Sunday 18 March 2018

Michael's looking forward to 'awesome' opera role



AMERICAN BOY Michael Kepler Meo thinks it's 'awesome' that he is starring as Charlie in the European premiere of The Golden Ticket at Wexford Opera Festival this year.

Everyone else thinks it's awesome too, because at 11 years old, Michael, from Portland, Oregon, is one of the youngest lead singers ever to perform at the Wexford festival.

Last Wednesday, the coolest member of this year's cast by far was conspicuous among grown-ups as he attended a welcome reception in the Skyview Café at the top of the Opera House, held for artists and backstage staff arriving for the start of rehearsals.

He was accompanied by his mother Trudy who has also brought her younger son John to Wexford for the duration of Michael's performance.

The family are staying in John's Road as Michael prepares for The Golden Ticket, a new opera by Peter Ash, which is based on the famous Roald Dahl book Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

The co-production with Opera Theatre Saint Louis will be presented at the Opera Festival every third night from Sunday, October 17.

The 59th festival will open on Saturday, October 16, with the Italian lyric tragedy Virginia by Saverio Mercadante and will also feature the Czech folk opera Hubicka by Bedrich Smetana.

Michael, who is in the 6th grade, enrolled in an online school before travelling to Ireland, and was homeschooled by his mother for the past two years, making it easier to take time off for his opera commitments.

He began his singing career at the age of six with the Portland Boychoir, of which his brother was also a member for a time. He had a fascination with the sound of his own voice even when he was a baby, according to Trudy.

'He was always making these sounds and experimenting with noises. Sometimes you'd catch him blowing into things like the tube of the vacuum cleaner to hear what it sounded like.'

He has performed at the Portland Opera, Houston Opera and in Vancouver, and last June he played the role of Charlie in the original St Louis production, which was attended by Wexford Festival Opera chairman Peter Scallan. His ambition when he grows up is to be a full-time professional opera singer.

The first time he heard the Roald Dahl story was when his pre-school teacher read it to the class, and he remembers it making a big impression on him.

What he likes most about the career his talent is drawing him into is: 'You get to put all your hard work into a performance for people to enjoy.'

Does he suffer from stage fright? 'No, not really.'

The opening Wexford performance of The Golden Ticket will be attended by Roald Dahl's widow, Felicity, an opera fan who commissioned the comic opera with the American Lyric Theater.

More than 200 company members are involved in this year's festival, with 12 countries represented, including Argentina, South Africa, Italy, the US, Canada, Britain, Australia, Russia, Portugal, Ukraine and the Czech Republic.

They were welcomed to Wexford by artistic director David Agler, chief executive David McLoughlin and chairman Peter Scallan.

Peter Scallan spoke about the history of opera in Wexford, saying the first recorded opera here was in 1778, in the Arts Centre, which was then known as the Assembly Rooms.

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