The Entrepreneurial Side of Opera with Producer Anthony Roth Costanzo

Allen Sheffield via FLICKR
Anthony Roth Costanzo, Producer of ORPHIC MOMENTS

Anthony Roth Costanzo
Producer of ORPHIC MOMENTS

Anthony Roth Costanzo is one of opera’s most in-demand singers, with sold-out appearances at the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Dallas Opera, Glyndebourne and English National Opera. The countertenor was featured on the cover of OPERA NEWS as part of “Opera’s Next Wave” in 2012—the year he took home first prize in the Operalia competition. This season, Costanzo made his mark as an entrepreneur by producing and starring in ORPHIC MOMENTS, a multimedia presentation at National Sawdust in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

What gave you the idea for ORPHIC MOMENTS?

When National Sawdust approached me to be one of the curators for their spring season, I knew I wanted to do something adventurous. Composer Matt Aucoin had written a piece for me about Orpheus, and I decided we should try and combine it with the whole of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice to make an evening-length fully-staged presentation. I’m fortunate to have a community of artists and collaborators who inspire me, and after contacting several of them ideas began to emerge. Months later, we are in the midst of final preparations for an interdisciplinary evening which incorporates not only opera, but dance, projections, sculpture, video and food.

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When did you decide to start to produce your own projects?

My senior thesis project at Princeton unwittingly became my first foray into producing. I wanted to put on a show at a professional level based on the two years of research I had done about castrati. After involving artists like filmmaker James Ivory and choreographer Karole Armitage, I realized we needed a real budget, not a student’s stipend. This prompted me to come up with a strategy for finding the money, mobilizing the talent, and unlocking the resources Princeton had to offer. It was a slingshot PhD in producing for a then senior in college.

As a producer, how did you work with your collaborators?

I think in order to be successful at engaging collaborators there are two general rules:

  1. Create community. The more you surround yourself with likeminded people in all different fields, the easier it is to find inspiration as well as willing participants.

  2. Work with everyone differently. In my experience, a successful producer is somewhat of a chameleon. Idiosyncratic personalities often require tailored interactions, especially in the midst of creative flow, and I delight in finding the right approach with each one.

What advice would you give to other artists looking to develop their own projects?

While it’s important to show off your talents, that can’t be your primary motivation. Rather, I find it is crucial to strive for beauty and innovation, generating projects that occupy an undeveloped cultural real estate. 

Where will new audiences for opera come from?

There are so many potential new audiences for opera just waiting (unknowingly) to be converted. In my experience children connect to the art form readily, and with the right introduction to an operatic experience can easily become hooked. Similarly, people already interested in aesthetics, from fashion designers to florists, tend to delight in the aural and visual feast that opera provides. I’ve found that anyone can get excited by opera, the key is finding the right gateway drug for them. Often hearing the power of an operatic voice in an intimate space is the first step down that path.

Do new audiences respond to new work?

As thorny or inaccessible as some new work can seem, I feel that often new audiences are the best audiences for it. Opera fanatics can come to a new work with all kinds of preconceptions that make them less open, whereas new audiences are looking for a theatrical experience – something they can connect to – and new opera can sometimes provide this in acute and compelling ways.

What is your proudest day as an opera singer?

The mother of a close friend of mine loved to come see me at the opera. Suddenly she was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given only a few weeks to live. Towards the very end, as she drifted in and out, and her suffering increased, I found a way to sneak a harpsichord into the hospice and was able to give her an hour-long concert in her room. I felt very proud that this art form I had spent so much time honing and fighting for allowed me to communicate beauty and emotion in such a direct and meaningful way, and at such a crucial time. 

What is your proudest day as an entrepreneur?

For a brief stint after college I was the executive director of a dance company. We were looking for a way to raise money and awareness, so I came up with a parody of a public service announcement related to the dance company’s season. I wrote the script for this farcical commercial, but we needed a celebrity to make the whole conceit work. I’m not exactly sure how, but we convinced Christopher Walken to be our star and not only got tens of thousands of views, but also went on to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at the gala shortly thereafter.

What is one book you would recommend to everyone?

Short of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” for the entrepreneurial set, I’d say André Aciman’s “Call Me by Your Name” is about as simultaneously lyrical and juicy as it gets.

Who is someone we should be following on Twitter right now?

Definitely Megan Amram.

What is one app that all OPERA NEWS readers should be using?

I’m surprised more people don’t know about Venmo, which makes sending cash to friends as easy as sending a text. Splitting the bill for a pre-theater blue-plate special has never been easier.

Give us your best plug/brag a little about as to what you’re working on now/next.

I can’t quite believe that my last show, Philip Glass’s AKHNATEN, was the best selling contemporary opera in the history of the English National Opera. More exciting than the screaming and standing ovations during curtain calls was the absolute silence and concentration of the audience in every performance. It was one of the most spectacular and spectacularly successful productions I’ve ever been a part of so I cannot wait to bring it to LA Opera next fall.

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