GLASS HANDEL | New York, Cathedral of St. John the Divine

‘Anyone with a strong inclination not to be moved: now would be the time to voice those concerns.’ It’s an unusual warning at the start of essentially a concert of music by Philip Glass and George Frideric Handel by a countertenor — but that countertenor is Anthony Roth Costanzo and this concert is about to move everyone.

The guts of St John the Divine has been repurposed by avant-garde fashion/art company VISIONAIRE and producer Cath Brittan (co-produced by National Sawdust and Opera Philadelphia) so instead of facing the alter, there are three distinct staging areas running between the entrance and transept of the cathedral. With this already beautifully-lit setting catching the eye, lights dim and a small army of red-shirted, black trousered, leather-booted performers flood past The Knights (our band for the evening) conducted by Eric Jacobsen and around the audience sections. Anthony is now on stage in the most luxuriant red robes in a moment of sartorial statement somewhere between inflated-cardinal and peeled-plum tomato with magenta gloves.

As the ensemble eases into the opening notes of this evening’s Handel —’Inumano fratel’ from Tolomeo— the staging areas burst into life. In the space closest the antechapel, the screen shows a music video of a lost knight wading through green grass ending up in a river, sinking in the water (the first of 9 bespoke music videos — one per piece during the evening). Beyond the central staging where Anthony is now delivering Glass’s Liquid Days, there are dancers in scarlet tassels, maroon streamers and red Calvin Klein pants (the fashion label has costumed all performers designed by the brand’s Chief Creative Officer, Raf Simons). By the time ARC has begun the piece from Rinaldo he has shed the first robes to reveal a light-blue set with ‘Glass Handel’ cursive-stencilled spray paint. Behind him, the silhouette of painter George Condo moves with subtle speed as daubs on the canvas slowly turn to eyes — eyes in all directions as the eyes of the audience are torn in all directions across this quite magnificent multi-disciplinary production.

The final drop of magic in this concoction of sensory stimulation is the aforementioned ‘movement’. Choosing your seat for a concert is usually some form of static compromise: where is the best vantage point from which to take in as much as possible. For Glass Handel, this is not the case. Rather brilliantly, looks of serenity and awe appear on the faces of audience members as they are individually lifted from the ground on a forklift-trolley (words will never do this justice) and then transport them to a new section of the performance. It is a unique and inspired way to create a sense of wonder, opportunity and complete immersion in the experience that Anthony, his mind and team have crafted. The delicate glow of this performance lasted for hours after the final note was played. It was a stunning moment of theatre, music, creativity and the sheer brilliance of human creative spirit.

To catch Anthony’s brilliant voice in a more conventional (maybe stationary) setting, head to Lincoln Center on 12 March. You can also listen to much of the music from Glass Handel on Anthony’s latest album here.

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