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Prepared for August 9, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All

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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,

www.operafest.org.nj).

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

sparkle."

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

Britten’s

"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

season,

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

was right.

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

insufficient

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

opera,"

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

California

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

"anthropological"

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

to.’"

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

theories."

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

ethnically

diverse Greenwich Village. Since 1985, he lived in Oakland,

California.

"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

too gushy."

Takazauckas drew sustenance from the wide range of vehicles he

directed:

classical opera, romantic opera, Broadway musicals, contemporary

opera,

and plays. "I always wanted a variety of work," he said.

"The

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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