Anthony Roth Costanzo ’04
When faced with the decision of where I should apply to college, I had already been performing professionally in opera, concert, Broadway, and film for almost 10 years. Part of me felt that it was important to go to a conservatory where I could focus on and refine my passions, and part of me felt that it was important to have a broader sense of the world and academics before focusing on a very specific profession. I made the decision to apply to Princeton, and when I got in, I quickly realized that it was an extraordinary place where I could engage my interests in unconventional ways. Little did I know that Princeton would provide me with a wide spectrum of educational experiences that would become a significant part of who I am as a person and as an artist.
I was fortunate enough to take two freshman seminars that were an introduction to the ways I could apply my interests to more intellectual pursuits. The first, “Writing About Mozart,” not only taught me a great deal about Mozart’s life and music, but also allowed me to learn how to write well in a context that engaged me. Similarly, the seminar “Music in Film” illuminated a new way of thinking about music and its applications. As I moved through school, I decided to venture further and further outside my comfort zone, and wound up taking courses in psychology, ethics, computer science, women’s studies, art history, philosophy, and several other disciplines. I learned about the politics of gender alongside my course on baroque music; the C+ computer programming language while taking counterpoint; the history of abstract photography paired with classical improvisation in music; Hegel with Stravinsky; and Peter Singer and Der Meistersinger. The cross-pollination was a thrilling way to deepen my interest in music as well as my understanding of the world more generally.
Part of the reason I felt comfortable choosing music as my major, despite the extremely unsure nature of being a professional musician, was that I felt sure that I could easily engage one of the many subjects that sparked my interest while at Princeton if necessary or desired at any time. I never doubted following my passion, as impractical as it may have seemed. I remember one conversation about music’s practicality that I had with someone who was passionate about politics and entering the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. He asked me how, when there were wars going on in the world, I could spend so much time worrying about the shape of a vowel or the arc of a three-measure musical phrase. I thought about this for a long time then, and still do think about the question on occasion now; the answer is something that I learned while at Princeton: The creation of and quest for beauty generates a culture and sense of community that is its own tool for peace. My courseload in conjunction with my major at Princeton allowed me to think deeply and broadly about how and why I would approach my passion as a profession.
Applying lessons to life on stage
I have continued on to pursue opera professionally and am thrilled to be walking onto stages worldwide, including performances with the Metropolitan Opera, at Carnegie Hall, and with the New York Philharmonic. As a professional countertenor, I sing repertoire written for castrated men in the baroque era, as well as contemporary music. As one might imagine, these are not exactly the staples of opera companies looking to fill houses. This is not for any lack of spectacular music or exciting potential, but rather because of the scarce familiarity of audiences with this repertoire.
In order to have a successful career with enough work to sustain me, it is imperative for me to be entrepreneurial and create my own opportunities, as well as expand interest in baroque and contemporary music. My ability to write effectively and convincingly about music stems from my freshman seminars, and has served me extremely well when proposing projects, writing grants, or corresponding with important professional contacts. Opera is an extremely complex art form, involving not only a great technical expertise when it comes to singing, but an understanding of human emotion, dramatic material, and complex ethical situations. Thanks to my diverse curriculum at Princeton, I can approach any role in a number of ways to create a layered and intricately shaded portrayal which ultimately communicates more deeply with an audience.
I have also learned through experience that successful music is only possible when there is skillful communication between the various collaborators during rehearsal and behind the scenes. Through my coursework, my interactions with fellow students, advisers, and professors, Princeton so advanced my interpersonal skills that I can deftly stake my claim over a musical choice even when confronting an infinitely more experienced conductor, or refute a stage direction when feeling constrained by an incredibly talented director, and still be hired back. Singing and making opera is like walking a tightrope, and Princeton gave me the long baton which helps me stay balanced with ease and grace. The tools I acquired allow me the freedom and facility to engage fully in the art I so passionately pursue.