Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo takes charge at Opera Philadelphia

On Thursday morning, Opera Philadelphia announced the appointment of opera star Anthony Roth Costanzo to be the company’s seventh general director and president. The 41-year-old singer will succeed outgoing general director David B. Devan, who announced his retirement last August, concluding his 18-year tenure with Opera Philadelphia (with 13 as director) at the end of May.

The unconventional appointment of Costanzo — a countertenor arguably at the height of an active, wide-ranging singing career — is a bold move that comes during a particularly challenging period for the company as it approaches its 5oth anniversary season. Last year, Opera Philadelphia faced $2 million in budget cuts, leading to a 16 percent reduction of personnel and throwing the future of the company’s annual Festival O into question.

Costanzo was the unanimous selection by the Opera Philadelphia board, which set about its search in earnest in December of 2023. In a phone interview, search committee chair David Ferguson said the company had no explicit goal to install a working artist as president — let alone one with as active a schedule as Costanzo.

“It was just his brilliance, the strength of his ideas, his acumen, his deep knowledge of the history of the art form and its present challenges,” Ferguson says. “We just thought it was a perfect time for a bold move.”

Costanzo has deep roots with the Opera Philadelphia, making his first appearance onstage at the Music Academy as a shepherd boy in a 1996 production of “Tosca” — alongside Luciano Pavarotti.

“I found myself behind the curtain on opening night,” Costanzo tells me by phone from New York, where he is in rehearsals for the Metropolitan Opera’s forthcoming production of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice.”

“Everyone else had taken their bow, and Pavarotti was the last one to go on, and he gestured to me to take his hand. I went out onstage with him and heard the audience roar. At that moment, I realized he had single-handedly brought this audience to opera and to the opera house, and how great his impact was. To imagine that I’m going to go back to that place and do the same thing, but in my own way, is really thrilling.”

Costanzo also has previous experience with the company as a producer. At the 2018 Festival O, he premiered “Glass Handel,” an ambitious large-scale presentation that intertwined the music of Handel and Philip Glass into an immersive multimedia performance. (Costanzo would go on to deliver a breakthrough performance in the title role of Glass’s “Akhnaten” at the Met the following year.)

In 2022, Opera Philadelphia built a fundraising event around “Only an Octave Apart,” Costanzo’s ebullient exploration (with singer Justin Vivian Bond) of the love affair between cabaret and opera.

In advance of his turn in “Orfeo ed Euridice,” Costanzo is also producing a companion series of interdisciplinary performance programs titled “Myths” in collaboration with institutions including the National Black Theatre and the Morgan Library.

“I certainly feel like what unprecedented is a singer in their prime not sunsetting and taking on a leadership role,” Costanzo says. “But the reality is — and those who know me know that is true — there have been two me’s for a long time.”

For his new role at Opera Philadelphia, Costanzo’s focus will be on raising funds, developing “collaborations that take us outside of the walls of the opera house” and gaining a clearer view of how best to serve a promising surge of younger audience members (and their vastly differing purchasing habits).

But the singer says he’s most excited about the opportunity to have a team to help carry out ambitious artistic plans — an ensemble cast rather than a one-man show.

“I’m excited not only to continue singing with my voice,” he says “but to be able to sing with many voices.”

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