Saturday, May 2, 2009

Backstage at FIGARO: Directions to Peter Kazaras

Photo by Bill MohnA final Figaro interview, this time with Seattle Opera's beloved tenor and stage director Peter Kazaras.

JD: Peter Kazaras, you’ve now directed Le nozze di Figaro a number of times. But before you began directing this opera, how did you come to know it? Did you ever sing in it? Attend performances you loved (or hated)?

PK: I never sang in a production of Le nozze di Figaro. I would have loved to sing Don Basilio, the slimy music teacher, but this was not my fate. On the other hand, now I actually AM a music teacher. Hmmm. On the other hand, I have known and adored this opera since I was a teenager. It is one of my top 5. Productions I have been impressed by include Giorgio Strehler's Paris production (which I saw at the Met during the Paris Opera's US Bicentennial Tour in 1976), Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's beautiful production for Salzburg, which I saw in 1973, and Peter Sellars's landmark production setting this "crazy day" in Trump Tower.

JD: Although you’ve done a number of updated opera productions in contemporary dress (such as your hilarious Gianni Schicchi, or our recent British boarding-school Midsummer Night’s Dream), you’ve often set Le nozze di Figaro in period. Is that an intentional choice? Do you dream of someday setting the Figaro, for example, in the Clinton White House?

PK: I dream of many things. Not of that, though. The point is not about the period, but about the power relationships and sexual relationships between the protagonists. That's what makes the world go 'round, no matter when the time period. And as to updating -- ugh, it's such a tired word. I set The Turn of the Screw for the Seattle Opera YAP in 1940, and no one even noticed. It didn't matter. Few productions of La bohème are set in the "proper" 1820-1830 period because the costumes are so incredibly unflattering. No one cares. People only notice when something looks contemporary (to them.) And if you show me a production of Suor Angelica set in the 17th century (when it was supposed to have been set), I will show you a production with the hugest damn habits you have ever seen in your life. You could only fit about 10 of them on the McCaw Hall stage. But it's nuns, so only Perry Lorenzo would notice. And a stage director.

JD: Tell us what’s been different about Le nozze di Figaro, between your various productions. Were there scenes or moments you staged one way, for one company, but then did something completely different with a different cast?

PK: Figaro is constructed like clockwork, a suitable homage to Beaumarchais, the author of the original Figaro plays, who was obsessed with timepieces. Plot device D can ONLY happen after Plot devices A, B, and C have taken place and have been put into action in the proper order. So for me, there are certain things that have to happen in a certain way for the show to work. That said, I am not reluctant to change staging so as to reflect the strengths of my current cast members. Certain things I insist on in order to give the piece a cohesive look and feel, but I am flexible about other things. I am happy for someone to try something new, and if it works, it's in the show!

JD: What advice would you give an audience member, attending this Figaro, who’d never heard the opera before? What would you say to the opera veteran who’s been to Figaro dozens of times?

PK: I'd say the same thing to both kinds of audience members: If you liked it, please tell your friends. If you didn't, how many home runs do you think Junior is going to hit this year?

Below: in Seattle Opera's 2002 Salome, Peter Kazaras sang Herod to Joyce Castle's Herodias. Currently at Seattle Opera, Kazaras directs Castle as Marcellina in Le nozze di Figaro.


  1. Hallo, Peter!
    Thanks for THE best "Figaro" production IO've seen on either side of the Atlantic!! Yes, I also liked J-P Ponnelle's in Koeln in the mid-70s, but it was overshadowed in my memory by THE best-ever "Don Giovanni" in that same Koelner Mozart-Zyklus, whice is THE best "DG" I've EVER seen, including the very good recent one Seattle Opera did.
    Leider, es gibt keinen Ersatz fuer Ponnelle; not even Chris Alexander or other current first-rate Regisseuere engaged by Seattle Opera, which are THE best currently around anywhere!! Thanks, Speight, for engaging the best currently available; unfortunately, you are unable to resurrect J-P Ponnell from the grave!!
    Dankbar fuer das moegliche,