Chamber orchestra captivates audience alongside male opera singer

Anthony Roth Costanzo, an American countertenor, sings opera in the Jorgensen theater Wednesday night. (Nicholas Hampton/The Daily Campus)

On Wednesday night, Jorgensen graced its audience with Les Violons du Roy, a French-Canadian chamber orchestra who blended both contemporary and baroque music whilst featuring countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo.

Before the show, there was a pre-concert lecture with Jonathan Cohen, the new music director and conductor of Les Violons du Roy. He discussed how this is the orchestra’s first season on tour with himself as conductor, as the previous conductor and founder stepped down a few years earlier. He later went on to discuss how the concert compared and contrasted the worlds of baroque composer George Frideric Handel and contemporary composer Philip Glass.

The show began with three arias and four pieces by Handel. The orchestra walked on stage and was greeted by applause as they were followed by the conductor, Cohen and Costanzo. Once the applause ended they immediately went into the first piece, “Tolomeo, HWV 25: ‘Inumano fratel ... Stille amare.’"

Costanzo is famous for being a countertenor, a type of male singing voice known for its vocal range being equivalent to that of a female contralto or mezzo-soprano voice type. Not only did his voice hold the audience in a trance, but his movements tied together his performance to showcase “the emotional passion that Costanzo put into every note, and how much the ensemble played with,” Mike Baril, a first-semester music education and music composition double major with a jazz emphasis, said. “That’s part of the reason why I still go to see live music today, because you can’t get that off of recording.”

The first half of the concert featured Handel’s work, sung in Italian by Costanzo. Before Handel’s last piece was played, Costanzo left the stage for the orchestra to play the instrumental “Concerto grosso in D Minor, O'p. 6, No. 10, HWV 328.”

Following Handel’s last piece, “Regina de'Langobardi, HWV 19: ‘Vivi tiranno,’” there was a brief intermission where various members of the audience roamed and talked about how taken aback they were by Costanzo’s singing.

“He’s one of the few real countertenors, which is a gift on its own. His ability to really act while he sings...many male opera singers will only do it somewhat, but he gets fully in character. It’s completely different characters for some of the arias he did back to back, and he does it seamlessly. He really conveys the emotion well through that acting,” Baril said.

The second half of the show included Philip Glass’ music, a contemporary set that displayed just as much emotion as Handel’s work. Some of Glass’ music weaves together pop elements, especially in “Songs from Liquid Days: ‘Liquid Days, Part 1’” which was originally performed with David Byrne, the lead singer and guitarist of American rock band “Talking Heads.”

“I did like the contrast of the [baroque] style music and there was one song [Liquid Days, Part 1] in particular, that was kind of a pop song but in this classical style, [rearranged] for the orchestra and opera,” Emilie Alber, a first-semester mechanical engineering major, said.

After the last piece “1000 Airplanes on the Roof: ‘The Encounter’" had played its final note, Les Violons and Costanzo were met with a standing ovation.

“I think as musicians, we’re like actors really,” Cohen said.“We have to play the scene and we have to play in the moment and the great thing about being in concert is you play the note and then it’s gone. You’re really creating it at every moment. I love that sense of concentration where all the actors, as well as musicians, are striving for something in the moment.”


Brandon Barzola is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at brandon.barzola@uconn.edu.