Opera Spotlight: Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo

Classic Arts Features   Opera Spotlight: Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo
Though he made his New York opera debut with City Opera's Partenope, Costanzo is no stranger to the big stage. He discusses how a childhood in professional musical theatre eventually led him to his current place as one of the rising star countertenors of the day.


"I'm 27 now, and Partenope is my New York professional opera debut, but I've been at this for a while. I had, you could say, not your average childhood.

"When I was six, I was taking piano lessons, but I was very bad at reading music, so my teacher suggested that learning sight-singing would help. I think my fate was sealed then! When I was eight, a boy was needed for a production of The King and I in Raleigh, and we lived in Durham, because my parents teach at Duke. I auditioned and I got the part. That led to a slew of musical theatre roles: Winthrop in Music Man, Little Guido in Nine, Gypsy, A Christmas Carol in Madison Square Garden, national tours of Sound of Music and Falsettos. I got a New York agent and moved to New York, where my parents split weeks staying with me, and I enrolled in the Professional Children's School.

"I wasn't involved in opera until I was 13. I sang Miles in Turn of the Screw at the Opera Festival of New Jersey, and it took me about two minutes to figure out, 'This is what I want to do!' This was just about the time a boy's voice changes, and the question came up, 'Do you think you might be a countertenor?' I began to vocalize and sing as a countertenor straight through the break. So I've never sung as anything but a treble voice. In that regard, my story is different from most of my countertenor colleagues.

"Then came the question, 'Should I go to a university or a music conservatory?' I decided I wanted the widest possible frame of reference, so I went to Princeton. But I didn't neglect opera. I'd been researching the castrati, so I put together a fictional pastiche piece, with music of Handel, Vivaldi, Hasse, Pergolesi, Porpora, based on the lives of the castrati. By then, I had many professional contacts, so I got James Ivory, a mentor of mine, to do costumes, and Karole Armitage to choreograph. And I learned to produce, and raise money.

"When City Opera first did Partenope, in 1998, I was taking some lessons with Bejun Mehta, a role model of mine, and I came to see him as Armindo, which was his breakout performance. Debuting here in that same role is thrilling to me. I feel I've come full circle. I may be experienced, but I'm not jaded."


Partenope, starring Cyndia Sieden in the title role, runs April 3-17.

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