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.