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Friday, Sept. 19, 2014

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Film about senior thesis performance wins award

A documentary film that tells the behind-the-scenes story of a senior thesis performance by Anthony Roth Costanzo, a 2004 Princeton graduate, has won a 2007 director's choice award at the Black Maria Film and Video Festival.

"Zefirino: The Voice of a Castrato" demonstrates how Costanzo assembled a remarkable production to portray the lives of the castrati, male singers in 18th-century Italy who were castrated before puberty to maintain their soprano singing voices. Costanzo conceived of, co-wrote, produced and starred in the production, titled "The Double Life of Zefirino," as his senior thesis project. The performance, which included Costanzo singing six 18th-century arias, had costumes designed by acclaimed film director James Ivory, sets created in Milan and two professional dancers who helped convey the story of the castrati. The University Orchestra provided the music.

Gaetana Marrone-Puglia, a Princeton professor of French and Italian who taught Costanzo, was the film's producer. Award-winning filmmaker Gerardo Puglia directed and photographed the 23-minute film, which took two years to make and was supported by the offices of the president and the dean of the college. Puglia filmed Costanzo at rehearsals and his thesis performance in Princeton, and in Italy at the papal halls of the Vatican, the artists’ workshops in Venice and the majestic San Carlo Theatre in Naples, where the castrati tradition began.

"The documentary highlights how creative students can be with the senior thesis at Princeton, one of the University's greatest traditions," Marrone-Puglia said. The thesis gives seniors the opportunity to pursue original research and scholarship on a topic of their own choice under the guidance of a faculty adviser. Costanzo's thesis adviser was Wendy Heller, associate professor of music.

Costanzo has performed professionally since the age of 11, and currently is enrolled in a master's degree program in opera at the Manhattan School of Music.

The film includes appearances by Nancy Malkiel, dean of the college; Michael Pratt, the orchestra's conductor; and members of the Princeton orchestra. Maria DiBattista, professor of English and comparative literature, was a consulting writer. The film will be shown in 70 cities in North America and then in Europe as part of the Black Maria Film Festival, an international juried competition and award tour that has been recognizing and exhibiting cutting-edge works from independent filmmakers since 1981.

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