Barrie Kosky was born in Melbourne, the grandson of Jewish emigrants from Europe. He attended Melbourne Grammar School where he performed in Brecht's play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in 1981, Shakespeare's Othello in 1982, and later directed his first play. Among many other later famous Australian artists, he also worked at the St Martins Youth Arts Centre. In 1985, he then began studies in Piano and Music History at the University of Melbourne.
In 1989 Kosky directed the Australian premiere of Michael Tippett's The Knot Garden (reduced version) at the Melbourne Spoleto Festival. In 1990 he formed the Gilgul Theatre which staged The Exile Trilogy in 1993 (The Dybbuk, Es Brent, Levad) at the Belvoir St Theatre; Kosky was artistic director of the Gilgul Theatre until 1997. Other notable productions with the Gilgul Theatre were The Wilderness Room and a stage adaptation of The Operated Jew.
For the Victorian State Opera he directed in 1991 The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville. In 1993 he directed the season premiere of Larry Sitsky's opera The Golem for Opera Australia which was also released on ABC Classics. Also in 1993 he directed Goethe's Faust I and II for the Melbourne Theatre Company, and Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex for Opera Queensland.
In 1996 he directed Nabucco (recorded on DVD by ABC Television.) and The Flying Dutchman for Opera Australia, a work which he revisited in 2006 at the Aalto-Musiktheater in Essen, Germany. Also in 1996, Kosky was appointed director of the Adelaide Festival, at 29 years the youngest person ever appointed to that position. Following that appointment, the 50-minute documentary Kosky in Paradise examined his ideas and creative motivations.
In 1997 he directed Molière's Tartuffe in Christopher Hampton's translation at the Sydney Theatre Company (STC). In 1998 he directed Mourning Becomes Electra for the STC, and King Lear for the Bell Shakespeare company's touring production. In 1999 Kosky directed Alban Berg's Wozzeck for the Sydney Opera House. In 2000, Kosky directed Ted Hughes' adaption of Seneca's Oedipus at the Sydney Theatre Company.
From 2001 to 2005 Kosky was co-director of the Schauspielhaus Wien in Vienna. There he directed Euripides' Medea with the Australian actress Melita Jurisic; the production was nominated for the Nestroy Theatre Prize. He also directed there Poppea, in which he combined Monteverdi's music with songs by Cole Porter,The Tales of Hoffmann, Macbeth in an all-female version, and Boulevard Delirium with Paul Capsis which toured around the world for several seasons, including Australia where it won a 2006 Helpmann Award. His staging of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at the Innsbrucker Festwochen für Alte Musik under the musical direction of René Jacobs was also shown at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden; that production was broadcast on German TV by RBB/arte. Also in 2005, Kosky directed Wagner's Lohengrin for the Vienna State Opera.
In 2006 he directed Tom Wright's eight-hour play The Lost Echo –based on Ovid's Metamorphoses and Euripides' The Bacchae– for the Actors Company at the STC; the play won five Helpmann Awards. In the same year, Kosky directed in Germany The Flying Dutchman at the Aalto-Musiktheater in Essen and Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream at the Theater Bremen.
In 2007 Kosky presented his Vienna production of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival. In that year, he also directed Peter Grimes for the Staatsoper Hannover, and Tristan und Isolde for the Aalto-Musiktheater in Essen which received a nomination for the Faust Award.
In January 2008, he directed at the same house Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. In April 2008 Kosky was participant in the "Towards a Creative Australia" stream at the Australia 2020 Summit. In July 2008 he directed the premiere of Liza Lim's opera The Navigator at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts as part of the Brisbane Festival 2008, a work which Lim had developed during her stay in Berlin; Kosky had also directed her earlier opera The Oresteia (1993). The Navigator was also presented as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. In September 2008 Kosky directed Euripides' The Women of Troy with Melita Jurisic and Robyn Nevin in an adaptation by himself and Tom Wright at the Sydney Theatre Company. In August 2008 Melbourne University Publishing published an essay by Kosky, On Ecstasy (ISBN 978-0-522-85534-0). In October 2008, Kosky presented his stage adaption of the Edgar Allan Poe short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. In 2009 Kosky directed Janáček's From the House of the Dead at the Staatsoper Hannover, a production that won the Faust Award. In the same year he started his Ring Cycle in Hannover, which was finished in June 2011. In 2010 he directed Richard Strauss' Die schweigsame Frau at the Opera festival of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Later in the same year he presented a double bill production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle at the Opera Frankfurt.
Following several productions in the past at the Komische Oper Berlin, including Le Grand Macabre (2003), The Marriage of Figaro (2005), Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride and Kiss Me, Kate (2007) (broadcast on German TV 3sat in 2008), Rigoletto (2009) and Rusalka (2011), Kosky has been appointed Chief Director at the Komische Oper commencing in the 2012/2013 season. He has since presented some rarely staged operettas there, like Paul Abraham's Ball im Savoy and Oscar Straus's Die Perlen der Cleopatra.
Kosky won the award for Best Director at the 2014 International Opera Awards.
In 2017, he made history when he became the first Jewish director at the Bayreuth Festival, when he directed there Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. He was also the first person who was not a member of the Wagner family to direct that opera there.
Kosky's production of Shostakovich's opera The Nose in a new English-language version by David Pountney for The Royal Opera, Opera Australia and the Komische Oper Berlin premiered in 2016 at the Royal Opera House in London, Kosky's debut at that house, and in 2018 at the Sydney Opera House and in Berlin. He returned to The Royal Opera in 2018 to present a controversial staging of Bizet's Carmen that was first staged at Opera Frankfurt in June 2017.
Commenting on the leading positions held by Jews in the Berlin cultural institutions, Kosky, who depicts himself as a "gay Jewish kangaroo", said: "the more Jews the better in Berlin – bring it on! If you look at Berlin before the war, all the theatres were owned by Jews, it was like Broadway. They say that half the orchestras were full of Jewish musicians, all the major theatre directors were Jews."
- Barrie Kosky's name is sometimes misspelled as Barry Kosky, Barrie Koski, Barrie Koskie.
- Kosky also plays the piano, as he did in his production of Monteverdi's Poppea
- At the Gilgul, Kosky worked with the set designer Peter Corrigan on many productions; this collaboration continued later, e.g. on Oedipus Rex, Nabucco, Lear.
- Jurisic also played in Kosky's Poppea and many others of his productions.
- Kosky had staged a Macbeth during his university years in Melbourne with Libbi Gorr in the title role.
- Kosky and Tom Wright have worked together on several projects; their collaboration started when both where at Melbourne University.
- In this collection of four essays (more are planned), Kosky was the only one not primarily a writer; the others were David Malouf, Germaine Greer and Blanche d'Alpuget.
- Levin, Darren (2 October 2007). "From operatic epic to understated horror". Australian Jewish News. Archived from the original on 4 August 2008. Retrieved 18 September 2008.
- Eckersley, M. 1997. Soundings in the Dramaturgy of the Australian Theatre Director. University of Melbourne. Melbourne
- Verdi – Nabucco / Opera Australia, Jonathan Summers (1996) ASIN B0015NR2FC
- Kosky In Paradise (Screen Australia)
- Schauspielhaus Wien – Geschichte und Archiv (in German)
- Bryce Hallett: Kosky to head Berlin opera house, The Sydney Morning Herald), 26 June 2008
- L'Orfeo (2007) on IMDb
- Helpmann Awards Winners 2007 Archived 19 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- Christiansen, Rupert (14 August 2007). "Edinburgh: Chilling interpretation of a savage classic". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 September 2008.
- "Barrie Kosky brings Shostakovich's The Nose to Sydney" by Matthew Westwood, The Australian, 20 February 2018 (subscription required)
- "Opera Awards 2014" Archived 12 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine
- "Barrie Kosky's probing Meistersinger wows at Bayreuth" by Justine Nguyen, Limelight, 31 July 2017
- "Bad boy makes good", Limelight, January–February 2017, p. 50
- "An escaped nose causes trouble in an opera described as Monty Pythonesque" by barney Zwarts, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February 2018
- "Carmen review – Bizet meets Busby Berkeley" by Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 7 February 2018
- Trailer on YouTube, Carmen, Opera Frankfurt 2017 (in German)
- Neil Fisher, "Barrie Kosky says opera 'is art, there are no rules'", The Australian, July 21, 2015]