By Bill Green
Renowned countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo first came to the attention of LA Opera (LAO) patrons with his extraordinary performance in the lead role as the Egyptian Boy King in Philip Glass’ Akhnaten in 2016. The reviews were nothing short of rave.
Now get this: he’ll be back.
In the spring of 2021 Costanzo will return to LAO in a ground-breaking chamber concert called Veils of Desire.
Costanzo’s recent success builds upon a professional career that started at age 11 on Broadway. His early achievements included performing at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia as the Shepard Boy in Tosca with Luciano Pavarotti, acting in a Merchant Ivory film, and as a young adult, winning the Grand Final at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and taking first prize at Operalia.
As for Akhnaten, Costanzo described playing the Egyptian pharaoh as the most vocally and mentally demanding role he has ever sung. He found Glass’ music tough to memorize because of the repetition and the constant onslaught of sound, and said it required endurance and conditioning to sustain for over three hours.
That said, Costanzo is a fan of Philip Glass’ music and was delighted to be selected by the English National Opera (ENO) for Akhnaten after appearing in an ENO production of Purcell’s Indian Queen. LAO CEO Christopher Koelsch saw the Akhnaten production in London and decided on the spot to bring it to Los Angeles. Costanzo went on to repeat the role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
“The range of Anthony’s repertoire, which spans from the first operas ever written to the cutting edge music of our own time, is as broad and varied as his enormous talents as an entrepreneur, producer and curator,” says Joshua Winograde, LA Opera’s Senior Director of Artistic Programs.
Costanzo attributes much of his success to forging important artistic relationships with individuals and organizations around the world.
One of those relationships is with J’Nai Bridges. Costanzo and Bridges attended the Manhattan School of Music together. They both participated in a summer student opera training program in Italy and were reunited on stage when Bridges appeared as Nefertiti in Akhnaten with Costanzo in Los Angeles and New York.
Costanzo as the title pharaoh and J'Nai Bridges as Nefertiti in Philip Glass' Akhnaten (credit: LA Opera)
Costanzo’s relationship with Sir Harry Bickett is another important connection. Bickett conducted Rodelinda at the Metropolitan Opera in 2011, Costanzo’s debut at the Met, and just this season they worked together at the New York Philharmonic.
In Rodelinda, Costanzo sang the role of Unulfo, a role similar to Sancho Panza in Don Quixote—a character Costanzo describes as one who is supportive of his friends, “a quiet hero and a force for good who makes sure the plot comes together in the end.”
As for Rodelinda’s challenges, Costanzo cites Unulfo’s first aria as “very difficult,” featuring “challenging coloratura” singing and a complex series of notes that took him several months of study and practice to nail down.
Costanzo’s relationship with LAO resident artist Matthew Aucoin is yet another relationship he cites as important to his artistic growth and success. “I knew Matthew before he was a Macarthur Genius and before I had performed in a lead role at the Met,” Costanzo says.
“LA Opera has a long history of meaningful relationships with important artists like that,” Winograde says. “Such as Renée Fleming and Matthew Aucoin, who bring profound and diverse expertise and interests to the table.”
Costanzo’s history and rapport with Aucoin will come in handy next year when, in the spring of 2021, he will return to LAO in a ground-breaking chamber concert called Veils of Desire. The concert will be produced by American Modern Opera Company (AMOC), where Matthew Aucoin is one of the co-artistic directors and whose membership includes Costanzo. Veils will include music by Bach, Britten, Monteverdi and Aucoin, among others. Costanzo says it “cracks open the typical concert program and represents a different way of creating classical music programming.”
Of course, throughout all these artistic adventures and relationships, Anthony Roth Costanzo continues forging a fruitful artistic relationship with LA Opera, a company he describes as “cutting edge, high caliber, artistic and accessible.”
“To present Anthony at LAO,” Winograde says, “in opera, concert and recital, and in repertoire that includes Handel, Glass, Aucoin and more, is to enable our audiences to have significant access to him as an artist.”
Cover photo credit: Matthew Placek