Patrick Carfizzi. Alan Alabastro photo.
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John Adams: Nixon in China


The Magic Flute: Patrick Carfizzi as Papageno

Nixon in China opens on Saturday, March 14 at the Civic Theater. We continue with our interview of big-bad-Kissinger, Patrick Carfizzi. Part 1 and part 2 of this interview are also available.

San Diego Reader: What is your rep?

Patrick Carfizzi: I do mostly Italian buffo.

SDR: Like Donizetti?

PC: Donizetti and Rossini. I do some Mozart. I do a tiny little bit of Verdi, but only a very little bit. But yeah, basically bass-baritone, lots of buffo, is kind of my core repertoire.

SDR: Right. So Kissinger’s not that.

PC: No. No, but playing a character like Kissinger is fun and is a bit of a variation but isn’t too far from those other guys. You know, the buffo guys have to be believable.

SDR: They have to believe in what they’re trying to accomplish?

PC: Exactly, and it’s the same thing with Kissinger. It’s the same thing with almost any character. You want to get to the basic nut of any character. You’ve got to believe in what you’re going to accomplish. Whether your goal is to kill half the people on stage or to, you know, marry the girl who’s too young for you and obviously doesn’t have any interest, or to spread a new political philosophy and try to conquer China in the way that so many others have failed to do.

SDR: So Kissinger’s not quite Don Pasquale, but he’s certainly not Iago.

PC: No, he’s not Iago.

SDR: Maybe a little Don Giovanni?

PC: Oh, there’s a little Giovanni in him, yeah, sure.

SDR: Where he’s got, you know — you don’t quite know what to make of him.

PC: He [Kissinger] likes that. That is part of his charisma, His understated appearance and approach keep adversaries off balance. Everything — I mean the word “friendship” in politics is kind of laughable, because politics, by its very nature, is adversarial.

SDR: That’s why I can’t watch House of Cards. I tried —

PC: — but that’s why I love West Wing. And to play that on stage is — to play that on stage gives you a lot of depth to dig into for a character.

SDR: Yeah, absolutely. I would guess that everything is a multidimensional interaction.

PC: Exactly.

SDR: There’s the what’s said and the what’s —

PC: —Meant.

SDR: Yeah, and what’s not said.

PC: Yeah, and then when you add that with the libretto and with the music [of Nixon in China], you get a very rich experience for all involved, hopefully. Some people will find the repetitive — the semi-repetitive nature of some of it may be too —

SDR: —The repetitiveness of it doesn’t strike me though.

PC: Mm, interesting.

SDR: I mean, it does, but it doesn’t seem to be the predominant —

PC: — it’s not the predominant musical device. That’s true. That’s true, but it’s there enough but he’s [John Adams] not alone. I mean, Puccini did it; Rossini did it.

SDR: Yeah, so the repetitiveness with a purpose though is a different thing. It doesn’t come off as tedious or uninspired.

PC: Very true. Very true. Yeah, that’s very true. There’s a lot to dig into too in the piece, I mean, in terms of musical language. Rhythmically it’s very intense and driven.

SDR: Nixon in China isn’t going to tell you specifically what you have to think. Where some of the newer — maybe it’s more experimental type music — is going to tell you exactly what —

PC: “This is exactly how we want you to perceive this; this is exactly what we want you to go home thinking about.” Yeah, and I think that, for me personally, I would rather that it left the door a little wider open.

SDR: Right, “Here’s a phone number to call and someone’s going to whisper numbers in your ear.”

PC: Right, “Then we’ll have a few subliminal messages, which will be transmitted over speakers that you can’t see at specific times during the piece. Then you’ll leave here and you’ll think about cottage cheese, or — you know, whatever”. Absolutely. If new music goes too far in that direction then we’re more manipulating our audience than we are inviting them into an experience. We can never predict the experience that the audience is going to have, thankfully. If we start being able to predict the experience that they’re going to have, then we’re in trouble. Then we’re in big trouble.

SDR: Yeah if it becomes almost like some churches.

PC: Yes, very good example. Very good example and a very good point of reference in conversation, because so much creativity in music began in churches. So much of our stretching our wings, as it were, began with Bach and Haydn and countless, countless motets. They’re all brilliant in their way, personal preference aside. That’s also part of that long arch progression to Beethoven and Mahler and Schoenberg and Nixon.

SDR: Speaking of predicting experiences, Disney’s very good at predicting how people are going to respond.

PC: Mm-hmm, they are.

SDO:And it works.

PC: Mm-hmm, it does. I’ve been 35 times. It works. It absolutely works.

SDR: I took my kids to see Fantasmic! and I found myself wiping away a little tear because it’s amazing. Do we want music to be that guided of an experience?

PC: Do we want it to be a guided entertainment that is also art? Or more of a musical — more of an artistically led — experience as opposed to simply an emotional button-pushing. That is what Disney does very well and very subtly. We don’t have that need nor do we have the luxury of producing that — I don’t think. We don’t need to “predict-ify” every emotional push. We don’t need to sit down with the score, and you know, look through and go, “Oh yeah, but it’d be better if we put this auditory reference into it.” When we’re in a Disney park there are always little bits of “experience” being shot at us but that’s part of the Disney entertainment structure. It’s a really full-on fully-encompassing experience. We have a purer form of that.

SDR: And there is a Disney Concert Hall.

PC: And there is.

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