• The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Anthony Roth Costanzo

    Luiz Gazzola has interviewed emerging countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo [Opera Lively interview # 55], in the wake of his recent - and impressive - success of public and critic in the Metropolitan Opera productions of Rodelinda and The Enchanted Island, not to forget his victories in the National Council Audition and this year's Operalia. The young singer was featured on the cover of the current issue of Opera News Magazine [read their article (here)].

    Mr. Costanzo came back to his native North Carolina for a concert at the Cary Arts Center in the Triangle region of the state, with soprano Rachel Copeland and the Brussels Chamber Orchestra. The event has happened on August 10, 2012 at 8 PM, featuring music by Handel and Mozart. The concert was part of the season of our partners NC Opera, and you can read the review [here].


    Photo ©Matthu Placek, used with authorization

    Talking to Mr. Costanzo was a pleasure, given his bright intelligence and verbal facility. He replied to some eighteen questions in lightening speed and in one shot and no hesitation, with incredible articulation. This is definitely an artist to be watched, correctly spotted by Opera News Magazine as belonging to "the next wave" of major operatic stars. [Questions by Opera Lively members Almaviva, Schigolch, HarpsichordConcert, and StLukesGuildOhio]

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    Artist: Anthony Roth Costanzo
    Fach: Countertenor
    Born in: Durham, NC, USA
    Recently in: The Enchant Island (Ferdinand for the most part of the run including the Met Live on HD broadcast, and the main role of Prospero in three of the performances and part of another one), Metropolitan Opera
    Next in: "An Evening of Arias" - concert with the Brussels Chamber Orchestra - NC Opera, Cary Arts Center, Cary, NC, August 8, 2012, at 8 PM - tickets [here]; then Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City (August 12, 5 PM), then Scarlatti and Vivaldi cantatas with the Helicon Foundation in New York City on October 14 at 5 PM and October 15 at 7 PM (here), then Giulio Cesare (Tolomeo) at Michigan Opera Theater in Detroit on November 10-14-16-17 at 7:30 PM and 2:30 PM on Nov 18 (here).

    This is the artist's official website: http://www.anthonyrothcostanzo.com/
    (there is a beautiful photo gallery there)

    Click [here] for the singer's page at his agent's website, with contact information.

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    ARTISTIC BIOGRAPHY

    Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo continues to build his reputation as one of the rising stars of the next generation of singers.

    This season, Mr. Costanzo made his debuts at the Metropolitan Opera in Rodelinda and in the company’s new Baroque opera pastiche, The Enchanted Island and at the Canadian Opera Company in Semele. This summer he makes his debut at the Mostly Mozart Festival, and next season he makes his debut at the Michigan Opera Theater, appears in concert with the National Symphony Orchestra, and makes his recital debut in Vancouver at the Chan Center. He recently made his debuts at the Boston Lyric Opera as Ottone in Agrippina, the Palm Beach Opera as the title role in Orfeo ed Euridice, and the Opera Company of Philadelphia in the US premiere of Henze’s Phaedre.


    In Tolomeo, Glymmerglass Opera
    © Claire Mcadams

    Mr. Constanzo’s other opera engagements have included the title role in Tolomeo, the Sorceress in Purcell’s Dido and Aenea and Nireno in Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto at the Glimmerglass Opera, Armindo in Partenope at the New York City Opera, a guest appearance as Oberon in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Seattle Opera’s Young Artists Program, the First Witch and the Second Woman in Dido and Aeneas at the Spoleto Festival USA, Cherubino in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro with the Santa Barbara Opera Company, and the title role in Manhattan School of Music’s main stage production of Lucas Foss’ Griffelkin. In 1994, he performed in Amahl and the Night Visitors at Lincoln Center and with the Opera Company of North Carolina, made a critically acclaimed debut with the New Jersey Opera Festival as Miles in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, and appeared with Luciano Pavarotti in Philadelphia at the Academy of Music’s Opera Extravaganza.

    On the concert and recital platforms, Mr. Costanzo most recently appeared as Prince Go-Go in Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre with the New York Philharmonic, and sang Handel’s Messiah with the Cleveland Orchestra and in Carnegie Hall. He has been a featured soloist with the orchestras of Indianapolis, Alabama, Detroit, Denver, Seattle, and was the soloist in the premiere of John Corigliano's A Dylan Thomas Trilogy with the National Symphony Orchestra at both the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. He has sung Debussy’s Ariettes Oubliées in a theater piece at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, performed Stefan Weisman’s From Frankenstein at Merkin Concert Hall, and premiered composer Gregory Spears’s hour-long piece 6 Owen Songs. Additional New York City appearances include performances at the Asia Society, Simon Hammerstein’s The Box and at prominent art gallery Deitch Projects. Internationally, Mr. Costanzo has performed the title role in Balletto Teatro di Torino’s ballet Caravaggio with original music by Giovanni Solima and toured Italy as the Master of Ceremonies in Karole Armitage's Casanova.

    Mr. Costanzo began performing professionally at the age of 11 when he appeared in the Broadway touring production of Falsettos. He continued to work for several years in musical theater, touring in The Sound of Music and appearing on Broadway in the Paramount Theater production of A Christmas Carol. He made his film debut in the role of Francis in the Merchant Ivory film, A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, earning international critical acclaim as well as a nomination for Best Debut Performance from the Independent Spirit Awards. He also appeared as Simon in Brice Cauvin’s film De Particulier à Particulier and can be heard singing in M. Blash’s film Lying, and James Ivory’s film The City of Your Final Destination.

    While studying at Princeton University, Mr. Costanzo co-wrote, produced and starred in a narrative pasticcio about the life of a fictional 18th-Century Castrato entitled The Double Life of Zefirino. The work was directed by Karole Armitage, with costumes by James Ivory and sets by Andrea Branzi. A documentary about the creation of the piece was directed by filmmaker Gerardo Puglia and was subsequently selected for the Cannes Film Festival and qualified for an Academy Award. It will air on PBS in the near future.

    Mr. Costanzo recently won 1st Prize at the 2012 Operalia competition. He is also the winner of a 2010 George London Foundation Award, a 2010 Richard Tucker Career Grant, and First Place and Audience Choice winner of the 2010 Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers. In 2009 he was one of the winners of the Grand Finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Other awards include the Sullivan Foundation Award , a grant from the GiulioGari Foundation, encouragement awards the George London Foundation Competition, the Jensen Foundation, and the Mario Lanza Foundation, and First Place winner in the National Opera Association Vocal Competition, Vocal Division. He also has the honor of being the first countertenor ever to win First Place in the Opera Index Competition.

    Mr. Costanzo graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University where he was awarded the Lewis Sudler Prize for extraordinary achievement in the arts. He received his Masters of Music at Manhattan School of Music and was awarded the Hugh Ross Award for a singer of unusual promise.

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    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Anthony Roth Costanzo


    ©Ken Howard - Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization
    Lysette Oropesa and Anthony Roth Costanzo
    The Enchanted Island

    Opera Lively - Thank you for doing this; I really enjoyed your performance in The Enchanted Island. It was spectacular.

    Anthony Roth Costanzo - Oh thank you, thank you so much. We really enjoyed doing it! The camaraderie between the cast, creators, and opera house was wonderful and the environment always helps to create a good performance.

    OL - You’ve been to your native North Carolina Triangle operatic scene before as a child singer, Mr. Costanzo, at the time of our previous opera company that by now has merged with another one to create our new one, NC Opera. What are your memories from that, and your expectations for the upcoming concert?

    ARC - I was born in Durham, NC, and my parents teach at Duke University, so they continue to live there. When I was 8 years old I was doing musicals and plays at the Raleigh Little Theater, and then the North Carolina State Theater and other venues in North Carolina. Then, when I was 11 years old, I decided that I wanted to give it a go in New York City. My parents helped me to get to New York and I stayed in New York for several years. I came back to North Carolina for 9th and 10th grade and went to Durham Academy [Editor's note - the most prestigious private school in town], and then I moved on to Professional Children's School in New York City and finished high school there while I continued performing before going to Princeton University. So I have quite a history with North Carolina. It feels very nice to come home as an adult singer. When I was there last time, the North Carolina Opera Company was of course a different entity under different auspices and I'm excited to be a part of the new incarnation. It feels great to be returning to the place I was born to sing opera as a more mature artist.

    OL - Can you tell us more about the Brussels Chamber Orchestra? Is this your first engagement with them?

    ARC - It is my first engagement with them and I'm really excited about collaborating. There are times, especially in arias of the Baroque, where working with a chamber orchestra affords a certain subtlety to expression. There is a direct connection between the musicians and the vocalists. At other times, it is very helpful to have that musicality channeled through the conductor, but I'm excited to explore the different colors and the different feelings you can create by breathing together so directly with the musicians.

    OL - It is often suggested that Baroque music singers love Handel's music because Handel loves Baroque singers! Do you think there is something truly vocal in idiom in Handel's music that captures a Baroque music singer? Sometimes, comparisons are made with say, JS Bach's vocal music, which tends to be instrumental in idiom, rather than truly vocal.

    ARC - Well, you know, I think it's important to remember that we labeled Handel's music Baroque long after it was written. He wasn't thinking of it as Baroque music. Certainly the vocalism that was developed as Handel was coming into his own is the basis of vocal technique for all opera. And it's a very varied and wide-ranging technique. I think that Handel, more than many composers, is a real dramatist. He uniquely captures the dramatic moment and he expresses it exquisitely in his music -- it can be fireworks or it can be lilting and beautiful. He has so many ways of representing emotion!


    In Tolomeo, Glymmerglass Opera
    © Claire Mcadams

    So to answer your question, yes he is a singer's composer. He knew voices incredibly well, all different kinds, and he composes music that is not easy for them; it challenges them. But like Mozart's music, it is medicine for the voice. He knows how to encourage a singer to do their best. If you sing Handel all the time, I think it reinforces a vocal technique and a musicality which is optimal.

    OL - What did you have in mind when you selected the program for this concert?

    ARC - I always like to provide pieces that show different aspects of what I can do as an artist, and also pieces that provide the audience with varied emotional outlets. So there are things which have a lot of excitement, there are things which have a great deal of sadness. Working with Eric Mitchko, North Carolina's General Director, has been really wonderful. He was able to shape the things that I gave him and the things that Rachel the soprano gave him into a program which we hope will pace itself such that we get an arc of drama which is akin to what you might find in an opera.

    OL - You’ll be soon singing Scarlatti and Vivaldi cantatas. After the enormous success of the Handel revivals worldwide, and now with the emerging Vivaldi revival, Baroque is in high fashion. What other operas of Baroque composers you would like to see revived?

    ARC - Well, there is an enormous number of operas. I call it the old new opera. Some of them are good, some of them are not. Scarlatti is an incredible composer, and Vivaldi certainly wrote a lot of fascinating operas, but there are many other composers, for example Porpora, Hasse, Caldara, and Rossi off the top of my head, and we don't do many of their operas. In many cases, we would have to cut them, shape them, or figure out how to best bring them into full relief. There are recordings that exist of some of these operas but many of them were made before our current keen dramatic insight about how to represent this music, so, I think there are really endless possibilities in terms of these lost Baroque operas.

    OL - Do you have exploration plans involving less-well-known Baroque composers such as, in addition to Porpora, Hasse, Caldara, Alessandro Scarlatti and Hasse that you've just mentioned, J.C. Bach, Marcello, or Paisiello?

    ARC - Yes. I would love to see these composers' operas revived. Finding the best ones and then finding opera companies that are enthusiastic about doing them would be wonderful. It would be a service to the public and the art form. When an opera company takes a risk like that, and does it with the right singers, the right musicians, not to mention the right director, it can really start a trend. That is what New York City Opera did for Handel with their production of Giulio Cesare with Beverly Sills, and what The Met did that with their landmark production of Rinaldo for Marilyn Horne. Both really helped jumpstart the Handel revival. The Met's The Enchanted Island was a wonderful opportunity to hear music by composers as obscure as Ferrandini on the stage of the Met -- things we never thought would be sung on that stage. I think that the audience's immediate and overwhelming response to the music night after night, speaks to its great potential for success. I'm hopeful that The Enchanted Island has whet the appetite of audiences, and that they'll be asking for more.

    OL - Good. Who do you look up to, in the world of countertenor singing?

    ARC - I grew up listening to David Daniels and Bejun Mehta. I think they are both incredible on their own terms. I had an opportunity to work with Andreas Scholl who is just a stunning musician and a wonderful person. There are other colleagues who are in a younger generation, like Iestyn Davies who I think is really fantastic, and many many others I look up to and enjoy. I've been privileged enough to get to know several of these artists a little bit, and they are all impeccable and exciting in completely different ways.

    OL - Andreas Scholl has recorded J.S. Bach's cantata "Ich habe genug" BWV 82, originally scored for bass, while Philippe Jaroussky recorded a disc of 19th century French mélodie by Faure, Debussy, etc... Do you have any plans to perform works outside the usual realm of the countertenor?

    ARC - Yes, I'm actually programming a recital now which includes things that are wide-ranging, from Duparc songs to Gershwin tunes. So I certainly think, especially in the area of song repertoire, that there are no limits to what a countertenor can do. Of course, there are certain things that do not suit certain voices and we all must be mindful of that. But as long as these things are done with great taste and great thought, there are a plethora of possibilities.

    OL - You have in your repertoire Artemis (Phaedra - Henze), Prince Go-Go (Le Grand Macabre - Ligeti), Griffelkin (Griffelkin - Foss) and Oberon (A Midsummer Night's Dream - Britten). Please tell us about how it was, for you, the experience of singing contemporary opera – if you want to be specific and address one or more of the above roles, telling us something peculiar about how they went for you, it’s also appreciated.

    ARC - I will address Prince Go-Go and Le Grand Macabre first. The production by Doug Fitch [Editor's note - see a review (here)] was one of the most thrilling and spectacular productions I've ever taken part in. Alan Gilbert was just unbelievable to work with. The complexity of that score is daunting, but once you get it down and when you have someone like Alan Gilbert and The New York Philharmonic alongside you, it's such an incredible joy! The humanity and the pathos that Ligeti brings out, not to mention the great humor, is something that everybody should hear. It's so complex and yet has this ability to penetrate directly.


    Mr. Costanzo in Le Grand Macabre - both photos © Chris Lee
    The New York Philharmonic Orchestra

    Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream has a special place for me. The first opera I ever sang was The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten when I was 13, so I feel a strong connection to Britten. I've done Oberon only once, but I find he exemplifies that magic contained in Britten's music. Often it's sort of a smoky magic; it has a darkness to it, very alluring and it is something that stretches your artistry in a very interesting way.

    Pieces like the Henze and the Foss are incredibly difficult musically. What I like about it is the discipline required. You have to internalize the music so deeply that you leave room for actual performance. If you are thinking at all about the notes and the rhythms when you're on the stage, your head is full of that and you can't communicate. I've found that the rigor that goes along with doing these incredibly difficult things is something I can apply to all my assignments. You sort of habitualize your technique and you internalize the piece so completely, that it allows a lot of room to communicate, to be spontaneous, and to create a performance in real time. Doing these operas really gave me an opportunity to hone this discipline.

    OL - What is your opinion on the expanding role of countertenors in modern opera and contemporary opera?

    ARC - I think it's great! Countertenors have now become a part of the vocal landscape. It is no longer just soprano, mezzo, contralto, tenor, baritone, bass-baritone, bass - we include countertenor in that breakdown. Even more exciting is that composers are utilizing our voice type. The dramatic possibilities in terms of creating a character are many -- the countertenor voice can embody otherworldly, ethereal, malicious, ardent, gentle, and evil... there are many ways to harness our particular and often unconventional timbre to convey a certain aspect of the character. It is wonderful that this expansion is happening.

    OL - We have recently interviewed maestro Leon Botstein who expressed an opinion similar to that of Sir Colin Davis, arguing that historically informed orchestras using period instruments are what he called “creative history” since nobody can really know how the orchestras really sounded back then, which would be akin to redesigning an ancient vase from a small fragment. He sustains that modern orchestras shouldn’t be bumped out of the Baroque repertoire under what he believes is a somewhat arrogant stance from the HIP orchestras that pretend that they know best. On the other end of the spectrum there is Vivica Genaux who also granted us an interview, saying that she loves HIP orchestras and ensembles so much that she wishes that even more recent music could be played on period instruments. Where do you situate yourself in this controversy?

    ARC - Oh, this is a very complex issue. I think that there is some validity to the fact that we don't really know what was going on in the Baroque era. We have opinions of scholars, and we formulate, for example, ideas about pitch. Many feel that "baroque pitch" is A415, though in certain parts of Venice, pitch in the 17th Century was higher than A440 (our current pitch), and I think it varied probably greatly throughout Europe. So the issue of pitch, like many performance practice issues, is not completely straightforward.

    Ultimately we all want to be making great music, and where I think Ms. Genaux is correct is that a lot of these early music orchestras have studied the specific aspects of early music, and the refinement with which they play together can make them uniquely dynamic. Does this have something to do with pitch or the kind of strings they use, or the old instruments? I can't speak to that. But I do think that, like I was saying earlier with the technique that singers used to sing Handel's music, the same is true of instrumentalists. If they are playing an old violin which is more difficult to play, they may have to find ways to do it more precisely, and I think that's exciting.

    At the same time I've had really wonderful experiences, and often an expanded pallet of colors - which I imagine Handel, Vivaldi, and everyone, would be excited about - with a modern orchestra. I think the important thing is that you have a conductor, somebody like Harry Bicket for example who I was very fortunate to work with this season and I think is spectacular, who knows how to make something sound "period" in that it sounds historically accurate, it sounds informed; and yet, he allows the singer and the orchestra to bend and breathe, in a way that I'm sure they did then, but is not always a part of the stereotypical notion of period performance.

    I think that authenticity is very complicated and in these circumstances we can't get too bogged down by trying to create an exact replica. More than recreating something, I believe that what we do has to be completely viable in the theater in which we are doing it. The audience has to respond to it. I don't think this means we should be injecting romantic affectations. We have to maintain a certain level of authenticity but be careful not to get so strict in doing so that we take all the life and the air out of these incredibly vibrant pieces.

    I imagine that any singer singing in the 18th century would have certainly made their own interpretation. So for me as a singer to go back and try and recreate exactly what another singer did - well that doesn't make any sense.

    I've even had the great fortune to work with composers like John Corigliano whose piece I sang at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. It was written for someone else and there was one moment that didn't work perfectly for me. He didn't think two seconds about saying "no problem, we'll just change that note." I know that composers today adapt in any way they can, because ultimately if the singer sounds good, their music sounds good. And that was what Handel was doing in his day. He was making his singers sound as good as possible. So if he were here today, he would help us do that - of course, within the confines of his style and vision.

    So it's a layered issue, and I think you can push out in both directions. Sometimes it must be more historically accurate, other times, it must be liberated from the onus of complete authenticity.

    OL - What a great answer!


    ARC - Oh, thanks! (laughs)

    OL - Italian and English opera, especially, favored the use of castrati. Obviously, for all our efforts at historical authenticity, this is one element truly beyond our scope. What are your thoughts then with regards to the use of female singers vs. young choir boys vs. countertenors?

    ARC - Well, the castrati occupied a fascinating place in music history. I believe they really popularized opera. Opera was a court art-form when it began; it happened for the nobility in their homes, often very large homes. The first castrati appeared in the Vatican log the same year opera was created by the Camerata in Florence in 1599. Composers saw these castrati certainly in Papal territories like Rome. They couldn't put a woman on stage so they used a castrato. As opera started to take off in Venice, where the first public opera theater in the first quarter of the 1600's was created, the castrati were the stars; they were the highest paid singers, and this went on for over a hundred years. So they played a leading role in the popularizing of opera as it became a codified art form.

    Of course castrati, as soon as they were castrated at ten, eleven, twelve, went on to conservatories, where they spent their entire day studying technique and ornamentation and music theory. A lot of the virtuosity they developed in their formative years allowed the great composers to write the exciting and challenging music we still revere.

    I often love castrato roles as sung by women and men; it depends entirely on a voice. There is a certain excitement which recalls what I imagine was the excitement of castrato singing this music when a countertenor does it because it's the same dissociation between the male body singing in a female register. In that sense there can be a certain authenticity to a countertenor assuming the castrato repertoire. There can also be a certain novelty, excitement, then an unexpected thrill. And to hear vulnerable passages sung in high registers by men can have a unique depth. Somebody like Andreas Scholl really exemplifies this - the affecting sweetness in his voice as he sings a lament, being such a big guy, is transporting. I think there is something uniquely poignant about that.

    That said, I sometimes prefer a woman singing a role that was written for a castrato, so I really thinks it depends.


    ©Ken Howard - Metropolitan Opera, used with authorization
    Anthony Roth Costanzo - The Enchanted Island

    OL - Can you please describe for us the jitters and triumphs you must have felt when competing – and winning - at the 2009 National Council Auditions and the 2012 Operalia? Would you also please contrast and compare these two experiences?

    ARC - Yes, it was very nerve-wrecking. Whenever you perform you feel that you are being judged. But in this instance certainly there are actually judges sitting there looking at you. But I tried to approach each as a performance. My mentality going into them was almost identical even though they were separated by three years and many experiences.

    I compete with myself really every time I step onto the stage. What I mean by that is that whether in the course of a show or between productions, I want each time I open my mouth to be better than the last. So in that sense my daily practice is competitive; I challenge myself to find new colors and new ways of communicating the music.

    In each of these competitions I wanted to say something, I wanted to communicate. I tried not to think too much about the judges, I certainly didn't think about the other competitors in that I wanted to take something away from them or beat them. I just wanted to go there and make music -- that is what was most important to me. If I said what I had to say musically, then they could like it or they could not like it but I could go home feeling that I had done my best.

    Ultimately it is a very difficult business, and as a singer, if we can make ourselves happy - we are also our toughest critics - that's the most we can hope for. And it happens very rarely!

    The National Council Auditions were really a highlight of my life so far. I had been going to the Met since I was a child, so to be up on that stage for the first time with an orchestra and then to win that competition which is so prestigious, was a very important beginning to my career and will remain a cherished memory.


    Mr. Costanzo in the 2009 National Council Auditions
    Photo © Marty Sohl

    Operalia is much the same -- to be a countertenor in Domingo's international and revered competition and to be competing against people singing Verdi, Puccini and arias that are much more beloved than those in my repertoire - it was almost shocking to win first place.

    The only difference I can think of between the two competitions is a small psychological distinction. When I was doing the National Council Auditions, I would think to myself "this could be a moment where I really make it; if I get here I will have arrived in some way; that could be the beginning of something". When entering Operalia, having just finished my first season and three roles at the Met, I would think to myself "I hope I do well...and if I don't for some reason, is it going to be the end?" As I passed on to the final rounds, neurosis would start to creep into my head, "if I have a bad showing, will this somehow signal to people that in fact it's a break it moment, instead of a make it moment?"

    OL - How was for you the experience of a debut at the Metropolitan Opera House alongside Renée Fleming in Rodelinda?

    ARC - It was pretty incredible! (laughs). With the phenomenal Harry Bicket at the podium, and to be one of a six person cast that included Stephanie Blythe, Andreas Scholl, Renée Fleming, Joseph Kaiser, and Shenyang, was pretty surreal. Furthermore, it was a revival of Stephen Wadsworth's production which I saw in its original incarnation, and I remember sitting in audience and thinking "this is fantastic, I'll never get to this level." How thrilling it was to be a part of it. It was a true challenge in that, being scheduled for only one performance, I didn't see the sets, rehearse with the orchestra, or even have the wig on until the night of my debut. And the wonderful staff and the assistant directors at the Met took me onto the stage about ten minutes before the opera started, showing me how to walk the stairs and open the doors. You try to take this all in, quiet your thoughts, and then all of a sudden there you are.

    I remember we did the first scene and I walked off into the wing and Renée Fleming turned to me and said, "I can't believe it, I forgot it was you tonight -- sounds great!" And at the end of the show, when my character is recovering from a wound, she kissed me on the forehead on stage, and I just thought "well, if there were ever a blessing in opera it would be making your Metropolitan Opera debut with Renée Fleming kissing you on the forehead."

    OL - (laughs)

    ARC - It doesn't get much better than that!

    OL - No, it doesn't! Success is coming very fast to you – from your wins in the National Council Audition and the Operalia, to your smashing performance as Ferdinand in The Enchanted Island which was seen on Met in HD around the four corners of the planet, to the cover of Opera News Magazine. It’s got to be very exciting, but is it also scary and troublesome? How are you dealing with it?

    ARC - Luckily my parents are both psychologists. (laughs) That helps! You know, I wouldn't say it has been scary, but certainly exhilarating and nerve-wracking at times. For example, I had to go on in the lead role of Prospero in The Enchanted Island four times throughout the run. There are moments when you think, "I can't believe I'm about to sing a leading role at The Metropolitan Opera," But the key is really in preparation.

    I must have the time and the wherewithal to prepare everything unbelievably well; then it takes away a lot of the nerves, because it is built-in, literally programmed into my muscle memory. So I can take a certain comfort in knowing that I've done all the preparation, in knowing that I've sung this aria on days when I feel good, on days when I don't feel good, on days when I'm sick, on days when I'm healthy. Our instrument is inside of us, we can't put it in a case, we have to eat with it, we have to sleep with it, we have to cry with it, and consequently it can vary greatly from day to day. So if I wake up on the morning of a show not feeling optimal, I know I've sung the music so many times in so many contexts that I'll make it through.

    In terms of the wonderful and very exciting things like the cover of Opera News, I see that as icing on the cake, I don't see that as the goal. It's an incredible and affirming after-effect. So I'm not trying very hard to make those things happen; I'm trying very hard to make music and to make art. The rest is pure fun, and they don't require the same discipline, so in a way it is like going on vacation. To go to a photo shoot, to get Opera News in the mail and be on the cover, is for me pure and joyful fun.

    OL - While many singers’ resumes on their official sites have the usual praising quotes from critics - some of them obscure - yours contains seriously impressive quotes. You have truly been making a huge impact on the operatic environment and unbridled admiration is coming from all sources. When you go home at the end of the day, do you read these reviews? How do you react?

    ARC - Sometimes the reviews get sent to me by friends and colleagues, sometimes they don't. Reading reviews as a singer is tricky. I have to say that I pay equal attention to good reviews and bad reviews, and of course we all get bad reviews - most of us, as singers. So I think when that happens it's important to look at it and say, "do I think there's any validity to this?" - and often I do that with my teacher of 13 years, Joan Patenuade-Yarnell. We talk about it, and sometimes we agree, and sometimes we don't.

    Often there is as little validity to a good review as there is to a bad review. Sometimes I feel like I did a terrible job and I get a good review for it. It's all taken seriously on some level, but also with a grain of salt. There are many, many incredible reviewers and minds that I've encountered. Just by reading them - and some of them I've shaken their hands - I think these are people who are incredibly astute. Often it is wonderful to listen to what they have to say.It is important as a singer to have a filter, and not let these things enter too far into your psyche. It's nice to be bolstered from time to time, but I don't ever rest on my laurels.

    OL - Please tell us more about your experience with cinema. You were recently featured in “Zefirino, the voice of a castrato” – a documentary about a pasticcio you created yourself at Princeton University, which qualified for the Academy Awards and was selected by the Cannes Festival. Your Francis in “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” was nominated for best debut performance at the Independent Spirit Awards, and you participated in two other films, “Lying” and “De Particulier à Particulier” as well as in the sound track of a third one, “The City of Your Final Destination.” Please address for us the differences between performing for the stage and for the cinematic camera; potential pitfalls; and whether or not you plan on developing your cinematic career even more.

    ARC - Well, I'd love to. I really enjoy doing films when I have the opportunity. Working with James Ivory [Editor's note - director, A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries - see IMDb file (here)] when I was fifteen was a really defining experience. In many ways it helped me to become the dramatic performer I am. He is an incredible director, and working with him opened me up to honest portrayals of character.

    A great performance should not be over the top, but not overly naturalistic either. Film skews certainly towards the naturalistic, but in my experience so far there is a performative quality of inhabiting another person, or in some cases molding that person to yourself; it can go in either direction. That performative quality is what engages people and makes something come alive.

    So I think there are occasions when your acting has to be honed and diminished in front of the camera because you are capturing things much closer, sometimes. That said, the Met's HD cameras get pretty close, and I try to perform the same way whether they are there or not. By looking to the right with a certain velocity you can convey so much, and it can be read from the back rows of the Met just as well as it can on HD cameras, in many cases.

    Certainly there are variations and subtle differences when acting in cinema, but I do hope to pursue that. I would love to continue to participate in cinema throughout the course of my operatic career.

    Also, getting opera in cinema is a wonderful way to introduce audiences to it. Since the inception of cinema opera has been a big part of it, and I think it will always continue to be.

    OL - You are an Ivy League alumnus, having graduated Magna Cum Laude from Princeton University. You must be a very smart young man who must have had an ample array of possibilities in front of you, being a high-performing member of the student body of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. What drew you to classical singing in the first place, instead of some sort of more conventional career? It all started at age 11, right?

    ARC - Yes, it did start at age 11. I think what draws me to classical singing in one word is emotion. We as humans are seeking to find meaning, and often that meaning is found in emotion. What opera allows us to do in particular, but also cinema and many other art forms, is to look at these moments that only happen a handful of times in our lives with perspective. Opera is about moments which are so rarefied and so intense, and for me to be studying those moments and to be living those moments on a daily basis puts me in what I feel is a slightly closer touch with something meaningful. That to me is really beautiful, and that's why I do it.

    OL - Now tell us a little about Anthony, the person, beyond the singer. Describe yourself to us a little bit; what you like to do outside of the artistic universe; what are the values and people you care for, and so on.

    ARC - My parents who teach at Duke, Susan Roth and Philip Costanzo, have filled me with incredible values and so I'm very grateful for that. I have a very diverse group of friends - I have many opera singing friends and all of that of course, but I also have friends in the art world and the downtown scene in New York City; friends who are photographers, pastry chefs, directors, dancers and choreographers, composers, designers, architects, and lawyers - you know, all kinds and walks of life are interesting to me.

    Often we all come together at what we call "The Supper Club" which is where ten to fifteen people come over and I cook five-course dinners.

    OL - Wow!

    ARC - It's usually five, sometimes six. Recently we have focused on one question - something we all talk about and discuss. It sounds sort of silly but with the right group of people it can inspire a very lively conversation. So they are almost salons of sorts and I find them very engaging.

    I ride my bike all over Manhattan. I find it very easy and economical, and it is also a very good way to exercise without having to actually think about it. So I get on my bike and go from place to place. I have a dog that I love and is in my parent's house now. And then (laughs) I spend a lot of time working on music, going to cultural events and discovering new things as much as possible - that's sort of the summary of me.

    OL - Your answers were great. You're a very smart and articulate man.


    ARC - Oh, good!

    OL - Thank you, Mr. Costanzo, and I look forward to seeing you live on stage on August 10!

    ARC - I look forward to meeting you too. Take care.

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    Listen to samples of Mr. Costanzo's singing:

    The exceptional performance that won him the Operalia:



    The following link has a longer version of the same performance and is even better, but can't be embedded since our software doesn't support this Chinese format; click [here] to see it (it will play after a short commercial).

    And here, his role in The Enchanted Island :



    And here is a special treat: his very compelling acting and singing in the movie The Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, wih a lovely interpretation of "Voi che sapete"




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    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Well, I remember Brian Asawa winning Operalia in the 1990s, so it's not that unusual for a countertenor to win the competition.

      I do agree is great to explore the voice of countertenor on contemporary music, and much more should yet be coming.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      The revision is now complete and the interview is in its final format.

      I think Mr. Costanzo is just spectacular - something that was already anticipated in his phenomenal child performance in the movie, and was fully confirmed in the artistry of the adult singer. And he's still very young, so, with this incredible career start, we'll be hearing about him and seeing him on stage and on DVD and recordings for many years to come.

      I'm very excited about seeing him live on stage in three days. What a great singer, and what an intelligent young man!
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Now with new photos.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      The review of the concert has been published [here].


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