So You Want To Get Into Opera? An Interview with Evan Lazdowski on The Marriage of Figaro @ the Pittsburgh Opera

After a dynamic start to the 22-23 season with "Rusalka," the Pittsburgh Opera is set to perform "The Marriage of Figaro", one of Mozart’s most well-known pieces, from Nov. 5 to Nov. 13, 2022. This past week, I sat down with Evan Lazdowski, a bass-baritone Resident Artist at Pittsburgh Opera. This season, he will be performing the roles of Antonio and Figaro (in the student matinee). With Carnegie Mellon’s reputation as both a school strong in STEM, but also well-versed in the dramatic arts, I decided to ask questions regarding both the technical side of opera, as well as questions for the burgeoning opera-lover! Below are excerpts of our conversation.

Q: Tell me a bit about yourself!
A: I just started the Pittsburgh Opera resident artist program this year and I’m a first-year resident artist. All of us are actually in our first year in the program. A lot of these programs, people are in them for two or three years. It’s often a good mixture—but since we’re all first-years, we all have that in common—we’re all new to this and we’re in it together. Basically, as resident artists we’re responsible, in addition to singing roles and covering roles, performing at different events in the city of Pittsburgh when we’re not busy or rehearsing a show. We do performances at Market Square during the farmer’s market, we do things like singing during background concerts in the Cultural District. There are popup concerts we do as well.
*Successful alumni of the Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist Program include Kevin Short and Jonathan Beyer

Q: For first-time opera go-ers, what should they expect from "The Marriage of Figaro"?
A: I think what’s important to expect is a sense of fun. I feel like because of what a lot of people associate with the operatic art form, they expect things to be kind of straight-laced, strict, and clean. Especially with a show like Marriage of Figaro, there’s a sense of fun. People feel that in the audience, including people who have been going to the opera for years. They’re not there to be fancy, everyone is there to have a good time. It is not straight-laced, anyone can come and relax and enjoy themselves. It’s a lot of great fun!

Q: Given that the Marriage of Figaro is such a loved classic, what do you think separates the Pittsburgh Opera’s production of it from the rest?
A: It’s interesting, what usually happens now at most companies when they perform something like this—they kind of put a modern spin on it. The Met Opera has done a production for a few years now where its set in the 1930s. This production is different that its set in the time period, we have period costumes, the wigs, the makeup, the long stockings, things like that. You go back to the operatic history like 30 or 40 years ago. There were a lot more period pieces. The Mozart pieces were done in the period—it wasn’t set in a casino, which the Met has done. This is a case of the inverse, most of these classics have a modern spin on it, but we’re going against the grain.

Q: Do you have any favorite moments from the show as either Antonio or Figaro?
A: I have to say, it helps for me that in I’ve done the role of Figaro in the past. That means that I’ve learned the music before, so things are less stressful in that way. Usually when people are doing it for the first time, they make a big deal of the Act II finale because there’s so much going on. I feel lucky that I’ve done that before, so now because I’ve rehearsed those two scenes, I can have a fun time. There’s so much humor, so much fun that’s going on. There are so many story beats in quick succession. My two favorite opera scenes of all time have become the two in the show.

Q: What made you decide to pursue opera, or music in general, as a career?
A: I think what started it for me was doing all the high school musicals when I was younger. I played a character where I had to — I find this is a common story that a lot of singers have — they have to mimic the operatic sound that they’ve heard in commercials, in TV shows. I had to do that in a show once, and there was a voice teacher in the audience that heard me that knew I was pretending, but heard something “real” to build off of. It took some convincing, but after a while I started to become more interested and what did that for me was watching Amadeus for the first time. Watching the opera scenes, I do remember that being the moment where I thought “Wow, opera is really cool.” I got on board with my teacher at the time because of that. The ball kept rolling from there, it’s gotten to the point where I’ve done this for a decade. I just love what I do!

Q: How has working with the Pittsburgh Opera as a Resident Artist been like thus far?
A: Depending on the events the company has coming up, they have all kinds of celebrations and events they do here throughout the city. Kind of make ourselves known and give the gift of music to the people of Pittsburgh. We work around 6 days a week — if we’re not doing a show, we’ll maybe have two or three coachings a day where we work on our own repertoire or rehearse the music we want to do. Sometimes we do these concerts at the Pittsburgh Opera building in the Strip District. They’re called brown bag concerts, one-hour programs that happen once every few weeks or so. The last one we did, we did a condensed one hour version of Figaro with selected scenes. We have another one coming up with operatic repertoire and musical theatre that is themed around Thanksgiving. There’s one for Christmas, one for Valentine’s Day. Our coachings are often based around the repertoire we have for those programs. For Figaro, we often have days where we’re working from 11 AM to 10 PM. There’s a good long break for lunch, a good long break for dinner. I’ve had multiple days this week where it’s been hours of staging, review. We put this show together really quickly—basically a week and a half. It’s been really amazing, and an educational opportunity for me. When we’re doing a show 11 AM – 2 PM, 3 PM - 5 PM , 7 PM – 10 PM, sometimes it can be a lot of hours but it helps us to put the shows together in a really efficient way.

Q: What advice do you have for any budding opera singers at CMU?
A: This resonates with me recently because of all the auditions I’ve been doing. Last year, when I was finishing up graduate school, what I was told, which I think has helped me, is that ultimately teachers will tell you “you need to sing what’s healthy, what’s comfortable”, which is very important, but it is important to find at least one piece in your audition packet that you love. The piece of advice I was given multiple times was to sing what you love. Of course, you’re told to sing beautifully, have great understanding of foreign language, great diction—but when you sing what you love, and it’s something you listen to over and over and that you enjoy—all those extra details will take care of themselves because you love it so much that all those details work themselves out. Those details will have your back. Yes, find your package that is varied and healthy, but also include something you love.

Q: If there was one role in any show you could perform at any venue, who and where would it be, and why?
A: Because I have this great theatrical background and I love Shakespeare, where I lived, I did a production with a Shakespeare company. I would love to sing as Nick Bottom in Benjamin Britten’s interpretation of "A Midsummer’s Night Dream."

Student tickets are available at a discounted price at the Pittsburgh Opera! Grab a friend and enjoy the upcoming performances of "The Marriage of Figaro" on November 5, 8, 11, and 13.