We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Bryan Wagorn and Anthony Roth Costanzo

We have been huge fans of countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and pianist Bryan Wagorn for quite some time but the thrill is always new when either performs. To see and hear them together was doubly thrilling.  To see and hear them at an intimate recital--in a glamorous downtown penthouse--was triply thrilling.

The occasion was Classical Action's 2015 Maestro Appreciation Concert, the "Maestros" being the generous supporters of Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Classical Action draws upon the talents, resources and generosity of the classical, opera and jazz communities to raise money for those battling HIV/AIDS and other critical illnesses. For over 20 years, Classical Action has helped to fund over 450 AIDS and family service organizations in the United States.

Mr. Costanzo is frequently seen onstage at the Metropolitan Opera among other venues, and has garnered numerous awards including Placido Domingo's Operalia competition and the Grand Finals winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. We last saw him in a glorious recital at the Morgan Library with Nadine Sierra with Bryan Wagorn at the piano.

Mr. Wagorn also has an illustrious career as Assistant Conductor at the Met and as collaborative pianist with some of the greatest voices onstage. Solo performances and coaching duties round out his impressive bio.

Just see what magic these two artists created last night! Mr. Costanzo engaged the audience even before he began to sing. He shared some interesting tidbits about the castrati of the 17th c.  He shared how he came to accept his fach. He told us about Franz Liszt's wild side and his spiritual side

And then he began to sing, lending his pure and penetrating tone to five songs by Liszt. It would be difficult to say which of the two artists was more expressive. Mr. Costanzo can really float his top notes, become impressively expansive at the song's climax, and then pull back to the most delicate pianissimo.

Our favorite of this group was a love song "In Liebeslust, S. 318". No one wrote for the piano like Liszt and Mr. Wagorn's fingers literally flew over the keys.

Although the set of Liszt songs was very finely done, we are partial to the music best suited, in our opinion, to Mr. Costanzo's voice. Of course we mean that exemplar of Baroque music-- Georg Friedrich Händel. His Giulio Cesare is replete with thrilling arias and Mr. Costanzo sang the eponymous hero's aria from Act III when he is wandering in the desert--"Aure, deh per pietà".

Next, he sang Bertarido's aria from Act III of Rodelinda in which he spares the life of Grimoaldo who had usurped his throne. "Vivi, Tiranno" is filled with challenging vocal fireworks that Mr. Costanzo makes seem so easy. Even more arresting was the aria "Pena tiranna" from the less well-known opera Amadigi di Gaula. The embellishments were exquisitely handled as was the pianissimo passages. Mr. Wagorn's piano was especially powerful.

In the final set comprising Gershwin songs, Mr. Wagorn also shone. The two artists really got into "I Got Rhythm", living up to the title of the song. "Embraceable You" was suitably romantic and "Sam and Delilah" delightfully funny. But it was the final offering "Summertime" that blew us away. Mr. Costanzo told the audience that the song was inappropriate for a countertenor and inappropriate for a man. Well, who could say that when it sounded so right?

As encore, we heard Benjamin Britten's setting of an English folk song "The Foggy Foggy Dew" in which the poignant aspects were given as much attention as the lighthearted ones. Had we programmed the recital we would have put "I Got Rhythm" as the encore because of the line "Who Could Ask for Anything More" which is how we felt at the conclusion.

(c) meche kroop

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