Peter Kazaras

Merola's The Medium and Gianni Schicchi

Gianni Schicchi 3* Notes * 
The Merola Opera Program recently returned to Cowell Theater with a double-bill of The Medium and Gianni Schicchi. Directed by Peter Kazaras and conducted by Mark Morash, the Saturday afternoon performance was engaging and energetic.

The Medium is a stark, tense work, and Donald Eastman's simple scenery was enhanced by the Kazaras' straightforward direction. The set is two full walls arranged at angles from an upstage platform with a curtained scrim above it. A few solid pieces of furniture and pretty period costumes completed the ambiance, letting the singers shine.

Mezzo-soprano Nicole Woodward was impressively unhinged as Madame Flora (Baba). Her voice is rich. Soprano Madison Leonard made for a devastating Monica, her resonant sound has bite without being harsh. Soprano Kathryn Bowden (Mrs. Gobineau), bass-baritone Austin Siebert (Mr. Gobineau), mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon as Mrs. Nolan sang well together. Alasdair Kent did a fine job as Toby, a mute role. His movements were convincing and he was unrecognizable when he reappeared as Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi.

Gianni Schicchi (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken) happens in essentially the same space, but with the full walls pushed further from the center to make room for Buoso Donati's bedroom. The platform is now a terrace with patio furniture and a bird cage. Baritone Kihun Yoon fully embodied the title role. His voice is strong, with some grit to it. His stage presence is superb. His charisma was palpable from the very moment he stepped on stage.

The others did not perfectly match Yoon, but made fine efforts. Soprano Cree Carrico sang Lauretta prettily, and her big aria ("O mio babbino caro") went nicely. Christopher Bozeka (Rinuccio) sounded bright and pleasant. Kathryn Bowden (Nella), Ashley Dixon (Ciesca) and Tara Curtis (Zita) sang beautifully together as they veiled Yoon changing into Donati's clothes.

As the orchestra is on the same level as the audience, and Cowell is small, the music was loud. All the singers have a ton of volume, so by the time the matinée was over, my ears were ringing. Though not the most subtle of performances, it was certainly gripping.

* Tattling * 
I gave myself an hour and forty minutes to make it the 17.3 miles to the venue from my abode. Unfortunately it took me two hours, so I missed much of Act I of The Medium. The staff at Merola and Cowell were helpful and kind. Next time I will plan for lunch in the Marina.

Peter Kazaras Interview

Peter-kazaras Peter Kazaras (pictured left) directed the Merola Opera Program's Schwabacher Summer Concert this year. Kazaras is currently the Director of Opera at UCLA and Artistic Director of the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program. He was kind enough to speak with The Opera Tattler on July 14, 2011.

In addition to being an opera director, you are also a tenor. When and how did you start singing?
My father was a dramatic tenor, until he had to give it up because of nearly fatal ulcers. My mother was a musicologist. So I knew I should not pursue a life as a professional singer, but the craziness won out! I went to Harvard and studied government, then I went to law school. But I was in shows all the time, and in plays. I started singing lessons at 19. I was an attorney for two years, but i started my professional career as a tenor when I was 27. I waited until I was ready, but I didn't do it the normal way. I considered myself a principal character tenor. Stephen Wadsworth was my friend from college, and I was in his Poppea at Skylight Opera Theatre as Nero. I created the role of François in A Quiet Place, so I got to work with Bernstein, which was a kick.

How did you go from being a tenor to being an opera director?
I was always watching, I would go to rehearsals and just watch. It was a natural thing for me, I was always interested in directing. I directed Norma in Seattle, and then Le Nozze di Figaro, Tristan und Isolde, and Barbiere on the main stage. At UCLA I've done Falstaff, Le Nozze di Fiagro, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi, Carousel (without amplification, not even for the dialogue), Three Penny Opera, and Dialogues of the Carmelites.

What does being the Artistic Director of Seatle Opera's YAP entail?
I started off at Seattle Opera as a singer, in 1985, and most recently I sang Loge in the 2005 Ring. I am actually making my return to the stage fairly soon. I became involved in the Young Artist's Program through Perry Lorenzo in the Department of Education at Seattle Opera. I do coachings and hear auditions. I have also directed the young artists in Le Nozze di Figaro, Turn of the Screw, Falstaff, a double bill of Enchanted Child and Gianni Schicchi, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Don Giovanni. The program runs from October through November, and January through April, so I fly back and forth from Los Angeles to Seattle quite a lot!

What do you do for Merola? Tell me about directing a concert rather than a whole opera.
I help the Merolini gain the skills they need, and we work on knowing what every word means. We have to figure out what works physically for them, and there is a lot of play involved.

What are the challenges of being an opera director?
My job is to create a page and then get everyone on it! What is on this page is dictated by the score, especially the music in the score. The brunt of the work is actually shouldered by the music and the singers. One of the challenges is that there should be no difference between acting and singing, and one should be able to hear what is going on through the voice as aided by the body.

When do you get your best ideas?
Usually either in the shower or when walking my poodle Tommy.