concert, which he felt would have the greatest emotional
impact, even as the Met tried to persuade him to sing a more
familiar Gluck piece instead.
Costanzo is electric on the stage. Small and slender,
he is a vibrant, mercurial presence. The brilliant, piercing
clarity of his voice can blaze with passion as he embodies the
doomed young artist in George Benjamin’s Written on Skin,
turn chill and ghostly in an anguished aria of mourning
in Vivaldi’s Farnace, or float in hypnotic serenity in the
“Hymn” from Akhnaten. He can play funny, camping it up
as Orlofsky in the Met’s Die Fledermaus. He excels in the
fast and florid singing that is the meat and potatoes of the
baroque repertoire, but he always invests those pyrotechnics
with meaning, and he believes that even Handel laments
sometimes need “blood and guts,” as he puts it. He doesn’t
ever want to be too proper.
His voice is a tool to an end. “Above all, I am an actor,”
Costanzo says. “That was really cemented in front of a camera
with James Ivory. Working with directors like Peter Sellars
and Phelim McDermott continues to change and shape me
and so I feel in no way set as a performer. I have a bag of
tricks and a lot of experience, but I’m constantly excited by
new methods.” Whether he’s figuring out how to find the
courage to stand completely naked onstage in Akhnaten, or
conceiving and starring in Orphic Moments, a double bill of
a new cantata by Matthew Aucoin and Gluck’s Orfeo with a
feast served to the audience in between, Costanzo is always
looking ahead, primed to experiment with new models for
the opera of the future. •
Heidi Waleson is opera critic of the Wall Street Journal
and the author of Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death
of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in
America (Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company,
New York, 2018).
a connection that led him, circuitously, to the voice teacher
Joan Patenaude-Yarnell, with whom he still works.
At Princeton, Costanzo’s senior thesis was a baroque
pasticcio; he also made a documentary about its creation
that went to the Cannes Film Festival. One participant in
that project was the choreographer Karole Armitage, who
persuaded him to run her dance company for two years after
he graduated. But Costanzo was destined to be onstage,
not just behind the scenes, and, in 2009, he won the
Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a major
step in a career that would quickly take off. Even there, he
followed his own path, insisting on performing the obscure
“Stille amare” from Handel’s Tolomeo at the Grand Finals
(left to right) Composer Robert Kapilow, soprano Angelina Reaux,
baritone Michael Sokol, boy sopranos Anthony Roth Costanzo and
Brett Tabisel, at a New Jersey Chamber Music Society rehearsal,
October 11, 1994. Photo: © 2018 Steve J. Sherman.
VOCALIST of the year
Anthony Roth Costanzo
Costanzo and Plácido Domingo backstage at the MET in 2011 after a
performance of The Enchanted Island. Photo: Matthew Placek.
Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo performing at a Classical Action
“Maestro Appreciation” concert in 2015. Photo: © Steve J. Sherman.