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Performer takes on the role of a lifetime

By Jennifer Greenstein Altmann

Princeton NJ -- Anthony Roth Costanzo began singing professionally at the age of 11 -- he has appeared on Broadway and at Carnegie Hall -- but the performance he will give on May 5 in Richardson Auditorium could be described as the role of a lifetime.

Anthony Roth Costanzo and his thesis adviser

On the Richardson Auditorium stage, Anthony Roth Costanzo and his thesis adviser Wendy Heller, assistant professor of music, look over some sketches of the baroque costumes designed by noted film director James Ivory.


In "The Double Life of Zefirino," co-written by and starring Costanzo, he will sing six 18th-century arias while wearing an extravagant baroque costume designed by acclaimed film director James Ivory. Two professional dancers, who will complete the cast, will be directed by Karole Armitage, a well-known choreographer. The sets will have arrived by ship from Milan. The costumes will have come from an atelier in Venice.

Carolyn Abbate, acting chair of the Department of Music, called Costanzo's upcoming production "unprecedented. I've been here 22 years, and we've never had a senior thesis performance project on this level. What he's doing is hugely creative. It's an avant-garde performance piece."

Costanzo, a male soprano, began his theater career by appearing in the touring company of the Broadway show "Falsettos." He went on to appear on Broadway in "A Christmas Carol" and to perform with the Opera Company of North Carolina and Opera Santa Barbara. He has been a soloist with several orchestras, including the National Symphony Orchestra, with which he performed at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. He made his film debut in 1998 in "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries," which was directed by Ivory.

Costanzo's years as a professional singer and actor enabled him to wrangle favors from some of the big names with whom he has worked. But it was his years of research on the castrati, male singers in 18th-century Italy who were castrated before puberty to maintain their soprano singing voices, that inspired him to conceive of, co-write and produce "The Double Life of Zefirino."


"The Double Life of Zefirino" will be performed at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 5, in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall. Tickets are available through the Richardson box office.


"I realized the castrati were extremely important in the world of music and not many people knew about them," Costanzo said. He also discovered arias written for the castrati that were rarely performed. Costanzo wanted to perform those arias and at the same time tell the story of the castrati.

With the help of his co-author, scholar and dramaturge Stefano Paba, Costanzo created a fictional castrato named Zefirino who tells his story through arias, spoken dialogue and dance pieces by the two dancers, who represent the male and female sides of Zefirino. The production combines elements of a concert and a play in an operatic style. Thirty members of the University Orchestra will perform onstage with musical direction from Michael Pratt, the orchestra's conductor.

"Princeton provides the unique environment where you could actually make something like this happen," Costanzo said. Nine academic departments and other campus offices have contributed financing for the production. Costanzo's talent, along with his persistence and creativity, have enabled him to raise significant funds and to get people to contribute their work to the project without charge or at a greatly reduced price.

"Getting these people [to donate their work] is a tribute to his own skills and the esteem in which he is held," said assistant professor of music Wendy Heller, who is his thesis adviser. "It shows that people recognize he is an extraordinary talent."

After graduation, Costanzo plans to move to New York City to continue to pursue professional opportunities while deciding if he wants to attend graduate school.

Rehearsals began on April 14 for "The Double Life of Zefirino," and the University has agreed to fund a documentary film that is being made about the production. There is only one performance scheduled, but it wouldn't be surprising if Costanzo's work has another incarnation, said Heller.

"Anthony has one of the most compelling stage presences I've ever seen," she said. "He's going to have a remarkable career."