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    Bit to Do

    Baritone Mark Walters
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    In a season featuring lesser known operatic works, Kentucky Opera's first production of the 2014-2015 season is Ludwig van Beethoven's sole work in the art form, Fidelio. Both performances, on Friday, September 19 and Sunday, September 21, are at the Brown Theatre at 315 W. Broadway.

    Fidelio is an example of the singspiel style, which is a genre of German-language music drama that intersperses spoken dialogue between the ensemble pieces, arias and other songs. In keeping with this style, the plot is romantic and has a happy ending! Conductor Joseph Mechavich describes it as a story about “a hero and triumph." The protagonist is a young wife named Leonore whose husband, Florestan, is a political prisoner in Seville, Spain, and she has not seen him in two years. Trying to get some word of him, she disguises herself as a man and infiltrates the prison as a guard named Fidelio. Naturally, there is an evil governor of the prison who has it in for Florestan and must be confronted.

    Directed by Lillian Groag, this production features soprano Kara Shay Thompson and tenor Jonathan Burton playing the married couple, both having last starred in Kentucky Opera's Tosca in 2012. The villain of the piece, Don Pizarro, is played by baritone Mark Walters, who was kind enough to answer some questions during his busy rehearsal schedule. Walters has sung over 50 roles in the baritone repertoire, including the title roles in Rigoletto and Don Giovanni.

    Where are you from and how did you get into music as a career? What drew you to opera performance?

    My mother was a nurse and an amateur pianist and she wanted me to study music. Band started in our public school system in Bettendorf, IA in fourth grade and she wanted me to join. But it wasn’t until fifth grade when the blond-haired, blue-eyed, Baptist preacher’s daughter, who lived next door joined band, that I went and told my mother I really wanted to give band a try. It didn’t work out with LeAnn, but that was the beginning of my formal training in music.

    After that I sang and played in everything that was available, church, school, community theater. I had planned to go into music education and would probably be directing a high school band somewhere in Iowa right now, if a voice at the University of Northern Iowa hadn’t encouraged me to do a summer opera workshop at Luther College in Decorah, IA. It was there that I met 12 other young students, who all said they were going to be opera singers. We helped build sets, costumes, took voice lessons and sang in the chorus for Romberg’s The Student Prince.

    Near the end of that month, something was drawing me to pursue this craft. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I had some ability in all the areas required to make an opera singer; I was a decent singer, although I was a much better French Horn player; I didn’t trip over my own feet on stage; I had a curious creativity about developing characters; and I had a pretty good dose of Midwest work ethic. The latter has proved to be the most important part in maintaining a 24-year career.

    I find that the elements that initially drew me to opera still remain with me and have been present in the rehearsal process for Kentucky Opera’s Fidelio. Specifically, exploring ways of using my voice, body and brain to discover and convey what makes Don Pizarro tick.

    What do you find most interesting about playing Don Pizarro? What is your key to the character?

    Our director Lillian has helped lead me down an interesting road regarding Don Pizarro. I knew he was the “bad guy,” but you can’t just act “bad guy” on stage. I also knew that his actions were motivated by self-preservation, but Lillian introduced the possibility that Pizarro is on the edge of losing his sanity. Today, as I was thinking about the role, I realized that the more dangerous and unpredictable Pizarro is, the more desperate the situation becomes for everyone else on stage. So I have decided to dedicate the rest of the rehearsal process to finding ways to make life hellish for everyone on stage with me. Off stage, I’m more likely to buy everyone a drink!

    What operatic roles are still on your bucket list?

    I’ve been fortunate to have sung many of the great baritone roles, like Figaro in The Barber of Seville and the title roles in Don Giovanni and Rigoletto and to have been in the premieres of over a dozen new operas during my career. Hmmm…bucket list…Scarpia, one the greatest villain roles in opera is on that list for sure, but not for long. I will be singing Scarpia in Tosca for the first time next spring. It’s a role that I have studied and researched for years. I also had the good fortune of coaching it with one of the great proponents of the role, the celebrated American baritone Sherrill Milnes.

    If you could switch to a different voice type for a show, what would it be?

    I toyed with idea of moving up into tenor repertoire when I was younger. The dramatic tenor role of Otello would be my pick for a chance to switch for one show.

    If you could turn a book/movie/tv show into an opera, what would it be? (And which role would you want?)

    Planet of the Apes (the original 1968 movie). I would be the lost astronaut, played by Charlton Heston in the movie.

    See Walters as Escamillo in Florida Grand Opera's production of Carmen below:

    Tickets for Kentucky Opera can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 502-584-4500.

    Selena Frye's picture

    About Selena Frye

    I'm a writer and editor living in Louisville since 1996. I'm originally from the Blue Ridge of Virginia.

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