Anthony Roth Costanzo, star countertenor, to lead Opera Philadelphia

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Anthony Roth Costanzo, star countertenor, to lead Opera Philadelphia
In an undated image provided by Matthew Placek, Anthony Roth Costanzo at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. Costanzo, the celebrated American countertenor who is one of opera’s biggest stars, will lead Opera Philadelphia as its next general director and president, the company announced on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Matthew Placek via The New York Times)

by Javier C. Hernández

NEW YORK, NY.- Anthony Roth Costanzo, the celebrated American countertenor who is one of opera’s biggest stars, will lead Opera Philadelphia as its next general director and president, the company announced Thursday.

Costanzo, 41, whose tenure starts in June, will be a rare figure in the classical music industry: an artist in his prime who is also working as an administrator. He said he would continue to perform widely even as he works to reshape Opera Philadelphia, which has struggled to recover from the disruption of the pandemic.

“I’m really interested in how I can have the most impact,” Costanzo said in an interview. “And there’s only so much you can do as an individual artist.”

Stephen K. Klasko, the chair of Opera Philadelphia’s board of directors, said Costanzo rose to the top of a list of 40 candidates because of his eagerness to attract new audiences and form new partnerships as the company looks for a sustainable business model.

“He’s enthusiastic, he’s positive,” Klasko said, “and he sees our future as being an entity that goes beyond opera.”

At Opera Philadelphia, Costanzo will oversee fundraising, business strategy, audience development, community initiatives and artistic planning. Klasko said that while Costanzo did not have traditional credentials, the board was impressed by his work as a creative producer and impresario. Costanzo has curated festivals, for example, at the New York Philharmonic.

“He’s really had a pretty diverse background,” Klasko said. “And he’s done a pretty darn good job on the business side of things.”

Costanzo will succeed David B. Devan, who announced last year that he would leave the company this spring after 13 years.

Costanzo performs regularly on the world’s leading stages. He has also led an array of projects outside opera, like “Only an Octave Apart,” a show with cabaret artist Justin Vivian Bond.

Costanzo will take the reins at a challenging time for Opera Philadelphia, which has long had a reputation as a haven for innovative and ambitious work.

Since the pandemic, the company, founded in 1975, has slashed its budget, eliminated staff positions and reduced the number of performances. Next season, the budget is $10 million, down from $15.6 million for the 2018-19 season; there will be nine performances, compared with 30 before. Opera Philadelphia, which has never had a substantial endowment, is highly dependent on ticket sales and new donations.

Opera companies across the United States are struggling with rising costs and lingering financial pain from the pandemic. The Metropolitan Opera in New York has withdrawn about $70 million from its endowment over the past two seasons to help cover costs.

Opera Philadelphia’s leaders have tried to get beyond the company’s woes by intensifying fundraising efforts and forming alliances with other cultural institutions. The company announced last month that it would work with the Apollo Theater in Harlem to develop new operatic works by Black artists.

Costanzo said Opera Philadelphia’s future would involve new collaborations. “We have to bring opera into the zeitgeist in various ways,” he said, “whether it be through fashion, grassroots engagement or other means.”

“We have to create a kind of groundswell and buzz,” he added.

Costanzo, who grew up in Durham, North Carolina, began his relationship with Opera Philadelphia in 1996, when he was 14 and performed as a shepherd boy in a production of Puccini’s “Tosca,” starring Luciano Pavarotti. At the end of the opera, Costanzo recalled, Pavarotti extended his hand, inviting Costanzo to join him for a bow.

Costanzo returned to Opera Philadelphia as an adult in 2011 for a production of Henze’s “Phaedra.” In 2018, he produced and starred in the operatic art installation “Glass Handel” at the company’s Festival O in 2018, raising nearly $1 million to cover the costs of the project.

In Philadelphia, he said he was eager to program more small-scale works and contemporary music, in addition to traditional offerings. He also wants to rethink the company’s fundraising strategy.

“I approach everything I do with creativity,” he said, “because I began as and still am an artist.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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