Barrie Kosky

Stage director

"He has an unerring antenna for finding hidden pockets of silliness and tenderness, of humour and pathos, in works that have been performed to death."

Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

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Barrie Kosky is one of the most internationally sought-after stage directors of today presenting productions all over the world. From 2012-22 he was Intendant and Chefregisseur of the Komische Oper Berlin. By the end of his first season, the Komische Oper was voted »Opera House of the Year« by Opernwelt magazine, and Kosky has gone on to be credited with its eclectic programming of canonic Opera, Musical Theatre and Weimar-era operetta.

His work at the Komische Oper Berlin has included The Magic Flute (co-directed with 1927), which has been seen by over a quarter of a million people in three continents, The Monteverdi Trilogy, Ball at the Savoy, Eugene Onegin, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Rigoletto, La Belle Hélène, Moses und Aron, La bohème, Rusalka, Le Grand Macabre, West Side Story, Pelléas et Mélisande, Semele, The Bassarids, Die Perlen von Cleopatra, Anatevka and Candide among others.

Barrie Kosky has directed opera productions for the Bayerische Staatsoper (Die Schweigsame Frau, Agrippina, The Fiery Angel, Der Rosenkavalier, The Cunning Little Vixen), the Salzburg Festival (Orphée aux Enfers, Kat’a Kabanovna), Glyndebourne Festival Opera (Saul, Les Dialogues des Carmélites), Festival Aix en Provence (Falstaff, Coq D´Or), Oper Frankfurt (Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard's Castle, Salome, Carmen, Hercules), Opera Zurich (La Fancuilla del West, The Stigmatized, Macbeth and Boris Gudonov), Opéra National de Paris (Prince Igor) and Royal Opera House Covent Garden (The Nose, Agrippina and Carmen). He has also presented his productions at the Los Angeles Opera, Teatro Real Madrid, Gran Liceu Barcelona, Vienna Staatsoper, Het National Opera Amsterdam, English National Opera, Oper Graz, Theater Basel, Aalto Theater Essen, Staatsoper Hannover, Deutsches Theater Berlin and Schauspielhaus Frankfurt and is a regular guest at the Edinburgh International Festival.

His awards include the Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production for Castor and Pollux (English National Opera), Best Director at the 2014 International Opera Awards, Best Opera House (Komische Oper Berlin) at the 2015 International Opera Awards, the 2015 Gold Iffland Medal from the Berliner Theater Club and the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Opera and Music Theatre for Saul (also nominated for a 2016 International Opera Award). In 2016 he was named Director of the Year by Opernwelt and in 2017 Kosky’s production of Saul won six out of seven categories at the Helpmann Awards including Best Opera and Best Opera Direction. In 2018 Kosky’s Bayreuth Festival production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was announced as Production of the Year by Opernwelt. In 2020 he was the recipient of a Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award, in recognition of his unique and influential contribution to the Australian Arts world.

Barrie will return to the Komische Oper Berlin as a guest, with several new productions in 23/24. Elsewhere this season, new productions include Die Fledermaus for Bayerische Staatsoper, Die Lustige Witwe for Opera Zurich, Il Trittico for Het National Opera Amsterdam, Cosi Fan Tutte for Wiener Staatsoper and a new original double bill for Aix Festival. The upcoming seasons will also see Kosky return to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden for a new cycle of Wagner’s Ring, starting this season with Das Rheingold in September 2023.

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Das Rheingold

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“What Kosky’s Rheingold offers is an uncluttered presentation of the narrative, blessedly free of philosophical theorising, but with a message that is clear from the start. […] Above all, this is a Rheingold that really makes you want to find out what is going to happen next.”

Andrew Clements, The Guardian

“The attraction here is the opportunity to work with director-of-the-moment Barrie Kosky. In telling this story of elemental struggle around the gold of the Rhine and the cursed ring which will create such conflict, Kosky and his team (set designer Rufus Didwiszus, costumes Victoria Behr) have pared the tale down to its raw, brutal bones. […] This is not a sumptuous Ring, either dramatically or musically: it’s edgy but clear-sighted. The voices are not old hands in these roles, but they bring a freshness and impact which is jointly moulded by Kosky and Pappano to tremendous effect. […] But Kosky’s essential achievement is to make the weirdest emotional interactions in this story believable … More to come: a pity we have to wait a year.”

Nicholas Kenyon, The Telegraph

“Thus begins Barrie Kosky’s enthralling staging of Das Rheingold. […] Kosky denies conceiving this Ring simply as an ecological wake-up call, yet to me his Rheingold evokes an environmental disaster well under way. […] As with all Kosky’s best productions, a serious underlying intent doesn’t preclude jolting wit. […] It’s a show that does what all good Rheingolds do: leave you impatient for the next episode.”

Richard Morrison, The Times

“By entrusting its new cycle to the maverick Australian director Barrie Kosky, Covent Garden could be sure of securing a vibrantly theatrical presentation. And there’s enough ingenuity in the opening Rheingold to promise a rewarding experience as the cycle develops. […] The great strength of this Rheingold is the very detailed work that has clearly gone on in the rehearsal room, conductor Antonio Pappano and director Kosky consistently achieving the kind of musico-dramatic fusion so crucial to Wagner’s vision. Several members of the uniformly strong cast are new or nearly new to their roles, enabling Pappano and Kosky to draw fresh interpretations. …this could be a Ring to savour as it unfolds over the coming three years.”

Barry Millington, The Evening Standard

“Kosky’s heretical trump card lies in his insertion of a new non-singing character. He begins by scrapping the usual raunchy opening scene, in which the Rhinemaidens drive Alberich mad with their prick-teasing frolics in the sunlit river. Instead he sets the scene among the remains of a smoke-blackened tree, around which an emaciated and seemingly half-dead naked woman prowls silently. And she is present, silently and ominously, in every scene, until we realise who she is. Embodying our shared future, and finally spelling it out – this is Erda, the voice of our despoiled, doomed earth. We shall doubtless see more of her when the next stage of Kosky’s tetralogy is revealed.”

Michael Church, iNews

“Kosky’s stagecraft remains impressive, with the individual characterisations and interactions between Wagner’s hierarchies of mythical beings convincingly conveyed.”

George Hall, The Stage

Internationally acclaimed, Kosky seems to have the Midas touch with countless awards under his name. His most recent endeavour Dialogues des Carmélites at Glyndebourne was the must-see production of the Summer. But does everything he touch turn to Rheingold?

In short, yes. Every note of the Royal Opera House’s new production throbs with terrible beauty.

Alexander Cohen, Broadway World

“Eerie, vivid and intense, Kosky’s version of “Das Rheingold,” the first “Ring” opera, is a show that an opera house on either side of the Atlantic could be proud of, accessible and stimulating for Wagner newcomers and connoisseurs alike. The story is crystal clear, and its emotional and political stakes are taken seriously, without oversimplification or overstatement.

His signature style is zany, high-spirited and high-kicking, but he can do sober and austere when the piece calls for it … His Royal Opera “Rheingold,” though not without shots of bitter humour, is in this vein. […] the lean vitality of Kosky’s vision, which will unfold in London over the coming years, seems right for an era of budget and programming cuts.

This is not an ostentatious production. But the finale, which shouldn’t be given away, is proscenium-filling spectacle, and vintage Kosky, in that it uses one of theater’s simplest, most traditional devices with unforgettable showman flair, conveying all the glittering glamour and fundamental emptiness of the gods’ ascent to their new home — a triumph as hollow as the giant tree.”

Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times

“The stripped-down, gritty focus should certainly distinguish this Ring from many of today’s rivals.

It seems safe to assume that this Rheingold will set the production style for the cycle. Director Barrie Kosky has settled on representing just one of Wagner’s many settings and symbols. The World Ash Tree occupies the whole stage and the gold, no longer in the depths of the Rhine, oozes from its bark like sap. It is already dying at the start and by scene three is fixed to a piston as part of the extraction of industrial quantities of gold.

The biggest compliment that can be paid to this Rheingold is that the time — all 140 minutes of it, no interval — seems to shoot by. Everybody involved has worked hard to achieve that. It is worth seeing.”

Richard Fairman, The Financial Times

Les Dialogues des Carmelites

Glyndebourne Festival, June 2023

In this wrenchingly powerful new staging by Barrie Kosky magnificently conducted by Robin Ticciati, the piece hits home with renewed strength.

Kosky is the absolute master of using silences between these scenes to focus the action: Blanche’s silent weeping, the cry of the crowd as it attacks the convent, breaking through the wall. Sometimes, there is no more than a light on one person, concentrating fear into a moment: this is a staging in which every single gesture tells.

This is a superlative realisation of a great opera.

Nicholas Kenyon, The Telegraph *****

The first night at Glyndebourne of a new production of this singular masterpiece was followed by a full-throated and sustained ovation.

Barrie Kosky’s austere direction concentrates the drama, encouraging us to hang on words often by the use of physical stillness and attentiveness. Moments of violence are made all the more shocking.

Alastair Macaulay, The Financial Times

I have experienced many powerful nights at the opera, but I can’t remember any leaving me as emotionally wrenched as what Barrie Kosky achieves with this Glyndebourne staging of Poulenc’s 1957 masterpiece.

[...] as the piece progresses [Kosky's] masterly theatricality grows ever more startling. An astonishing show.

Richard Morrison, The Times *****

It’s more than just senseless death. Kosky’s Carmélites gave a real presence of humanity not only sensed by the audience, but visibly, audibly throughout the singers, actors and musicians on stage.

Hattie Butterworth, Opera Now *****

Barrie Kosky’s enthralling new production begins in 18th-century costume but ends in the modern era.

Never, in my experience, has Poulenc’s masterpiece seemed so searingly a work of our time.

Barry Millington, The Evening Standard *****

For Kosky, a Jewish atheist (his own words), the opera’s wider relevance had to be unlocked. If you were feeling disputatious, you could say that the point of any masterpiece is its resonance beyond literal limits. But the Australian director is fertile with ideas, and he is not shy to hammer them home.

The horror of attack is any time, any place, now. We are spared nothing. Nor should we be.

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer

If Barrie Kosky’s production lets horror overwhelm us, that’s justified too. If you’re not a heap at the end of it, that’s your problem.

[...] This will go down as one of Glyndebourne’s most unforgettable achievements.

David Nice, The Arts Desk *****

It has taken almost 50 years for Poulenc’s doomed Carmelite nuns to reach Glyndebourne and their first appearance there, in a new production by Australian director Barrie Kosky, is full of noises. Some are beguiling, some mundane. Many overspill the limits of Poulenc’s score, creating unexpected moments of stasis between the opera’s rapidly cross-cut scenes.

Those who associate Kosky with exuberant choreography or gorilla suits in Carmen may be surprised by the production’s visual spareness.

Flora Wilson, The Guardian *****

[...] staged by the Australian director Barrie Kosky, Poulenc’s 1957 masterpiece emerged last weekend as one of the most gripping pieces of music theatre I have witnessed on the Sussex Downs in more than 40 years.

Hugh Canning, Operalogue

Kosky is a director known for spectacle [...] but this is remarkable for its focus, the sparing and exact use of high-impact moments that are part of the show’s grammar and punctuation and never window-dressing.

The final secco chord of the piece is icily definitive – as chilling as Kosky’s unsparing and clear-sighted vision.

Benjamin Poore, OperaWire

My first time at Glyndebourne was punctuated by what many agree was one of the greatest operatic achievements of the decade in Barrie Kosky's Carmelites.

Hattie Butterworth, Opera Now (critic's choice, top opera of 2023)

Hercules, Oper Frankfurt

Premiere 30 April 2023

Barrie Kosky refers to the essentiality of Greek tragedy for his new staging of Handelian work, staged with great success at the Oper Frankfurt [...] The work done by Kosky on the Chorus of the Oper Frankfurt is extraordinary, musically precise and fully participating in the eloquent choreographic design that transforms him into one of the opera's protagonists, completely erasing any trace of static monumentality frequent in the oratorio form, which has always been extraneous, however, to Kosky's directorial style.

Stefano Nardelli, Giornale della Musica

There was no end to the jubilation when director Barrie Kosky stepped in front of the curtain at the Frankfurt Opera on Sunday evening after the Frankfurt premiere of Handel's oratorio "Hercules" [...] How Kosky choreographed the "Jealousy Choir" drooling after [Dejanira] as a rising wave of hatred is one of the most impressive things to be seen at the Frankfurt Opera this season.

Musik Heute

This is how a marital psychodrama unfolds, reminiscent of the great cinematic abysses of Ingmar Bergman. But Barrie Kosky is a master director himself. This "Hercules" is neither an oratorio nor an opera, but music theater in which the staging shows why people sing. Every note, every sound, every da capo aria has its meaning in the dramatic gestures.

Bernd Künzig, SWR2

What makes the production at the Frankfurt Opera a sensational artistic success is precisely Kosky's ability to make the complicated and sometimes agonizing human relationships of the ancient myth credible and movingly vivid [...] Kosky, who from his time at the Komische Oper Berlin was able to gain rich experience with the involvement of a dramatically active choir, stages the ensemble partly as a people (also in its willingness to become a pack at any time, which initially torments the bound Iole with a sneer), but partly also as a commentator in the style of Greek tragedy.

Wolfgang Fuhrmann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Kat'a Kabanova

Salzburg Festival, August 2022

"When the lights went up, Kristina Hammer, the festival’s new president, was wiping tears off her cheeks."

"Barrie Kosky's staging was the highlight of a week at Salzburg, classical music’s pre-eminent annual event [...] Kosky has pared down this pared-down work even further, to its core of quivering human beings."

Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times

As a director, Kosky tackles this immobility of society and places 200 puppets on the stage with their backs to the audience. He actually allows his drama to step out of this area of ​​social conflict. That's particularly clever, because the Felsenbühne doesn't allow a peep-box illusion theater, but calls for creative solutions.

"The director Barrie Kosky and his stage designer Rufus Didwiszus confront Salzburg's most iconic opera space with radical emptiness"

"It is from [the contrast between the vast space and the intimacy of the piece] that his unfussy, logical, completely minimalist staging draws its tension."

Manuel Brug, Welt

The advantage of this direction: It doesn't need any folklore to create an oppressive atmosphere. Movement, light and song: Kosky limits himself to these alone and thus achieves impressive results.

Christoph Irrgeher, Wiener Zeitung

“Barrie Kosky managed to transform the huge stage of Felsenreitschule into the setting of a claustrophobic drama”

“From the wall emerge the characters, perfectly drawn by Kosky in their personalities and relationships.”

Xavier Cester, Opera Magazine

Barrie Kosky's All-Singing, All-Dancing Yiddish Revue

Komische Oper Berlin, June 2022

This was not a normal evening at the Komische Oper, this was a party. [Barrie Kosky] created the party and all of his favourite players were invited […] A description cannot be reproduced here. What you should definitely do is go and see it. You only have nine more opportunities and then never again […] And this production is a further step in Kosky’s war on German high-culture snobbery. “Entertainment is not a dirty word for me. Entertainment is what Shakespeare did, it’s what Euripedes did,it’s what Molière did. And Richard Wagner did it too. Come on Germany!” The Germany that was assembled at the Komische Oper that evening was cheering in a decidedly unsnobbish way.

Susanne Lenz, Berliner Zeitung

It’s difficult to pinpoint the most outrageous moment of “Barrie Kosky’s All-Singing, All-Dancing Yiddish Revue,” which opened at the Komische Oper here on Friday. Is it the 1960s-era pilot and flight attendant in drag belting “My Way” (sorry, “Mayn Veg”) under a shower of golden confetti? The subtle camp of an imaginary Choir of Temple Beth Emmanuel singing with straightfaced sincerity? The “message from our sponsors” advertising “delectably light, always right, gefilte fish in jars”? [ … ] Throughout, Kosky — who also hosts the show through prerecorded introductions — is committed to the bit in a delicate balance of irony and camp. Both men and women sing in drag; borscht belt humor (“below the girdle”) abounds; and the performers assume personas on a Marvel Cinematic Universe scale. There’s the “mezzo from Minsk” Sylvie Sonitzki, a boy band of orthodox Jews, and don’t forget the temple choir. In an ending out of something like Verdi’s “Falstaff,” Kosky brings out everyone, an enormous ensemble backed by an enormous orchestra, for a spectacle that, joyous and celebratory, sends off the audience with a command: “Dance!” Kosky couldn’t have said goodbye any other way.

Joshua Barone, The New York Times

Kosky was a boon to the Komische Oper. He took over a house that was filled to seventy percent and brought it today to ninety percent. Kosky made it a family opera house – “one for all” – with sensual, mostly clever, highly professional and always entertaining theatre. His sendoff production, “Barrie Kosky’s All-Singing, All-Dancing Yiddish Revue” is once again just that […]

Jan Brachmann, Frankfurter Allgemeine

What we saw on Friday night with the “All-Singing, All-Dancing Yiddish Revue” was his last production as artistic director. An evening by him, not for him. No opera, no operetta – for he decided to do a revue. The advantage is that in this colorful pot pourri all of his collaborators from the past ten years are gathered together on the stage […] Another result of Kosky’s directorship is that again we are served the Jewish-influenced musical culture of the late 19th – and early 20th – centuries, the audience are confronted and challenged with newness and the unknown and shown that there are other ways to deal with Jewish culture in Germany than just Hitler and Auschwitz.

Udo Badelt, Der Tagesspiegel

With “Barrie Kosky’s All-Singing All-Dancing Yiddish Revue” the master of the house, who is giving up his position after ten years, has dug deep into his bag of glamour tricks once again. It is an evening full of charm, wit, heart and aspiration. More could not be possible. […] Kosky has somehow put his whole artistic vision for the house in this Revue.

Volker Blech, Berliner Morgenpost

At the premiere of “[Barrie Kosky’s] All-Singing, All-Dancing Yiddish Revue” on Friday there was a good two hours of jazzing and swinging in Yiddish. Kosky showed us once more just why the public love him: precise timing, opulent images and big emotions.

B.Z. Kultur

After ten happy years for theatre, this is Barrie Kosky’s parting gift to his public as Intendant of the Komische Oper in Berlin. True to its name “Barrie Kosky’s All-Singing, All-Dancing Yiddish Revue” ignites a firework of emotions. Happiness, joy, high spirits and sadness, shrillness and simplicity, desire and love, wit and madness – all sung and sometimes spoken in Yiddish. Theatre can do anything! What a creation! What a party!

Sabine Dultz, Münchner Merkur

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