Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo has performed with opera companies all over the world. Most recently he was seen in Great Scott with the Dallas Opera and in Chicago Lyric Opera's premiere of Bel Canto, in which he was singled out by Alex Ross in The New Yorker as an "immensely gifted singer who deserves an opera of his own." In addition to being a talented, sought-after performer, we'd heard that Anthony is a masterful cook and dinner party host (he showed up at our Friendsgiving bearing a leaning tower of croquembouche). We've been eager to get to know him better, so we recently reached out to him to get his take on what makes for a great meal, the biggest misconceptions about opera, and how to host a memorable dinner party.
Tell us about your most recent great meal.
Opera singers tend to travel a lot, and I can’t even remember how many cities I’ve been in over the past 6 months. One meal that really stands out was at Corte Sconta in Venice. Tucked away on one of those hairline backstreets that only exist in Venice, it’s a stone’s throw from the Arsenale and the exhibitions of the Venice Biennale. Comfortable, without any frills, the focus is on the food. Unbelievable squid ink pasta, freshly caught tiny little crabs lightly fried, scallop carpaccio, an entire tasting menu of the best seafood I’ve ever had.
You've been performing since you were 11 years old, and seem to stay very busy. What keeps you inspired and engaged with your work?
I’m a human emotion junkie. I want to feel it, I want to provoke it, I want to generate it with art. I go to the theater as an audience member wanting to be moved for just 30 seconds. Most of the time that doesn’t happen. However, a few times a year, I feel chills go up and down my spine and I am completely transported. I leave that theater with a different perspective on what’s going on around me, and it makes a year’s worth of theater-going feel worth it. Each time I step on to a stage, I try to make every second of my performance a second that moves at least one person in that audience. I have no idea whether I succeed or not most of the time, but the quest to do that in the most beautiful way I can is one that never feels complete.
What's the biggest misconception about opera?
Many people I meet who have never seen an opera have no idea that when I sing—at, say, the 4,000-seat Metropolitan Opera—I am using no amplification whatsoever. When you think about that, it can give the opera-going experience a whole new spin. Also, the action of the story plays out on stage and you can hear the meaning of the words just by the way they sound in a skilled singer’s declamation; you don’t need to speak Italian to understand what’s going on. I put this theory to the test when I went to the Bronx to ambush 5th and 6th graders who knew next to nothing about opera.
We've heard that you host some memorable dinner parties. What's your approach to organizing a good one?
About 10 years ago I started having little supper clubs with friends, and they have grown into a rather specific formula: 15 people, 5 courses. When I’m home in NYC I do them almost once a week, and when I’m on the road, I try and find a good kitchen and a willing bunch. I hate spending the whole night in the kitchen once the guests arrive so I’ve come up with a good repertoire of tricks to minimize my time in the kitchen. For example, almost any fish can be seared on either side for 90 seconds, and then put in the fridge in a baking dish. Pop it in the oven for 6 or 7 minutes at 350° before serving and it comes out perfectly cooked and piping hot. Individual soufflés always impress, and they can be prepared hours in advance. Then all you have to do is stick them in the oven for 15 minutes and voilà. I make Negronis ahead of time and funnel them into old Pellegrino bottles. And I always invite a diverse set of characters, and never like anyone to feel too comfortable. As soon as the first or second drink hits the hatch, the octogenarians are dictating all the millennial’s Instagram captions, and the food is only a conduit for the merriment.
Do you find cooking to be creatively fulfilling in a similar way that performing is?
It is creatively fulfilling without all the anxiety! If I have a day off from singing—a day when I really shouldn’t be using my voice, or mulling over my stage directions—cooking is the one thing that can quiet my mind. It keeps me occupied, engaged, and distracted in the best possible way. Sometimes when I can’t fall asleep, I stare up at the ceiling and try and come up with my next shocking ice cream flavor. It’s much better than thinking about the thousands of people who will hear a wrong note if I sing one!
This month you can see Anthony in the title role of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten at the English National Opera in London, and in April in La Dolce Morte, a brand new monodrama written for him, staged at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And stay tuned for a food-and-opera event called Orphic Moments at the new venue National Sawdust in Brooklyn, a collaboration between director Doug Fitch and chef Patrick Connolly.
Check out Anthony’s website for more information.
Photo of Anthony by Pix Talarico.