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Prepared for August 9, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All
The Reach of Albert Takazauckas
Our music community suffered a great loss when Albert
Takazauckas died suddenly from a heart attack on Sunday, July 23,
in Los Angeles, California. A theatrical and operatic director whose
reach extended across the United States and across the Atlantic to
Europe, he was known to Princeton audiences from his contribution
to six seasons at the Opera Festival of New Jersey (OFNJ,
OFNJ inaugurated its new home at McCarter Theater and its 1998 season
with Takazauckas’ production of Mozart’s "Marriage of Figaro."
Reviewing it for U.S. 1, I called it "a triumph of scope and
Takazauckas successfully relocated Mozart’s 1786 comic masterpiece
to the period just before World War II and his version of the enduring
work was taut and imaginative (July 1, 1998).
Although he directed upbeat 18th-century works during the course of
his career, Takazauckas’ range was unconfined. With OFNJ he showed
a marked affinity for 20th-century operas of uneasiness. His penchant
for pessimism and his tolerance for ambiguity were notable assets
when the material at hand was mysterious and intense.
His association with OFNJ began in 1993 when he directed Peter Maxwell
Davies’, "The Lighthouse," followed in 1995 by Benjamin
"The Turn of the Screw." First profiled in U.S. 1 in 1996
(July 3, 1996) for his production of Igor Stravinsky’s "The Rake’s
Progress" (1996), we proceeded to pay close attention to his deft
hand with Samuel Barber’s "Vanessa" (1997), Dominick Argento’s
"Postcard from Morocco" (1999), and, most recently this
Hugo Weisgall’s "Six Characters in Search of an Author." In
all of these works sinister happenings invite symbolic interpretations
and Takazauckas delighted in pushing the theatrical envelope.
In 1997, when I asked him how he came to be a director, his reply
was striking. "Audacity," he shot back, "and the strong
belief that longevity would bring success" (July 9, 1997). He
His bold approach to theater resulted in productions
with a unique stamp that gradually attracted more and more admirers.
He filled in the interstices of works for the stage with material
that was compelling, consistent, and imaginative. He designed the
death scene of the Old Lady in OFNJ’s 1997 "Vanessa," for
example, so that the Old Lady on her deathbed was not visible; the
audience saw only the backs of those present in the room. Seated in
the theater, the audience strained, as if on tiptoe, to get a glimpse
of the dying woman. Sadly, Takazauckas’ longevity was woefully
for unleashing his full potential.
Takazauckas’ New York Times obituary (July 26, 2000) gave his age
as 56. Yet his age was one of the things, over the course of five
seasons’ interviews, that I never tried to cajole him into revealing.
Although, in many respects he was surprisingly forthcoming, sometimes
he conveyed a reserve and self-containment that demanded respect.
Asked in 1997 about attending theatrical performances, he opened the
door a crack into his personal life. "I try not to go to
he said. "I’m usually working. When I have time off, the last
place I want to be is the theater. In my time off I like to draw.
I’m an excellent cook. And I have my life."
By 2000 Takazauckas was ready to reveal to me and U.S. 1 readers that
his painting and graphics are shown in more than one northern
gallery, and he described their place in his life. "I seldom talk
about it," he said. "I’m not ashamed of it — just slightly
embarrassed. I do it for me. Sometimes I think I like to direct so
I can paint." He described his pictures as
rather than decorative. "For a long period I did a lot of chairs.
A chair is an invitational object. The phrase `Come in and sit down’
is used all the time. I’m saying in my pictures, `Come in, sit down,
and take a look at an object that you usually pay no attention
Just as he examined this neglected piece of furniture, Takazauckas
brought his full scrutiny to the theatrical vehicles that he directed.
Invariably thoughtful, he played with ideas as if they were juggling
balls. Yet he relied on explicit events on stage to convey what he
meant. "One of the things I feel pure about," he said, "is
that I haven’t been pulled and pushed around by a lot of
He wanted his pieces to stand on their own, and he explained his view
with considerable self-knowledge. "I don’t compare myself to a
painter or a composer," he said in 1997. "I am an interpretive
artist. What I’m here to do is serve the product the best I can. It’s
very humbling to direct Mozart or Barber or Shakespeare. It’s humbling
to work with their material. Still, after exposure to the piece, you
have a clear affinity for what’s going on. You’ve thought it through.
When the production appears on stage you’re saying, `These are my
conclusions about the piece.’
Takazauckas was born and raised on Carmine Street, in New York’s
diverse Greenwich Village. Since 1985, he lived in Oakland,
"My father was of Lithuanian background," Takazauckas said.
"My mother was Calabrese. They met in Manhattan. I grew up with
kids who were Irish and Polish, or Greek and Hungarian. We were the
hybrids." His interest in staging opera and musical theater came
from his exposure to American composer Joyce Bartleson at New York’s
New School. "Joyce was one of those angels who appear on the road
and take you in the right direction. I can’t speak about her. I get
Takazauckas drew sustenance from the wide range of vehicles he
classical opera, romantic opera, Broadway musicals, contemporary
and plays. "I always wanted a variety of work," he said.
range has kept me from being bored. I don’t feel entrapped."
It’s hard to think positively in the face of Takazauckas’ untimely
death. The best to be hoped for is that those of us exposed to his
artistic legacy can use his thoughtful openness as a model.
— Elaine Strauss
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