Grammy-winning opera singer Anthony Roth Costanzo ’04 will be the featured soloist for the 2023-24 season at the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. PAW spoke with him about coming back to Princeton and what’s next for the countertenor, including the English National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera — and about the recent M&Ms commercial in which he played a singing potted plant.
What are you looking forward to this season?
I’m excited to be coming back to the Princeton Symphony, especially to sing a piece composed by Gregory Spears *07. Greg has written opera for all kinds of companies and has written incredible instrumental music as well. And when I was the artist-in-residence last season with the New York Philharmonic, I commissioned Greg to write an original piece for me, with original text by Tracy K. Smith (poet laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019). Tracy wrote the text and Greg wrote the cycle.
Where do you see yourself going and what keeps you motivated?
I’m always looking for where I can have the most impact. Sometimes that’s using my voice as an opera singer, or working with other collaborators, composers, artists, theater makers, and choreographers. I realized in creating these projects, I’m as much a producer as I am a singer. This began with my senior thesis. When I produced and created The Double Life of Zefirino, which we also made into a film that went to Cannes and was on PBS, that project taught me how to produce in some crucial ways.
Creating a project has become important to me. I’m thrilled to have received a grant this year from the Mellon Foundation so I can not only create my own project, but help other artists create theirs, and be a producer in whatever meaning of the word you can think of.
How did you get involved with the M&M’s commercial when the purple M&M was released?
They reached out and asked if I’d be willing to do this. I thought it was such a great opportunity for art and an operatic voice to be seen in a more mainstream context. We had a fantastic time.
I’m always interested in how commercial models in our society tend to come back to the zeitgeist and to different generations, much more effectively than the “arts model” that I’m very committed to, and that I love. I’m looking for ways to do things that intersect, and [help us] to learn different aspects of each other so that we can have the classical arts connected in more impactful ways to different generations and different populations and communities.
What are you working on now?
I’m playing the title role of Akhnaten at the English National Opera. In conjunction with that, I received a visiting fellowship at Oxford University, where I went to teach in Egyptology. I continue to expand my idea of scholarship, in addition to performance. That is something I think Princeton really instilled in me, the way that academics can be an important part of creating art.
I’m excited to continue my collaboration with Justin Vivian Bonds, who is an amazing cabaret artist and a trans icon. We created a show together, Only an Octave Apart, performed at St. Ann’s Warehouse off-Broadway, then to London at Wilson’s Music Hall. Next will be the Spoleto Festival this summer.
I’m returning to the Met next season in a title role of Orfeo. I’m very excited to be returning to the Met in that leading capacity in one of my favorite operas.
— Interview conducted and condensed by Nicholas DeVito