Michael Kepler Meo rehearses "The Turn of the Screw" in Los Angeles. (Christina House / For The…)
By the time Michael Kepler Meo takes the Los Angeles Opera stage on Saturday for "The Turn of the Screw," he will have ventured from his hometown of Portland, Ore., to perform in St. Louis; Vancouver, Wash.; and New York (at Carnegie Hall, no less), and it will be his third production of Benjamin Britten's opera.
And he's just 12 years old.
The boy's path to singing began when his parents suspected a special voice in their toddler's babbles. At 6, he joined the Portland Boychoir and scored his first opera role two years ago as Miles in the Portland Opera's staging of "Turn of the Screw." He also played Miles, the boy haunted by a ghost, with the Houston Grand Opera last year.
And Meo starred as Charlie in Peter Ash's "The Golden Ticket," an opera based on the children's book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" that made its debut last summer at the Opera Theatre in St. Louis.
During a break from rehearsals of "The Turn of the Screw" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Meo spoke of opera as a passion that he hopes to pursue throughout his life. With his jet-black hair perfectly slicked and the self-assurance of someone much older, Meo said he was a born performer, making the opportunity to both act and sing in opera all the more appealing.
"You can have fun, and maybe a little fame," he said, with a sly smile. "It's just rewarding in every way."
After the ensemble environment of a chorus, he said, the chance to stand on his own in opera allows him to add his own flair to a performance and take more liberties, pointing out: "And you just get more glory."
LA Opera music director James Conlon, who will be at the lectern for "The Turn of the Screw," called Meo a "very gifted boy with a beautiful voice," who reminded Conlon of himself when he was a child actor.
Despite his success, Meo knows he's nearing a precarious time as a maturing boy soprano, with the prospect of his voice breaking around the corner. But just as he doesn't fret before a performance, he doesn't dwell on the changes his voice will soon go through. He expects his experience thus far will help carry him through a challenging phase.
"I've been training my voice for seven years," he said. "I'm like a bodybuilder, always working out. Even if a bodybuilder loses some weight, it's not like the muscle goes away. There's nothing to fear with a voice change."
Sure, Meo acknowledges there will be more competition. By then, however, he'll be a veteran.