Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo On the Transformative Nature of Philip Glass’ Akhnaten
On the eve of the revival of the Metropolitan Opera’s landmark manufacturing of Glass’ work, the opera star displays on its career-defining energy.
As I write this, I’m sitting on a airplane getting back from the Grammy Awards ceremony, the place I used to be simply handed one of these weighty hunks of gold lauding our stay recording of Akhnaten at the Met. Rarely, if ever, in the life of an artist is there one challenge, one position, that merges the experiences and expertise you may have accrued and channels them right into a single observe. If that challenge then connects with folks in a profound approach, it turns into really life-changing.
When I felt the chilly metallic of the award, a reminiscence flashed in my thoughts of the first time I set foot on the chilly brass ground in the throne room of Tom Pye’s three-tiered, hieroglyphic diorama of a set. I used to be in a rehearsal at the English National Opera, the place we premiered Phelim McDermott’s extraordinary manufacturing. In that gilded room the place my character is topped pharaoh, I’ve no strains to sing. How may I convey the worry, the pleasure, the vulnerability, the imaginative and prescient of a younger man about to alter the world together with his revolutionary concepts? Phelim inspired us to discover 4 completely different motion qualities taught by theater guru Michael Chekhov—molding, flying, floating, and radiating. Molding, for instance, ought to really feel like transferring your hand by way of the air if the air had been made of molasses. After I molded by way of the throne room, with Glass’s musical meters of three and 4 swirling round me, and Sean Gandini’s juggling balls traversing my discipline of imaginative and prescient like magnified atomic particles, I started to unlock the reply to how I may make Akhnaten’s ideas converse. The bodily feeling of resistance merged my physique with the darkish weight of Glass’s violin-less rating, and concurrently allowed my thoughts to loosen up sufficient for a form of readability to emerge.
I understand I sound like somebody who’s simply returned from a Zen retreat, however as a baby on Broadway and doing theater in New York, I had the same feeling once I intuitively realized that I couldn’t attempt with all my may to form an viewers’s consideration, however slightly needed to develop instincts about how folks reply to a performer’s honesty on stage. The psychological lucidity Phelim’s approach affords, by occupying your physique with a finite job, makes that sort of forthright expression-of-self attainable, like beaming a laser from my eyes into each seat in the home.
Onstage, as I get able to open my mouth and sing in historic Egyptian, I perilously ascend the staircase in heavy gold paraphernalia—40 kilos of it, to be actual—and I take into consideration how I can convey which means with sound, since nobody speaks historic Egyptian and the manufacturing purposefully eschews translation of the historic textual content. The human voice exists in a liminal area between voluntary and involuntary—we are able to’t inform the 60-plus muscle tissue that management vocal operate precisely what to do. The solely technique to form and shade your tone is thru creativeness. For instance, if you happen to breathe in and picture you’re smelling roses, your taste bud (the pores and skin at the again of your throat) will magically raise. I needed to discover pictures that prompted a constellation of sounds that would mix to inform a narrative.
In a quest to amass a quiver of imagery, I went to speak to the Oxford Egyptologist Richard Parkinson and the beginner Egyptologist (and famed filmmaker) James Ivory. Richard confirmed me the unique soft-grained watercolors Howard Carter painted of Tutankhamun’s tomb when he found it precisely 100 years in the past this fall. I needed Akhnaten’s “Hymn to the Sun” to haven’t any tough edges, and glide like his brush on the paper. James talked about Akhnaten’s crown with its flinty glare and complex geometry, and I needed to match the crown’s glinting magnificence in the timbral metal I may muster to rival the brass in the pit. Combining these concepts with precise vocal approaches, I labored first with my voice instructor Joan Patenaude-Yarnell after which with conductor Karen Kamensek to seek out Akhnaten’s voice.
The whole solid and inventive crew labored in equally detailed methods to make a present that was a success when it premiered in London. But it wasn’t till three years later, once we introduced this present to the Met, that we climbed towards apotheosis. We labored collectively to create buzz, inventing engagement, schooling, and advertising and marketing methods that mobilized my entrepreneurial spirit, and the present bought out. My procrastinating buddies known as me whining that they needed to go on Stubhub and pay upwards of $1,000 for a single ticket. When all these folks sat there, absorbing the synthesis of our years of cautious craft and the spontaneity of a stay efficiency, it felt as if we had been by some means unleashing historic spirits upon them. More thrilling to me than the screaming, standing ovations at the finish of every efficiency had been the sacred, exceedingly uncommon seconds of breathless silence simply after the curtain fell. I stood behind that curtain, imagining that every individual had simply skilled their very own kind of lucid-dream that was splendidly distinct from however related to no matter ours had been on stage.
As the weight of that Grammy transferred into my fingers and I heard the cheering of the viewers in a Las Vegas ballroom, I used to be stuffed with pleasure not solely as a result of of the recognition that loud roar represented, however as a result of I knew that quickly I’ll hear these seconds of silence once more when Akhnaten returns to the Met.
Akhnaten is on stage May 19–June 10. For extra data, go to metopera.org.
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