Takazauckas Bio

Autobiographical Overtones

Comic Trickery

Corrections or additions?

This story by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on June 17, 1998. All rights reserved.

Grand Old Operas, Brave New Venue

With a gala opening featuring Mozart’s "Marriage

of Figaro" on Saturday, June 20, Opera Festival of New Jersey

begins its 15th season in its new venue, Princeton’s McCarter Theater.

Mirroring the physical relocation of the festival, director Albert

Takazauckas moves "Marriage of Figaro" from its late


setting to the late 1930s.

The opening night gala begins with cocktails and dinner in McCarter’s

lobbies. Co-chairs of the gala committee are Princetonians Alan and

Peggy Karcher, and William and Sylvette Krause. Also serving on the

committee are the Metropolitan Opera’s Sharon Sweet, and husband John

Sweet, who reside in Princeton.

After 14 successful seasons at the Kirby Arts Center of the


School, with its seating capacity of some 800, OFNJ has moved, with

understandable reluctance, to a performance space that accommodates

1,000 and that also offers improved technical facilities. In an effort

to approximate the sylvan ambiance traditionally associated with the

summer festival, a gathering and strolling area is being created on

the grounds of McCarter with flower boxes and benches; a green and

white hospitality tent will stand in the trees adjacent to the


Picnicking will take place on the lawn of the nearby Princeton


Seminary, either outdoors or under a large tent. In addition to the

usual parking areas near McCarter, parking will be available in a

seminary lot.

Director Albert Takazauckas enthusiastically confirms he will take

advantage of McCarter’s technical facilities. "I don’t think


would care about the rope system or the trap door on stage. We will

have a moon rise. But I don’t want anybody to notice what we’re doing

technically. I don’t want the audience to say `He sure is using the

hemp’ — that’s the term for the rope system."

Top Of Page
Takazauckas Bio

OFNJ has entrusted Takazauckas with many of its


operas. During the last two seasons his realistic stage action has

made the audience figuratively stand on tiptoe to get a glimpse of

what is happening, so well does he make his onlookers part of the

action. In Stravinsky’s "Rake’s Progress" (1996) the players

on stage see the face of the bearded lady "Baba the Turk"

before the audience does; it is as if the audience were straining

from the back rows of the crowd to watch her descend from her sedan

chair. In Barber’s "Vanessa," the doctor places a screen


the bed of the rescued Erika, and the audience joins with the


on stage in being equally excluded. Somehow, the distance that


creates in both these cases increases the degree of audience


Takazauckas prides himself on focusing on the material hand, and


extraneous considerations. "One of the things I feel pure


he says, "is that I haven’t been pulled and pushed around by a

lot of theories."

Takazauckas grew up in Greenwich Village, the son of a Lithuanian

father and a Calabrese mother. His interest in staging opera and


theater developed at New York’s New School. His first directing


came while he was working at Columbia University as the map curator,

and devoting his vacations to summer stock theater. A California


for 13 years, he has directed a wide range of vehicles — classical

opera, romantic opera, Broadway musicals, contemporary opera, and

a variety of plays. Since U.S. 1 last talked to Takazauckas (July

9, 1997) he has directed a production of "Little Women" at

Washington’s Kennedy Center that will tour the United States for three

months beginning in September; a production of Stephen Sondheim’s

highly-regarded musical "Company;" and a production of Ferenc

Molnar’s "The Guardsman," for the American Conservatory


Takazauckas says his conception of "Figaro" was inspired by

Jean Renoir’s 1939 film, "Rules of the Game." "I saw how

much Renoir took from Beaumarchais, the playwright who created Figaro,

and from da Ponte, the opera’s librettist. So I decided to take some


"I’ve set the opera in the period just before World War II. It

was the last gasp for the aristocracy. After World War II, aristocracy

went underground. Monarchy could rise up again, for display or


But the period before World War II was the last overt expression of

power of the aristocracy. It meant something to have a title."

In 1786, when Mozart’s "Marriage of Figaro" premiered, an

aristocratic title meant much more. In the 1780s a title was the


to liberty, and a sign that one’s opinions had weight. However, the

intellectual ferment that led to the French Revolution in 1789 was

already present. Five years before the revolution, Beaumarchais’


Marriage of Figaro," the play on which Mozart’s opera is based,

incited doubts about the status quo. Engaging by its wit, it


threatened the old order. Mozart, a politically enlightened Freemason,

was sympathetic to both Beaumarchais’ political ideas and his skill,

and so was Mozart’s librettist, da Ponte.

Director Takazauckas, who likes to look into the background of


he directs, cites the French Revolutionary leader Danton as saying

that Beaumarchais’ "Figaro" killed aristocracy, and cites

Napoleon who referred to it as "the play that began the


Takazauckas adds his voice to these.

"It was the first time in the theater that the valet says `No,’

and wins," he says. "`Figaro’ is both a political act and

a comedy at the same time. That’s usually not a good balance. But

this is a very solid play by Beaumarchais. For da Ponte and Mozart

to get it performed they had to convince Emperor Franz Joseph that

they would edit it down. In the play, when Figaro says to the Count,

`What have you done? You took the trouble to be born!’ the audience

must have jumped out of their skin. But the Declaration of


had already been published. Revolution was in the air."

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Autobiographical Overtones

Takazauckas sees autobiography in playwright Beaumarchais’


of Figaro." "Beaumarchais is nobody," Takazauckas says.

"He comes out of the lowest rungs of the social order and


himself. Because his father was born Protestant, Beaumarchais was

technically illegitimate. The father realized that the family would

never make it as Protestants, and signed a paper to declare the family

Catholic. The children were baptized, but grew up with no inner


content. Throughout his life, Beaumarchais was living a lie. He


a Figaro. At first he is a watchmaker, and designs levers that make

possible small watches. They become popular in aristocratic circles.

He marries way above his position. It’s the same thing that happens

to Figaro. For all his intelligence and bravery, Figaro is not


He has to have parentage and a pedigree."

The aristocratic privilege that propels the plot is that of droit

du seigneur — the master’s rights that included access to any

woman in his service. With dazzling intricacy, the plot unfolds during

the course of four acts, all of which take place within the space

of a single day.

For first-time audience members, the convoluted plot of


can be a challenge. "Beaumarchais was a watchmaker!" declares

Takazauckas. "He spent the first part of his life putting


little tiny pieces of machinery that make clocks work as a unit.


where his mentality comes from."

As the opera opens, Figaro, the valet of Count Almaviva, is measuring

the bedroom which he and his fiancee Susanna, the maid of Countess

Almaviva, will share after their wedding. Susanna does not want the

room. For when Figaro observes that the location is ideal for


getting to the Countess, she points out that it is also ideal for

the fickle Count’s reaching her.

Next we meet the matronly, aristocratic Marcellina and Doctor Bartolo

enter, plotting to force Figaro to marry Marcellina, because of an

old debt. Then enters Cherubino, the count’s page boy whose hormones

lead him to fall in love with just about every woman he encounters.

He has been dismissed for flirting with the gardener’s daughter,


and asks Susanna to help him regain his appointment. This also


the Countess, once her husband’s beautiful trophy, now neglected in

favor of his other conquests.

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Comic Trickery

In a succession of comic scenes, the various characters

press their cause, each resorting to trickery to catch up their


Fortunately, the moving and sad Act Four brings a happy ending for


Takazauckas is nonplused when explaining why the young lover Cherubino

is sung by a woman. "Trouser roles," he says, "are such

a long-standing tradition in opera. I’ve done a lot of Handel, and

there are usually trouser roles. I find them charming. In English

pantomimes trouser roles were devised so you could see a woman’s legs.

In opera, trouser roles have to do with the voice type. I don’t think

Mozart or Strauss were very fond of tenors — they preferred a

mezzo to a tenor. Trouser roles were part of the tradition. They


great roles for women."

"Figaro" will be sung in English, rather than the original

Italian, a choice that Takazauckas applauds. "It always seems

to me that comedy should be done in the language of the people


he says. "It makes it easier. Melodramas or tragedies should be

done in the original language. The audience reaction is different.

In comedy you want to be more on top of it, and part of the


Making their OFNJ debuts in the production are Figaro (Mark McCrory),

Susanna (Alicia Berneche), and Bartolo (Rod Nelman). Returning to

OFNJ are Count Almaviva (Kelly Anderson), Countess Almaviva (Jennifer

Casey Cabot), and Cherubino (Laura Tucker).

"Part of the job," says Takazauckas "is working with new

people." But "there’s also something comforting about working

with people you know. I’m interested to see Laura Tucker, who played

[the tormented] Erika in `Vanessa’ play comedy. In opera you work

your ideas around the people. There’s give and take. Unlike a play,

where I get to cast, in opera, usually I’m not asked at all about


Takazauckas is most pleased with OFNJ’s new venue. "How exciting

that this wonderful company is moving into McCarter," he says.

"I live in California, but anything that matters culturally in

this country is important. I worry about the arts being shunted aside

for the information highway. I worry that the humanity that live


gives us is losing ground. The Japanese have an axiom, `A town without

a poet is a dead town.’ Without art, you’ve lost your history, lost

your voice."

— Elaine Strauss

Opera Festival of New Jersey, McCarter Theater, University

Place, 609-683-8000. $22 to $58. The Marriage of Figaro,


June 20, 8 p.m.; Friday, June 26, 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 28, 2 p.m.;

Sunday, July 12, 2 p.m.; and Thursday, July 16, 8 p.m.

Tosca, Saturday, June 27, 8 p.m.; Wednesday, July 1, 8

p.m.; Sunday, July 5, 2 p.m.; Friday, July 10, 8 p.m.; and Saturday,

July 18, 8 p.m.

Susannah, Saturday, July 11, 8 p.m.; Friday, July 17,

8 p.m.; and Sunday, July 19, 2 p.m.

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