Thursday, October 6, 2016

How a plant-based diet transformed Lucas Meachem

Lucas Meachem (Photo: Natasha Sadikin, 2016)
We recently had the opportunity to see Lucas Meachem as Doctor Malatesta in the San Francisco Opera's hilarious production of Donizetti's Don Pasquale directed by Laurent Pelly. We instantly noticed that Meachem not only sounded the best that we'd heard him in years, but he looked imposing and statuesque with his new physique.  We later learned that he'd lost 45 pounds (20.4 kilos).

Meachem has two more performances of the opera on October 12 and 15 (tonight's performance will be sung by fellow barihunk Edward Nelson). The cast also includes the brilliant Maurizio Muraro in the title role, Lawrence Brownlee as Ernesto, Heidi Stober as his lover Norina and Bojan Knežvić as the Notary. Tickets are available online. 

We decided to ask him about his new physique and here is what he had to say.

Maurizio Muraro and Lucas Meachem in Don Pasquale (Photo: SF Opera)
1. What prompted the weight loss?

This past January, my doctor discovered that I had high cholesterol and he advised me to do something about it. Searching for solutions, my wife introduced me to some documentaries on health and the environment that had a lasting impact on me. It opened my eyes. Alternatively, with the advent of the Met HD and various opera publications, I had to accept that opera has become more visually intensive than in the past. I felt like I was missing out on roles, even losing some roles because of my looks or size. For whatever the reason, I was left out of casting decisions because I didn't look the part. I wanted to make a change and eliminate that factor for any casting director or company. I felt like I deserved more for the voice I had and the body I didn't.

"The fact is it's easier to change yourself than the system. So instead of resisting, I decided to change myself." 
- Lucas Meachem

I don't like any of the discrimination shown towards larger singers, men and women alike. It is a conversation I've had with opera singers around the world and I sympathize with them. I know this can be a disheartening thought but in this competitive industry, body image ends up being a deciding factor sometimes rather than one's true talent. I've been a Barihunk and I've been a Barichunk but the thing that's always been there is my voice.

I used to rail against the system for it's unfairness that weight is even an issue when it came to my voice. For me vocal prowess should be the main determining factor of an opera singer but I realized that I couldn't play by those rules anymore. The fact is it's easier to change yourself than the system. So instead of resisting, I decided to change myself.

2. How did you do it.I became a vegan.

As a vegan, I eat a plant-based diet. I center my meals around vegetables and go from there. I cut out dairy, meat, eggs, sugar, and alcohol. I also cut out carbs after 4pm and try to eat an early dinner. That's tough with a performing schedule where I'm done with a show at 11pm. With how strict I normally eat, it's ok to cheat once in a while when I go out. I know that everything I eat is a choice, not a confinement.

I've tried so many diets through the years. My weight has been up and down like a roller coaster.  Finally, I've found a moral implication in my diet. Living a life of compassion motivates me and inspires me to be a better person for myself and the world.

Lucas Meachem as Dr. Malatesta (Photo: SF Opera)
3. Tell us about singing Dr. Malatesta

Malatesta is more difficult than your average opera role because you have to have many different faces--it's a real "faccia doppia". Those faces seem to change with each production. The acting is a challenge, but vocally it's straightforward bel canto. This role is suited to a lyric baritone with solid coloratura. Although it's not an overwhelmingly gratifying role, I enjoy singing it because it's a real team effort. It's an ensemble piece and you end up becoming very close with your colleagues, out of art and necessity.

4. What does the San Francisco Opera mean to you, having come through the Merola young artist program and the Adler Fellowship Program at the San Francisco Opera?

The San Francisco Opera is my home. I walk in that house and shake hands with 20 people before I hit the rehearsal room. I feel well-respected and well-loved, and it's a two-way street. I couldn't be happier that Matthew Shilvock and Greg Hinkel are working there, since they're both dear friends of mine. One of my most cherished accomplishments in San Francisco was singing "Barber of Seville" as a Merolini in 2003 and then returning ten years later to sing it on the main stage.

The SF Opera is one of those gold standard opera house. It's the kind of opera house you wish other opera houses could be. It's when all of the elements come together to make a truly fulfilling artistic experience. From the general director to the stage management team, from the security guards to the orchestra members, each factor is world-class. Artists leave knowing that they have participated in something truly outstanding.

Our 10th Anniversary "Barihunks in Bed" calendar is now on sale and available by clicking on the Lulu button below. 

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