Roots: Thaddeus Strassberger
Director and designer
Thaddeus Strassberger poses with a Chinese terracotta warrior for the opera “Turandot,” which he designed in Augsburg, Germany.
Vital Stats: Booker T. Washington High School 1994 graduate; credits former teachers Lynne Moyers, Carver Middle School, and Tom Poss, Booker T. Washington, for encouraging him to trust his artistic instincts.
Now: 36; opera director and scenic designer; has worked in Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C.; made his European debut in 2005 and has worked in several countries, including Austria, Ireland, France and Germany.
What led you to pursue an opera career?
When I was in middle school, Tulsa Opera had a “behind-the-scenes” introduction to an opera production where we got to see how it all works. I was hooked. But before I started working in opera, I also worked for American Theatre Company and Theatre Tulsa, as well. Any chance I had to volunteer, contribute or learn, I was there. In a way, the size of Tulsa helped me to have more access to what was going on than if I were raised in a larger city.
How did you begin designing opera sets?
It’s funny, but I can’t really remember how it all began. It seems like something that has been part of me forever … I do know that when I was studying in Milan at Teatro alla Scala in 2000 … I discovered a passion for interacting more with the singers, the music and the text, which led me to pursue directing in addition to scenic design.
How were you involved in Tulsa Opera productions while you lived in Tulsa?
My first experience was as a supernumerary in a production of “Magic Flute,” but I got my big break when Tulsa Opera asked me to serve as a production assistant in 1991. I attended all the rehearsals I could and got to really see how a production is put together from the ground up. Before I’d graduated from high school, I’d worked on more than a dozen productions, so the foundation had been laid.
My parents and sisters and their children all still live in Tulsa, along with hundreds of people I grew up with, so I’m hoping one day (Tulsa Opera) will offer me the chance to work there. It would be such a pleasure to share what I do with the people of Tulsa.
What types of operas do you most enjoy designing for and directing?
Whether working on comedy or tragedy, I think I’m most happy working on operas that have an emotional honesty about them. Theater works best when the characters’ flaws expose an underlying humanity that we can identify with.
Where are operas best received?
In Europe the audiences are generally more adventurous in their tastes and look at opera productions as they would other contemporary art forms, whereas in the U.S.A. opera aesthetics tend to be more conservative.
What have you learned from opera?
I got my start in Tulsa, but I have learned so much from traveling around the world. Art isn’t an “extra” — it’s what defines us.
I think in these tough economic times, we have an obligation to think not only in terms of “economic stimulus,” but we must think also in terms of creative capital. Unlike money, the more (creativity) you give away, the more you have. Wealth can be as much defined by (the) stuff you acquire as by what you are able to enjoy — two very different concepts indeed.
Where do you currently reside?
I travel for my work all over the world, and I “live’” in all of those places. I cannot be creative by just visiting the cities that I work in. I have to be connected to the culture, the
audience and my colleagues.
However, I have homes in New York and London, which is where I spend most of my time when not in rehearsals elsewhere.
Visit www.tstrassberger.com for details on Strassberger’s upcoming productions.