This summer, the Martina Arroyo Foundation presents fully staged productions of Il Barbiere di Siviglia and La Traviata, at Hunter College's Kaye Playhouse. BRIAN KELLOW speaks with Barbiere's stage director, the acclaimed and versatile character actor Anthony Laciura.
Di qualità: director and actor Laciura
OPERA NEWS: Have you directed Barbiere before?
ANTHONY LACIURA: No, but I've been in it a lot, but I've been coaching it for seven years.
ON: What's the most difficult thing to get across to some of your students when coaching Barbiere?
AL: Recitative. That's the most difficult thing, because Rossini recitative and Mozart recitative are completely different. And everybody hears it so fast, so they try to push through it, and it makes no sense. I try teaching them how to do the recitative with the lilt of the language, because Rossini wrote it so exactly. The notes match the language — and do so in a way that's beautifully conversational.
What I've done in the past with recit is to direct it as if it were a play. So many of the singers learn the arias and the duets, but the recitatives no one takes enough time with. Mozart recitative is the most fantastic — that's where the plot is. It's less so in Rossini. But the most difficult aspect is to work it until it just trips off the tongue.
ON: And this is something students are not getting in music school?
AL: One of the reasons they don't do it in school, to be fair, is that there is not enough time. SUNY Purchase does — Jack Trussel runs the program, and those kids are very well prepared. I saw A Midsummer Night's Dream with all undergraduates, and it was unbelievable. But there's not enough time in music departments to do the recitative class.
You try to teach these students how to move, how to feel, how to inhabit the characters. One thing that makes Rossini difficult is where's the borderline? Because Barbiere lends itself to a lot of re-invention. But look how successful the old productions were. People went to be entertained. Simple plot, and so clear-cut that the audience doesn't have to think about it. They can sit there and enjoy it. Now, Martina likes everything as traditional as possible. So I'm going to go back, if I can, to as much of the commedia dell'arte situation as possible. So that we have a little bit of Salvatore Baccaloni — the sort of thing I was taught.
ON: I've seen many productions of Barbiere where the Rosina sang well, but she seemed way too tough and aggressive for the whole plot to make sense. What do you do when you have a singer who may not be your version of ideal casting?
AL: First of all, you have to learn the personality of your actor. You can only push things so far. I directed a Fanciulla for Knoxville Opera, and the woman singing Minnie looked like Eva Marton and sang the hell out of it. I thought, well, if she can go for it, this is great for me, because now I have something to work with, to try to make her softer. She had never done Minnie, and she became this soft person, this real woman — she would hop on that horse, and we would rehearse in a big field. She would hop on the horse and ride all over. She went with me, because she understood that I wanted her to be softer.
What I have in mind for Rosina is that she is a young girl who has everything she wants because of this old man — except she doesn't want the old man. So she's going to be miserable — a spoiled brat. But she's clever. She's not annoying. So the trick is to find a lot of lightness and a lot of youth, but as much substance as we can find in such a lighthearted story.
ON: Some of these young singers aren't used to working with a director. When they're that young, is it often hard to get them to trust you, to get them to do what you want them to do?
AL: One of my speeches is if you just trust me, I'm never in a million years going to make you look like an idiot. I say, if it's a great show, it's because you are great. If something goes wrong, it's the director's fault. The goal is to make it look like there was no director — that we all got together and came up with something terrific. What I do privately as well is simply say, let's feel it with the music. It's fantastic. In many ways it's a lot like film and TV. It all comes from inside. And when we go with that, all of a sudden, standing there, not moving at all, you're acting! But you have to dig inside deep.
ON: That was a spectacular exit your character, Eddie Kessler, made on Boardwalk Empire last season. After being so intensely involved in such a high-quality TV series, you must miss it terribly.
AL: I do miss it. But it's such a great bunch of people. We still periodically get together. Steve Buscemi is doing a webcast called Park Bench — it's sort of a talk show done on a park bench. He called me and said, do you want me to come and do this with me? We had Joel Grey, Chris Rock, Roseanne Cash. But when we do the interviews, we do them in the park. And I conduct an all-girls accordion band as the show's orchestra! We had so much fun. But I do miss Boardwalk. I loved being in front of the camera. What an ego trip!
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