Review: Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo are only an octave apart

Opera music


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It may sound strange: Anthony Roth Costanzo is a star countertenor in an opera world where this highest male voice is increasingly in demand. Her haunting performance in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Akhenaton still lingers in my memory. Justin Vivian Bond is the queen of downtown cabaret, regularly courting Joe’s Pub and earning our loyalty with heartfelt renditions of unexpected songs. And yet their double number at St. Ann’s Warehouse, Only an octave apart, looks like it was always meant to be. I am convinced that there is no more deliciously eclectic musical evening in New York City.

The name of the concert is taken from a duet sung by Carol Burnett and Beverly Sills during their 1976 television special at the Metropolitan Opera. Naturally, Bond takes on the role of Burnett and Constanzo does Sills when they sing the number at the top of the show. Bond is a gifted comedian, able to make any line crackle with a subtext. “The great thing about opera is that when you wake up you’re at the opera,” Bond snaps.

“You make me laugh, which creates phlegm,” says Costanzo. They support this sassy broad diva / opera joke for 90 minutes that are as hilarious as they are musically impressive.

Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo perform “Stars” in Only an octave apart.
(© Nina Westervelt)

A subdued and slightly sinister version of “Me and My Shadow” leads to a very strange segment in which Costanzo sings a piece by Henry Purcell The Fairy-Queen which he is pretty sure is a one night stand. Bond immediately follows with the late Victorian salon song “There Are Fairies at the Bottom of Our Garden”, performed with an oversized British accent while throwing daisies at the edge of the stage. Somewhere, Quentin Crisp is smiling.

They are both seated at the edge of the stage like Judy for a simple but captivating interpretation of “Waters of March” by Antônio Carlos Jobim. It’s a song they disagree on: Bond thinks it’s fishing, Costanzo thinks it’s murder. While I’m usually rocked to the song’s playful melody (I almost always hear it in Portuguese), this English version got me hooked on every lyric.

There are other memorable duets: Our chairs vibrate to the rhythm of Sylvester’s “Stars” disco number. They perform a surprisingly cohesive mix of “Dido’s Lament” by Purcell and the 2003 pop torch song “White Flag” (by Dido), which they immediately follow up with an even better mashup of “Walk Like an Egyptian” from the Bangles and one from Costanzo. numbers Akhenaton.

John Torres designed the lighting for Only an octave apart.
(© Teddy Wolff)

Costanzo goes Hasselhoff full when he sings a man-woman duet with himself, blowing us away with his low register, that is to say his pretty tenor. His highs are crystal clear, but his range of performer is even wider than I could have imagined.

Bond has long possessed one of the most expressive voices in cabaret, with an effortless ability to convey both sardonic wit and devastating sadness. Bond’s iconic purr sounds better than ever in this concert, especially with the accompaniment of a nine-person orchestra, including a flute, harp, and two violins (excellent musical direction by Thomas Bartlett).

Anthony Roth Costanzo and Justin Vivian Bond star in Only an octave apart.
(© Nina Westervelt)

Director Zack Winokur is organizing the party to showcase the two performers’ individual talents while still giving them plenty of time to don several of Jonathan Anderson’s whimsical costumes. Set designer Carlos Soto accentuates each number with little surprises, and John Torres enhances the mood with his stealthy lighting. David Schnirman’s finely tuned sound design ensures that every note and lyrics can be heard.

While Costanzo’s exploits at the Met made me want to see this show, I only recently realized that I first heard his voice two decades ago in the movie Merchant Ivory. A soldier’s daughter never cries. As a young gay man, the experience of seeing another man sing the tune of a woman was a transformational experience for me. Bond also inspired me with their artistic fearlessness and unabashed individuality. It shouldn’t surprise us that these two artists challenge genres to create an entertaining, sophisticated and completely original show. There should be more collaborations like this.

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