“It’s an astounding feeling to become so close and intimate with a character like that,” says Baritone Lucas Meachem

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Audiences can soon hear opera superstar and karaoke master Lucas Meachem singing on stage at Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Minnesota Opera’s upcoming production of Massenet’s Thaïs. I am thrilled that Lucas was willing to share his thoughts on Thaïs, karaoke, and his passion for all things opera with me.

Tell me about Minnesota Opera’s upcoming production of Thaïs. The set renderings look fantastic and stage director Andrea Cigni’s notes make the production sound fascinating. What has it been like from your perspective so far?

As I learn any role for the first time, it’s a fascinating journey and the director’s role is fundamental to my process. Andrea Cigni and I have cultivated a symbiotic relationship when it comes to the drama of this piece and he’s inspired me greatly.

One of the biggest challenges every opera director has is ascertaining how to show his vision of the piece to the artist. Andrea has a gift for communicating his vision and he has great instincts with his artists. He caught on quickly that I took his character descriptions and turned them into my own dramatic portrayal on the stage, so we were able to work efficiently from the very beginning.

He’s my favorite type of director because he trusts me to take his direction while also allowing me to flavor the character with my own interpretation. It’s the best of all worlds to work with a director like him!

Lucas Meachem
Lucas Meachem
Photo credit: Simon Pauly

Dig into your character a bit – who is Athanaël? What are his main motivations? How does he change in the story?

Like many heretics of his day, he is rigid, pious, and sexist, and if he doesn’t have an explanation for something, then God must have done it. He is the epitome of anti-intellectualism and faith-based knowledge. He rails against science and beauty when it’s not directed by his deity.

He couldn’t be more opposite of me. Personally, I embrace science and beauty. However, I’m able to imbue some of these dogmatically religious concepts into my character because I am familiar with such people… we all are. It is fulfilling to play someone so unlike myself because I get to explore that one-sided ideology and mindset and try to understand it.

By the end of the opera, he has his emotional surrender where he proves the hypocrisy of his beliefs because he couldn’t win the battle over love.

It is fulfilling to play someone so unlike myself because I get to explore that one-sided ideology and mindset and try to understand it.

How many times have you played this role before? Are there any significant vocal challenges or things that don’t quite “sit right” for whatever reason?

This is my first Athanaël and 50th role as a professional. As with any role debut, I have to quickly find the role’s challenges to prepare myself come show-time. What’s challenging about the role of Athanaël is I’m on-stage for 90% of the opera and I don’t have much time to rest, especially since most of my singing lies in a difficult tessitura.

The way I deal with this type of vocal challenge is repetition. I sing more in rehearsals than I usually do in order to pace myself vocally. This means a lot of quiet nights at home for me!

Do you have a favorite part of Thaïs?

There is a moment in the score where I sing over the famous Violin Méditation. I get goosebumps every time.

Dramatically, my favorite part is when Athanaël opens up to Palémon about his feelings for Thaïs because he realizes he can’t control his love for her. Love wins!

What are your go-to tunes when doing karaoke? (for those readers who don’t know Lucas’ backstory and thus the impetus for this question, check out this Wall Street Journal article)

I’m so happy you ask this because I love karaoke! I tend to overthink my song list, but it varies depending on how I feel and what the audience is like.

If I’m in the South, I’ll sing “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood and if I walk into a seedy bar, I sing 80’s rock like “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns N’ Roses. My personal favorites are anything by Queen, and “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly.

It looks like you’ve got a very busy summer coming up! Is there anything that you’re particularly excited about?

My Salzburg Festival debut. It’s been a dream of mine for years now to sing there. Also, I have an ancestral connection with that area in Austria, so it’s in my blood.

Do you have any vacation plans to get away from it all for a little while?

Do I?! My ultimate hobby is traveling to new places, seeing new things and experiencing other cultures. I’m seizing the moment this summer by visiting Dubai and Kenya!

Outside of opera, what are you passionate about?

I have a deep love for animals—I own a rescue dog named Teemo and I practice a compassionate lifestyle by eating vegan.

I also love being a handyman in my home. I love fixing the odds and ends of my condo, installing shelves, screwing some nails, etc.

To finish, I’d like to ask a question I ask everyone: what is it about opera that touches your soul?

When I’m acting out a character and I actually empathize their hardship and/or good times. It’s like I feel that person honestly in my heart. It’s an astounding feeling to become so close and intimate with a character like that.

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