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Costanzo Blasts Off with Glass/Handel

Barnes Foundation Museum
09/22/2018 -  & 23, 30 September 2018
“Glass Handel”
George Frideric Handel: Tolomeo, re di Egitto, HWV 25: “Inumano fratel”; “Stille amare” – Flavio, HWV 16: “Rompo I lacci”- Rinaldo, HWV 7: “Lascia ch’io pianga”- Rodelinda, HWV 19: “Vivi, tiranno, io t’ho scampato” – Amadigi di Gaula, HWV 11: “Pena Tiranna”
Philip Glass: Liquid Days: “Liquid Days” – Monsters of Grace: “In the Arc of your Mallet” – The Fall of the House of Usher: “How All Living Things Breathe” – 1000 Airplanes on the Roof: “The Encounter”

Anthony Roth Costanzo (countertenor), Patricia Delgado/David Hallberg/Ricky Ubeda (ballet dancers)
Opera Philadelphia Orchestra, Corrado Rovaris (conductor)
George Condo (painter), Justin Peck (choreographer), Anthony Roth Costanzo, Cath Brittan, Visionaire (stage directors)

A.R. Costanzo (© Dominic M. Mercier)

A multi-media extravaganza in the museum’s grand court with a trio of principal dancers – David Hallberg (of American Ballet Theater & Bolshoi Ballet), Patricia Delgado (of Miami City Ballet) and Ricky Ubeda (Broadway © dancer, So You Think You Can Dance winner) – dancing to choreography by Justin Peck (of New York City Ballet); a 34-piece orchestra (20 of which spun the Glass, and 12 musicians handled the Handel); George Condo making a cubist portraiture on an illuminated canvas in real time. Two screens with video feeds of Glass/Handel music videos made by famed filmmakers...(in fact since the audience members were constantly being ferried around the room to the different staging areas in trolley’s operated by a battalion of supernumeraries, one felt like an extra in a Peter Greenaway film.)

Not that it all wasn’t interesting. A happening, in fact...did I mention the dancers were in red satin skivvies and beaded sashes that swirled around their bodies. There was definite sensory overload in play.

More surprises were in store at the September 22 performance. The power grid on the Ben Franklin Parkway (where The Barnes Foundation Museum is located) lost electricity with patrons milling about in anticipation. Fortunately, the power was restored shortly before performance time, and all went off seemingly without a hitch. David Devan was dashing to check things behind the scenes but spending as much time as possible greeting audience members and making a very gracious curtain speech to introduce the event.

Costanzo wanted to create a different kind of opera experience, and this definitely was it. As precise as Costanzo sounds on his new album, ARC Glass/Handel, he is equally impressive performing live, perhaps more so in some respects with his genuine sense of being in the musical moment with these musicians, this audience and the chemistry of the room. Mostly, Costanzo’s intimate and soaring countertenor range continues to entrance. Still, one noticed entranced audience members while watching the film screens and especially Condo, visible in a full silhouette as he painted his canvas. But that goes to taste: the ‘spectacale’ frameworks of Handel’s time in opera houses were, indeed, elaborate multi-media extravaganzas.

Meanwhile, the orchestras and conductor Rovaris projected their own hi-definition elements that seemed at all times to engulf the Barnes grand court. Except for period instrumentalists Richard Stone (Lute/Theorbo) and harpsichordist Adam Pearl, there were different players for the Handel and the Glass compositions. Between Costanzo’s voice and the precision of these musicians, Glass/Handel was enough of a feast to drink in.

This is Costanzo’s second hit this year with Opera Philadelphia. He starred in the Benjamin/Crimp medieval potboiler Written on Skin last winter and the premiere of Glass/Handel was sold out well in advance with many fans lined up on a waiting list hoping for cancellations. The good news is that Costanzo’s recording, captures the concept and its pure musical artistry.

Lewis J. Whittington



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