Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: Spectacular Soloists at Chamber Music Society--Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, Oboist James Austin Smith and Harpist Bridget Kibbey

With All Handel and Vivaldi program, the Ensemble ‘Goes for Baroque,’ Including Roth Costanzo’s Flirtatious Performance with Smith's Oboe and Kibbey's Sparkling Harp

Review: Spectacular Soloists at Chamber Music Society--Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, Oboist James Austin Smith and Harpist Bridget Kibbey
Roth Costanzo (c), Smith, Gina Cuffari.
Photo: Cherylynn Tsushima

This week's concert of Vivaldi and Handel at the Chamber Music Society (CMS)--with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, oboist James Austin Smith and harpist Bridget Kibbey--whipped the audience into a frenzy of delight with a combination of arias, sonatas and concertos at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall.

There were many memorable moments in the 2 ½-hour concert, but the one I won't forget soon, was the interplay between Costanzo and Smith in Handel's "Quella fiamma" from the opera ARMINIO. Of course, the other players in the ensembles were first rate as well, but the countertenor and oboist were simply sensational in their joyous solos and astounding interchanges.

Review: Spectacular Soloists at Chamber Music Society--Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, Oboist James Austin Smith and Harpist Bridget Kibbey
Roth Costanzo (c). Photo: Da Ping Luo

This kind of interaction between singers and orchestral instruments was one of the many innovations that Handel brought to opera, according to the program notes. But I can't imagine the musicians of Handel's age giving the contrasting performances that Costanzo and Smith--the oboist caught up in the moment and bopping around to the grand lines written for his instrument, while the singer was more physically (but not vocally, with his astounding coloratura) moderate--that I heard on Tuesday evening.

Review: Spectacular Soloists at Chamber Music Society--Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, Oboist James Austin Smith and Harpist Bridget Kibbey
James Austin Smith (c). Photo: Da Ping Luo

Their performance could almost be described as flirtatious, with the sounds of the oboe and the countertenor seemingly perfectly in alignment as they sidled up to one another. They echoed, they entwined, they caressed. The impression it left was indelible, but while the program notes "the oboe rivals the voice in character and clarity" there was no question that these were two different animals.

Smith gave a good example of this in Handel's Concerto in G minor for Oboe, Strings and Continuo, particularly in the Allegro movements, where he was so clearly having a good time sometimes going wild, while in other parts playing smoothly and creamily--or almost like a snake charmer. The Andante and second Allegro movements of the Handel Sonata in C brought out his most elegant and playful performances.

Review: Spectacular Soloists at Chamber Music Society--Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, Oboist James Austin Smith and Harpist Bridget Kibbey
Roth Costanzo. Photo: Cherylynn Tsushima

Costanzo's other gorgeous arias--Handel's pensive "Pena tiranna" from AMADIGI DI GAULA and livelier, dizzying "Vivi, tiranno" from RODELINDA--also feature the oboe but to quite a different effect, no less virtuosic but less the rival to the vocal line than simply in a different place. (Also wonderful work from bassoonist Gina Cuffari.)

Handel's Concerto in B-flat major for Harp was probably the most familiar sounding piece on the program that had people saying "oh, THAT's what that music is." Bridget Kibbey gave a muscular yet pure rendering of the piece that commanded the stage and left the audience wondering why we don't know her better.

Review: Spectacular Soloists at Chamber Music Society--Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, Oboist James Austin Smith and Harpist Bridget Kibbey
Kibbey. Photo: Cherylynn Tsushima

If I make it sound like Handel dominated the program, leaving Vivaldi in the dust, well that wasn't the case. Perhaps the most dazzling finger-work of the evening came from the Vivaldi Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, with Bella Hristova, Chad Hoopes, Ani Kavafian and James Thompson. Whether all together or in different configurations, the instrumentalists were utterly rapturous. Hoopes had his best opportunity to shine with the great energy demanded in the first movement of the Vivaldi Concerto in B-flat major and his duet-work with cellist Anthony Manzo was sweetness defined.

Two-and-a-half hours of Baroque chamber music? It went by in a flash, with the combination of virtuosi that had us eating out of their hands.



OPERA America Awards The 2023 IDEA Opera Residencies To Three New-To-Opera Creators Of Col Photo
OPERA America has announced the recipients of the 2023 IDEA Opera Residencies program (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access), an initiative that provides New York City-based composers and librettists of color an opportunity to explore opera as an expressive medium.

Review: THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT at Minnesota Opera Photo
What did our critic think of THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT at Minnesota Opera?

Works & Process at The Guggenheim Presents CHAMPION, An Opera By Terence Blanchard Photo
Works & Process at the Guggenheim presents Champion-an opera by Terence Blanchard, with a libretto by Michael Cristofer-featuring performances by members of the cast and a moderated discussion about the work's forthcoming company premiere at the Metropolitan Opera.

Interview: Stephanie Blythe of SAN DIEGO OPERAS PUCCINI DUO at San Diegos Civic Center Photo
Stephanie Blythe is probably the only opera singer who represents an ukulele company. That she embodies the unexpected is further confirmed by her upcoming roles in the San Diego Opera's next production, two one-act operas by Puccini. The mezzo soprano will first sing a deeper contralto as the Principessa in Suor Angelica. Then, in title role of Gianni Schicchi, she'll be in the baritone range traditionally assigned to a male singer.


From This Author - Richard Sasanow

Richard Sasanow has been BroadwayWorld.com's Opera Editor for many years, with interests covering contemporary works, standard repertoire and true rarities from every era. He is an intervi... (read more about this author)


Review: Exquisitely Subtle CARMELITES Makes Another of Its Brief Stops at the MetReview: Exquisitely Subtle CARMELITES Makes Another of Its Brief Stops at the Met
January 20, 2023

I’ve heard the opera a number of times at the Met over the years and this year’s run holds up with the most breathtaking of them. Despite the number of star performances among the magnificent ensemble currently being heard at the Met, the star of the show doesn’t have a single word to say or note to sing. It's the John Dexter production that does it.

Review: At the Met, All You Need is Love, When L'ELISIR is in the Right HandsReview: At the Met, All You Need is Love, When L'ELISIR is in the Right Hands
January 12, 2023

Donizetti wrote more than six dozen operas in the course of around 30 years, so it must have been hard for him not to steal from himself. Still, it always strikes me during the overture to his great comedy L’ELISIR D’AMORE, whose run at the Met opened the other night, when I hear echoes of the oh-so-dramatic LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, which would come just a few years later. Yet, the similar music somehow works in both operas.

Review: O'Halloran Double-Bill Brings Complex Emotions to the Surface at PROTOTYPEReview: O'Halloran Double-Bill Brings Complex Emotions to the Surface at PROTOTYPE
January 10, 2023

A powerful double bill by Irish composer Emma O’Halloran, to libretti by her playwright uncle, Mark O’Halloran, deals with disappointment, connection and heartbreak--and what makes people tick. You know, 'the usual.'

Review: 10th Anniversary PROTOTYPE Festival in NY Blasts Off with Du Yun's IN OUR DAUGHTER'S EYESReview: 10th Anniversary PROTOTYPE Festival in NY Blasts Off with Du Yun's IN OUR DAUGHTER'S EYES
January 6, 2023

There’s more contemporary opera in New York these days than there used to be and I’ll drink to that. But there’s nothing else that does it with the panache of the PROTOTYPE Festival, the brainchild of Beth Morrison Projects and HERE.

Review: Met Audience Tips Its Hat to FEDORA on New Year's EveReview: Met Audience Tips Its Hat to FEDORA on New Year's Eve
January 1, 2023

Musicologist Joseph Kerman is probably most widely remembered for calling Puccini’s TOSCA “a shabby little shocker.” I wonder whether he’d have something similar to say about Giordano’s FEDORA, which brought the Met audience to its feet on New Year’s Eve?