Friday, October 10, 2014

Meet Our Singers: MARK WALTERS, Don Giovanni

If it weren’t for a single opera camp he attended in Iowa at age 22, American baritone Mark Walters wouldn’t be about to make his Seattle Opera debut as the title role in Don Giovanni. Instead, he’d either be playing the French Horn, or perhaps directing a high school band somewhere in the Midwest. “Although I always sang growing up, I was a much better instrumentalist than vocalist,” he says. Learn more about this rising-star baritone who’s been noted by the press as a “force to be reckoned with.” He performs at McCaw Hall on Oct. 19 and 31.

Mark Walters sings Don Giovanni's "Champagne" aria

That opera camp, Dorian Opera Theater at Luther College, had a profound effect on you! Tell us more about it.
We were really trained in all aspects of opera. In addition to performing, we even built the sets and costumes. We took voice lessons and movement classes. I got a taste for the creative process, the sense of being onstage. I also got to meet other singers who said they were going to be opera singers; opera is much more social than playing an instrument, where you often spend many long hours of practice alone.

You’ve done leading male roles in Verdi operas such as Rigoletto and La Traviata, as well as German baritone roles. What do you hope to do in the future?
I actually started off as a very light baritone: I sang Curly in Oklahoma and Figaro in The Barber of Seville, for example. I plan to do more Verdi operas right now, and hopefully, more German parts in the future depending on how my voice develops. I always carry two or three scores around with me, and I'm constantly studying new repertoire. 

What motivates your character, Don Giovanni?
Lust for life. The singer who originally portrayed the role was 23. With that in mind, I think Giovanni has to have the impulsiveness of youth.

How does The Don justify his behavior?
He says, to be fair to women, he should be able to love them all because it’s cruel to withhold himself—it’s only fair that all women should get to experience him! [laughs].

You’re a baritone. Is Mozart’s Bad Boy a bass or a baritone role?
When this piece was written, the modern baritone didn’t exist. Verdi had a lot to do with pushing the baritone voice much higher. There were two types of basses available to Mozart: higher and lower; there was a darker bass, and a lighter bass—which turned into the modern baritone. Throughout history, The Don has been sung by many voice types.

Mark Walters in rehearsal for the title role in Don Giovanni. Alan Alabastro photo
What is unique about this particular role? In general, do you like being the bad guy or the good guy?
It’s a lot of fun to be the villain. I’m soon going to be doing my first Scarpia in Tosca—he’s a very cultivated villain, for example. Giovanni I don’t think of as a villain in my approach to him. He pursues what he wants, and he has no regrets, even in his dying moments. He doesn’t have the sin of fear or regret. He does leave a lot of collateral damage in his wake, though. Even when you play a villain, you can’t think of them as the bad guy.

You recently sang The Don in Osaka. What was that like?
I was the only non-Japanese singer there, and it was a concert situation—so, not fully staged. The voices were really great; some of them may go on to great careers. On the other hand, many of the people I worked with only spoke Japanese, which makes an international career more difficult. The Japanese language features pure Italian vowels, however, so singing Italian opera is actually pretty easy for them. The big adventure of Japan, of course, is the food and travel experiences

From left: Mark Walter (Don Giovanni), Evan Boyer (Masetto) and Cecelia Hall (Zerlina) in rehearsal for Don Giovanni. Alan  Alabastro photo
What had you heard about Seattle before coming here; what do you think of our fair city?!
I heard Seattle Opera was a great place to work, and that the people and musicians were wonderful. I love to hike, so I’m really looking forward to doing that here!

Don Giovanni runs for seven performances from October 18 – November 1st. For more information, please visit


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