Opera innovator Frank Corsaro, who also worked periodically on Broadway from 1952 to 1980, first as an actor, then as a director, has died at age 92.
Corsaro was long associated with New York City Opera, which encouraged him to mount untraditional stagings of traditional operas in the 1960s through the1980s, including La Traviata, Don Giovanni, Madama Butterfly, The Makropulos Case, The Cunning Little Vixen, Die Tote Stadt,and Faust, some of which were hailed for their vision, some of which were booed for their unconventional approach, often using unusual settings and costumes, and introducing video projections into operas set long ago. He also took on original stagings of new and traditional operas around the U.S., including productions at Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, and other companies.
Opera critic Donal Henahan called Corsaro “opera’s most controversial director.”
The child of Argentinian immigrants, Corsaro was first exposed to opera as a child by listening to Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on the radio with his opera buff father. Corsaro was trained as a stage actor at the Yale School of Drama and the Actors Studio. He made his Broadway debut in the New York City Theatre Company’s 1951 revival of The Taming of the Shrew, and appeared in Mary Chase’s fantasy Mrs. McThing in 1952.
Corsaro made his Broadway directing debut with Roald Dahl’s The Honeys, which had a short run in 1955 despite having Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as its stars. He had his first hit directing Ben Gazzara and Shelley Winters in the controversial 1955 drama about the then-taboo subject of drug abuse, A Hatful of Rain.
Carsaro showed an early interest in being involved with opera, directing Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah for NYCO in 1958. He quickly immersed himself in the opera world for most of the next several decades. Among his many projects were the world premieres of two more of Floyd’s later operas,Of Mice and Men in 1970, and and Flower and Hawk in 1972.
He made a few returns to Broadway, including the 1961 debut of The Night of the Iguana, in which he famously clashed with leading lady Bette Davis, who eventually barred him from the Royale Theatre.
In the mid 1970s, during a renaissance of interest in the late composer Scott Joplin, Corsaro was responsible for championing and directing Houston Grand Opera’s world premiere of Joplin’s “lost” folk opera,Treemonisha, which transferred to Broadway at the Uris (now Gershwin) Theatre in 1975. Despite his career-long immersion in opera, he infrequently staged legit musicals. One exception was Goodspeed Opera House’s revival of the 1920s Eddie Cantor vehicle Whoopee!, which also transferred to Broadway.
For his staging of Louis LaRusso’s 1979 melodrama Knockout, Corsaro created a memorable Act II onstage full-out boxing match.
Corsaro’s final Broadway production was Micki Grant’s musical,It’s So Nice to Be Civilized in 1980, but his interest in the stage continued. He was appointed artistic director of the Actors Studio in 1988. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1984, with Handel’s Rinaldo, starring Marilyn Horne and Samuel Ramey. He also wrote several librettos for operas, including Frau Margot, with music by Thomas Pasatieri, and Heloise and Abelard with music by Stephen Paulus.
Corsaro died November 11 at his home in Suwanee, Georgia.