Anthony Roth Costanzo won first prize in Sunday's Operalia Competition in Beijing. In 2009, he was a Regional Finalist here in the Eastern Region, and then went on to win the Grand Finals. He made his debut on the Met stage in December 2011, first as Unulfo in Rodelinda, then as Ferdinand in The Enchanted Island.
The Operalia Competition is an annual event, also known as The World Opera Competition, and is organized by Placido Domingo. He started the competition in 1993 to help discover and launch the careers of young opera singers all over the world. The competition begins with about 1000 applicants who mail in a video recording as their first step in the audition process. A jury of three opera experts listens to all applications, and picks forty singers who will continue on to the semi-finals and quarter-finals. In the end, ten singers perform during the Finals, held in the form of a concert with Placido Domingo conducting. Domingo is involved in every step of the audition process as an adviser, but he never participates in the voting. Every year the competition is held in a different city and country. This year it was Beijing's turn, next year it will be Verona's.
I first heard Anthony Roth Costanzo perform in 2010 at a performance of Handel's Partenope at the New York City Opera. I had never heard a countertenor before and was not sure what to expect, but I was blown away. Anyone who hears a countertenor voice for the first time can attest to that feeling. Countertenors are quite rare, and are not to be confused with Castrati (which don't exist any more).
Wikipedia describes a countertenor as: "a male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a contralto, mezzo-soprano, or (less frequently) a soprano, usually through use of falsetto, or far more rarely than normal, modal voice." Counter tenor roles are most commonly found in Baroque music.
I had the chance of meeting Anthony at a Young Associates event a few years back, and he is a really nice guy. He talked about why he sings like a girl and what it takes to be a countertenor. As is often the case with opera singers, his regular voice does not sound at all like a girl. You would never know what beautiful music he is capable of when he speaks.
Video courtesy of YouTube