hollywood that makes for beautiful walks to some of our favorite restaurants. I love the weather, I love the people, the nature, and culture. And being vegan, LA is a vegan mecca. So many amazing spots to eat at that are just absolutely blow-your-mind delicious. So yeah, it’s an amazing place.