Anthony Roth Costanzo turns 40 in May, and one thing is for sure, he will be celebrating in his birthday suit. That's because from May 19 through June 10, the countertenor will return to New York's Metropolitan Opera, starring in the title role of Philip Glass's spellbinding Akhnaten.
For Costanzo -- one of the most prominent out voices in the opera world -- this is a career-defining role in a production expected to be one of the Met's biggest successes. It's a Herculean part that, in addition to vocal training, requires a fair amount of athleticism -- and full onstage nudity. Thus, Costanzo will undergo an extreme workout regimen to get into the best shape of his life.
"I will be working out furiously for sure on my birthday," Costanzo says with a laugh. "The part calls for me to shave my head and my body too. I just want to emphasize though that the nudity in this production is a ritual -- beautiful and tasteful. It's not sexualized. Sure, I'm a bit nervous about being stark naked in front of 4,000 people each night, but truly this will be an epic opportunity for me, and to have this happen at 40 is a career dream come true."
And what a career. Costanzo began performing professionally at age 11 and has since appeared in opera, concert, recital, film, and Broadway productions. He is a Grammy nominee, a recipient of the Met's 2020 Beverly Sills Award, a winner of the 2020 Opera News Award, and Musical America Worldwide's 2019 Vocalist of the Year.
However, before Costanzo has to bare all at the Met, he has been busy working on a project with Justin Vivian Bond, the acclaimed transgender singer and actor. The pair performed at the Authentic Selves: The Beauty Within festival with the New York Philharmonic (Costanzo is this year's Mary and James G. Wallach artist in residence there). The festival explored the fluxes of identity through concerts, discussions, and other programming.
"We have a busy schedule of concerts and events this winter with the Philharmonic," Costanzo notes. "It's liberating to be your authentic self. For example, I look different from the way I sound, so I wanted to find truth in the dissonance between perception and expression."
Just prior to the festival, Costanzo performed nearly 80 concerts on a pickup truck for Bandwagon 2, a NYC pop-up music series he orchestrated with the Philharmonic. "I got to know so many members of the orchestra intimately, both as musical partners and friends," he says. "I am so happy to be working with them now on a real stage and making music together."
Moreover, Costanzo is ecstatic to be able to perform with Bond this year; in addition to live shows, the pair released an album of their own together, Only an Octave Apart. "I saw Viv performing at Joe's Pub cabaret club in lower Manhattan, and I asked if I could perform with [them]," says Costanzo. "Not only did we hit it off, but our performance was electric. We vowed to collaborate on a project together, and we did! I like to say that it's reminiscent of the Carnegie Hall concert that featured Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews. Two really different personalities that just click."
Performing with Bond "has made me realize in very vivid ways the extent to which honest and direct representations of who you are lead to the most powerful form of communication," he adds. "I saw the extent to which the only key you need to engage an audience, even with something as seemingly opaque as classical music, is figuring out how to use the form to express the core of who you are."
And for Bond, collaborating with Costanzo has been thrilling. "I get the pleasure of witnessing the full force of his monumental talent in such close proximity. I am in awe," Bond says. "And as a friend, it is a profound and indescribable thrill to share the joy of doing my favorite thing -- singing -- with someone I love and trust so deeply."
"Cabaret is really intimate and spontaneous and dangerous because you don't know what's going to happen, whereas opera at its best is very calculated. There are so many people onstage that every piece of the puzzle has to fit perfectly," Bond says. "So in our work together, Anthony and I get to bring elements of both of those things, so it loosens up the opera part a bit and recontextualizes it, and for me, it gets me into a more formalized, practiced way of performing. I think it brings out the best and something new in both of us."
Photography Meredith Truax
This article is part of Out's March/April 2022 issue, appearing on newsstands April 5. Support queer media and subscribe -- or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.