Box Burners


Glass Handel

Anthony Roth Costanzo didn’t want to have the standard “park-and-bark” opera concert, so he took the paradigm and flipped it – literally. In this immersive concert, Costanzo places audiences in moving chairs and tours them through fluid stations featuring music, dance, video and art as the compositions of Glass and Handel echo through St. John the Divine.

AIRED: February 27, 2020 | 0:10:53

[ Handel's "Amadigi di Gaula: Pena Tiranna" playing ]



[ Singing in Italian ]


The reason that opera is so powerful

is that the human voice is very primal.

And if you think about

the sound from one human body traveling through air

and entering another human body,

that is so intimate.

[ Continues singing in Italian ]


The freak nature of being a boy who sings like a girl

and singing in this high register

is what has enabled

a lot of the creative thinking about the art form.

As a countertenor,

the repertoire is very specialized.

It's either baroque or contemporary, usually.

And so I felt I had to forge my own path

and change the paradigm a little bit.

[ Vocalizing ]

Condo: Anthony called and he said,

"You know, I'm working on this kind of crazy idea.

It's Philip Glass's music and Handel's music together."

And I thought, "Oh, that's interesting."

You know, use your two legs as your support.


It turned out to be an amazing combination.

Glass so different, we think, from Handel.

But oh, no, there's so many similarities.


Parker: Handel has this wonderful transparency to it

and honesty and access,

a message of melody, of harmony.

It's very beautifully structured.

It also has -- In baroque music, it has a constancy of rhythm.

Your ear gets very comfortable

with those rhythmic what we call ostinato

or the kind of the repetition of the music.

[ Singing in Italian ]

When you think of Philip Glass,

he has many of the same qualities --

the rhythm that will just --

It locks you in emotionally and aurally,

and you just can't get out of this trance that he puts you in.

But Philip's music is way beyond that.

There is an emotional honesty and rawness to his music.

♪ Love likes me

♪ Love takes it shoes off

Anthony talked about wanting to do

some sort of a performance or a recital

but wanted it to be completely different

from what he had done before.

And what is the norm in classical music?

[ Instruments tuning ]


I wanted to create something

that went beyond a concert performance.

I wanted to create this installation

and connect with visual artists,

filmmakers, choreographers, and a fashion designer

to create something which really included all of the disciplines.

Now, is this a new idea? No, it's what opera always was,

the first interdisciplinary art form.

[ Singing in Italian ]


But I do think it's unique that we've gotten the stars,

I mean, the highest pinnacle of all of these art forms

in various ways

and people who don't often work with classical music

to take it and to give them the freedom,

to say, "What do you want to do with it?"

to say to Raf Simons, "This is the music.

What does it inspire in you?"

And then to see what his vision is.


Raf Simons designed the costumes,

and Calvin Klein built them all.


Justin Peck choreographed the dancers in addition to dancing.

I sent him all the music so he had this wide palette,

and he developed a 10-minute phrase,

to different pieces of music,

knowing that these dancers would just repeat the phrase,

but the music would change.

[ Vocalizing ]


I thought it would be really imperative to do music videos

so that we could post them online.

We could do social media clips.

We could, like, have all these people who have huge followings

post opera music videos.

Costanzo: ♪ Street without you

George Condo was really interested in this idea

of painting live,

and I couldn't imagine an artist I'd rather be making music with.

Condo: I thought of the idea of, like,

"While you're on, I could --

Given that it's 55 minutes, I could do a painting live.

It'll be a daredevil act, but it's gonna be fun."

I said, "I don't want to be in front of the people.

I want to be behind the fabric."


Sometimes what would happen would be

I'd have an expression on a person's face

and then another movement would come in,

and that expression would change with the sound of the music.

So the piece was constantly evolving

throughout the performance.

[ Costanzo singing in Italian ]

Dean: Anthony talked about a moving stage.

I was like, "That sounds really hard to do,

but there's this fantastic artist named Ryan McNamara,

and instead of moving the stage, he moves people."

Costanzo: The idea really came from listening to Philip Glass

on a bicycle riding through London,

and I realized that this music in motion was so incredible.

And that's when the idea began to hit me.

Glass Handel is a mobile concert

where the audience is doing the moving

instead of the performers.

There are stations, and the stations,

as it were, have different art forms.

And the audience is going from station to station,

but they don't get to choose when and how.

They're moved by a person on a dolly

who wheels them from one station to another

at a sort of random moment.

And the music is all acoustic.

There's no microphones, but you can hear it wherever you are.

So it becomes a soundtrack to a film that you're watching.

It becomes the score to a dance that's happening,

or it becomes the impetus

for a painting which is developing behind it.

And what's great about Glass Handel --

It is ultimately incredibly democratic,

because if you start in the front row and get moved,

you might be in the back row next time.

If you start next to your boyfriend or girlfriend,

you will be separated very quickly.

So it breaks down this idea that if you have more money,

you get a better view.

♪ How all living things breathe ♪

I would like to have the common thread of the show

be the music,

but I want people to arrive at the show

from all different areas of life.

♪ To the moon spreading on the stones of the house ♪

The big goal of this performance

and of Glass Handel in general

is to reach new audiences.

So, someone might come to Glass Handel

because they're a huge fan of Raf Simons and Calvin Klein

and not care about opera.

And then they'll be exposed to opera.

Or someone might be a fan of Ryan McNamara's work

and come for him

and then be exposed to classical music

or dance, for that matter.


[ Costanzo singing indistinctly ]

Yarnell: I think as they come for Handel and hear Glass

beautifully performed, mixed in --

It's not all Handel in one and then all Glass.

No, it's all intertwined --

that you can't help but say,

"Oh, my God. That's just as beautiful as the Handel."

And I think the young people who are into Glass

who they come in droves to Glass' operas,

they will realize, "Oh, my God.

Handel is just as interesting, just as magical."

[ Singing in Italian ]


I love the, what I want to say --

what I call the "old opera" audiences.

I love that they're so engaged.

And I want to provide them with a new experience.

And I want to provide the new audiences

with an old experience,

this old art form that's 400 years old

and get them to arrive at it in a way they're excited about.

♪ Drink me, drink me

♪ Drink me, drink me

Parker: Anthony's performance absolutely provokes.

And I think, yes, in general,

classical music could do more to challenge itself

to think of where we perform, how we perform,

why we perform the combinations of the pieces

so that people just in general feel, "I can give that a try."

♪ It is much further

I think the future of opera

is in interdisciplinary collaborations,

in finding other voices

outside of the classical world

and having them interpret the music with their medium.

[ Vocalizing ]







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