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Meigui Zhang as Zerlina and Alan Williams as Masetto (Credit: Cory Weaver / LA Opera)

Opera Interview: Alan Williams from LA Opera’s ‘Don Giovanni’

Bass-baritone Alan Williams is playing Masetto in Don Giovanni, running through October 15 at LA Opera. This production, which stars Lucas Meachem as the notorious playboy, is conducted by James Conlon and directed by Kasper Holten. The cast also includes Guanqun Yu, Isabel Leonard, Anthony León, Craig Colclough, Meigui Zhang, and Peixin Chen.

I spoke with Williams to learn more about his training and the challenges of performing in one of Mozart’s most famous operas.

On Early Experiences

From his time at Riverside Community College, Williams recalled that a teacher once said, “If you have anything else you’d rather do than music, then do that because this field is very difficult.”

He was glad that she provided that advice. He said, “It is a difficult field, but I couldn’t see or imagine myself doing anything else. I knew that it took hard work.”

Later at Northern Arizona University, Williams played Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro. Landing his very first role there was equal parts exciting and eyeopening. “Immediately, I realized how much dedication and commitment it takes to portray a character and sing that role.”

On Returning to California

Hailing from San Bernardino, Williams felt that he took living in Southern California for granted. “It wasn’t until I moved away for college at Northern Arizona University and then the University of Michigan for my masters degree that I realized how much I missed home, and performing at home.”

In addition to Arizona and Michigan, Williams has performed at the Des Moines Metro Opera in Iowa and the Oxford Lieder Festival in Oxford, England. Now he’s back in California and singing with LA Opera through the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program.

Image of Alan Williams standing outside
Courtesy of Blake Nelson

Williams described being back at home as his “pride and joy.” His old friends from high school and community college regularly come to his performances and offer home-crowd support. “They aren’t in shock but they are just amazed at my growth. There’s nothing like home.” 

On the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program

Aside from the bonus of being home again, Williams understands the value of being part of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program. Since starting the residency in 2022, he’s been able to work with Maestro Conlon as well as the staff, coaches, and voice teachers.

Williams said, “They have a high standard for us and expect the best from us. There are a lot of intensive rehearsals. But not only that, they are also very kind.”

He can take those skills directly to rehearsals and to LA Opera’s full-fledged and critically acclaimed productions, valuable experiences early in his opera career. “I do not take it for granted. I am grateful for this opportunity to sing Masetto here at the opera house.”

On Tips for Performing in Don Giovanni

To Williams, there’s generally no such thing as a small role in opera. He believes that’s particularly true in Don Giovanni. Every cast member needs “a clear understanding of who their character is” – character traits, personality, movements, and motivations.

“When that’s done, there’s so much contrast in the production and cast. It makes the show colorful and vibrant. In this production, everyone is committed to their character, their objectives, and what they want.” 

Photo of Alan Williams standing with an angry facial expression
Alan Williams as Masetto (Credit: Cory Weaver / LA Opera)

For his portrayal, Williams took a close look at Masetto’s feelings of jealousy and anger. “He didn’t learn to read and write, but he’s an honest guy and hard worker. In this stage of his life, Masetto feels powerless as a peasant with wealthy Don Giovanni coming into the picture.”

His favorite scene occurs in Act II, when Don Giovanni and servant Leporello (Colclough) disguise themselves as each other. “Don Giovanni manipulates Leporello into distracting Donna Elvira [Leonard] so Don Giovanni can get what he wants with Elvira’s maid [Zhang]. Just how everything is set with the libretti and the music is so comical. I can’t help but chuckle at the situation every time.”

On Non-Opera Interests

While Williams loves opera, he also wants his opera fans to know that he’s passionate about many things. He likes rock climbing, chess, bartending, and much more. 

Williams picked up his rock climbing hobby during the early days of the pandemic. “I could never just sit there and let time pass by. I was in Colorado at the time taking care of a family friend’s ranch.”

Although he always loved nature, he felt more connected with the Earth on those excursions, which often involved holding onto rock walls and cliffs. He still keeps up with his newfound hobby as his schedule and California weather allow. “Whenever I can go, it’s very therapeutic for me.”

Visit the LA Opera website for tickets and more information about Don Giovanni.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

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