Persona: Anthony Laciura

New Orleans native opera star and supporting performer on “Boardwalk Empire”

So you’re a retired opera singer living in New Jersey teaching private clients and students. Directing an opera or two when you can. Then, one day, you get a phone call from Martin Scorcese – yes, the Oscar-winning director Martin Scorcese – who would like you to audition for a part for a new series he’s producing for HBO called “Boardwalk Empire.”

Anthony Laciura got the part. His first TV role, in fact. Laciura portrays “Eddie Kessler,” the aide-de-camp and right-hand man of “Nucky Thompson,” embodied by actor Steve Buscemi. The series, as well as the characters, are based on real-life people and events during the early 1920s in Atlantic City, during Prohibition. The show isn’t a staid Masterpiece Theatre movie recreation of history – life is dirty and tough, corruption is rampant amongst criminals and cops alike and often, the lines between good and evil are blurry. But there’s also a joie de vivre, as the golden age of the Roaring ’20s is about to begin.

So, what does this New Orleans native – after 46 years of performing on stage – think of his second career on TV?

“I’ve had a very wonderful career performing, and now I have a whole new career – its lagniappe!” he says.

Laciura will be in New Orleans performing as “Emperor Altoum” in a special, one-night-only Oct. 15 performance of Turandot with the New Orleans Opera.

What was your first singing role? At Sacred Heart of Jesus School (elementary), when I performed in a Christmas play. I then joined the boy’s choir.

When did you know that you wanted to become an opera singer? They needed children for the boys’ choir in the first act of Tosca. They called me to come and sing, and I got hired. They gave me more bits, and then I was a soloist in the choir at 11 years old. After that first act, we weren’t needed on stage, so I was able to see the rest of the opera. I enjoyed the process so much, I told my dad this was what I was supposed to do.

You are a comprimario tenor – what’s that? It’s the “second banana” role. He is the villain, the comic support. It’s exactly what I’m doing – without singing – on “Boardwalk Empire.”

What were some of your favorite opera houses to perform in? In the United States: Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera, Carnegie Hall in New York City, the San Francisco Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera in Washington D.C. In Europe: Geneva, Switzerland and the Staatstheater Kassel.

What have been some of your most difficult roles to perform? The ones I did in Czech, such as Katya Kabanova by Leos Janácek. After that one, my ear became more accustomed to how it (the language) was supposed to sound.

Favorite roles? The four different roles in Tales of Hoffman (but my favorite is “Frantz”), and after that the “Simpleton” in Boris Godunov.

How did you evolve into directing opera? I was always interested in how a production was mounted, including set design. As a performer, you
dream opera: What was the composer intending? Listen to the music, as it tells you where the characters go. And, as a comprimario tenor, you learn everyone’s role, so you become familiar with the whole production.

I did direct some shows in high school, but I really got started while in graduate school. For my graduate project they asked for me to start a program for high school students. So, Tulane Junior Lyric Theatre was founded.

Who have been your mentors? I have four: Charlie Paddock, a voice teacher; Arthur Cosenza, who guided my career and was the Artistic Director of the New Orleans Opera Association; Frank Frances Monchino, who taught at Loyola University and director and producer of Summer Lyric Theatre; and Dr. J.D. Grey, pastor of the First Baptist Church, who made me a tenor soloist in the choir at age 15. He was a wonderful preacher and he smoked cigars (in fact, all of my mentors smoked cigars). And I, despite being a singer, enjoy a good cigar.

Tell me about “Eddie Kessler.” History tells us that Eddie Kessler was, in real life, Louis Kessel. He was an Austrian Jew. He was Nucky Johnson’s closest and most trusted friend. How many people allow you to shave them with a straight razor (which was portrayed on the show)? He was Johnson’s bodyguard, right-hand man, “Man Friday.” Kessel did everything, including collections, as well as getting Johnson up, dressed and breakfast, which was 1 pound of bacon, fried; 1 dozen eggs; coffee; and toast.

Did you do any research on “Eddie Kessler” before you began the role? I read as much as possible. Then, I met Kessel’s granddaughter, who had found out about the show online before it aired. She contacted HBO and told them who she was, and they put us in contact. And so began a relationship between our two families. It’s almost uncanny. Even now, my brother is moving to Philadelphia to work in a Kessel family-owned restaurant, called, believe it or not, “The Lucky Dog.” So after all these years, I finally have family on the East Coast!

Tell me about your role.  Even though Kessler is based on Kessel, who is Austrian, I speak with a German accent. Marty (Martin Scorcese) and I spoke about it – should I add a bit of Yiddish to it or not (he said no).

Tell me about how you got your role and your relationship with Martin Scorcese. I was performing at the Metropolitan Opera nine or 10 years ago, and at an after-performance party I met Marty. One day, I got a phone call to come in and read for another part in “Boardwalk Empire,” but I was better suited to the part of “Eddie Kessler.”

I asked Marty how he found out about me, and he said he remembered me from that performance! Marty has the mind of a genius, like a walking library. He has a specific vision and intent. He sees things that you and I don’t. It’s a thrill and an honor to work with him.

What projects, other than “Boardwalk Empire,” are you working on? I teach classical voice at home and at New Jersey City University, where I’m also directing La Bohème in September and October.

What do you miss most about New Orleans? The fact that jazz is everywhere – I can go out to Snug Harbor and Preservation Hall, or hear Leah Chase perform, any day of the week. There’s also a wonderful gentleness and calmness. Up North it’s “get it done now”; In New Orleans, it’s “tomorrow.”

And, of course, the food.

True Confession: I want to be King of Bacchus. I’ve always wanted to be – ever since the first parade.

Laciura will be in New Orleans performing as “Emperor Altoum” in a special, one-night-only Oct. 15 performance of Turandot with the New Orleans Opera.

At a Glance
Age: 60 Profession: I’m an actor, teacher and singer (He portrays “Eddie Kessler” on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire;” is a retired opera singer; teaches classical voice privately and at New Jersey City University; and directs operas). Born/grew up: Mid-City (3rd Ward), New Orleans Resides: Teaneck, N.J. Family: I’m married with one son. (His wife is from New Orleans, too.) Education: I graduated from Holy Cross High School; received bachelor’s degree in music education from Loyola University and a master of fine arts from Tulane University. Favorite book: Anything sci-fi, especially Terry Goodkind, and anything by David McCullough Favorite movie: To Kill a Mockingbird. Favorite TV show (other than “Boardwalk Empire”): “NCIS” and “Law and Order.” Favorite restaurant: In New York, Lumi; in New Orleans, Galatoire’s. Favorite food: Very hard to say, but my all-time favorite is my wife’s seafood gumbo and stuffed artichokes. Favorite music: Obviously classical, but also jazz – how could you not, growing up in a city that is so abundantly full of it. Favorite composers: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Giuseppe Verdi. Hobby: Living! Favorite vacation spot: Brigantine, N.J.
 

Categories: LL_Department, LL_Feature

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