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Opera's Next Wave

Countertenor ANTHONY ROTH COSTANZO

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Anthony Roth Costanzo
© James Salzano 2012

Anthony Roth Costanzo's star has been rising steadily since 2007, when the North Carolina-born countertenor, then a graduate student at Manhattan School of Music, sang the title role in Lukas Foss's Griffelkin at MSM. Griffelkin, a boy devil celebrating his tenth birthday, was conceived for a soprano and is not an easy sing; in the opinion of OPERA NEWS's John W. Freeman, Griffelkin "had more than a match in Anthony Roth Costanzo, a countertenor of assurance, spirit and expressive dynamic range." In the seasons since Griffelkin, Costanzo has consolidated that favorable first impression with a clutch of well-received performances at Glimmerglass Opera, Juilliard, New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera, where he made his company debut in December 2011, as Unulfo in Stephen Wadsworth's production of Handel's Rodelinda.

Costanzo, now just thirty, has been performing for more than twenty years, beginning with a run in The King and I in Raleigh when he was eight. As a child, Costanzo sang in U.S. national tours of Falsettos and The Sound of Music and was in A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden. His first opera role was Miles in The Turn of the Screw at Opera Festival of New Jersey when he was thirteen; it was during his work on the Britten opera that Costanzo began vocalizing and singing as a countertenor. Unlike most of his countertenor colleagues — such as David Daniels, who sang as a tenor before making the switch to countertenor repertory — Costanzo has never sung as anything but a treble voice.

Judged on purely vocal terms, Costanzo easily qualifies as a first-rate talent: his countertenor is strikingly expressive, with a sparkling soprano color and spin to its sound. But Costanzo is a true singing actor. His performances are complete characterizations, remarkable for their wit and sensitivity and scrupulously detailed. Versatility isn't a gift often expected of countertenors, but during the 2009–10 New York season, Costanzo offered proof of his sharp dramatic imagination. In November, he appeared as a guest in Juilliard's production of Handel's Ariodante. As Polinesso, the duplicitous Duke of Albany, Costanzo was a model of aristocratic villainy. Later that same season, Costanzo made his New York Philharmonic debut in Ligeti's exhilaratingly grotesque Le Grand Macabre as the hapless Prince Go-Go. Encased in a vast puffball suit, Costanzo was funny and touching, singing reams of impossibly difficult music with point, style and charm.

Costanzo is quick to pay tribute to those artists in the so-called "first generation" of modern countertenors, especially Bejun Mehta and David Daniels. In the spring of 2010, Costanzo made his New York City Opera debut in Handel's Partenope as Armindo, the role that marked Mehta's breakout performance at the company in 1998. In this past season's world premiere of the Baroque pasticcio The Enchanted Island at the Met, Costanzo was Ferdinand to Daniels's Prospero. He also served as Daniels's cover and sang three full performances of Prospero and part of a fourth when Daniels was indisposed. This coming season, Costanzo will sing Tolomeo to Daniels's Giulio Cesare for his debut at Michigan Opera Theatre.

Costanzo has made some notable conquests on the competition circuit. His most attention-getting wins to date were victories in the 2009 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions, the 2010 George London Awards and the 2010 Houston Grand Opera competition, in which he scored both first place and the audience choice award. In June of this year, Costanzo won first prize in the twentieth edition of the Operalia competition in Beijing. His winning streak shows no sign of stopping. spacer 

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Current Issue: October 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 4