Monday, August 3, 2009

Sounds and Sweet Airs

Anthony Roth Costanzo is a great counter tenor with a gorgeous voice: honeyed, powerful, rich. On Sunday, at Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, I heard him sing the role of the sorceress in Henry Purcell's opera "Dido and Aeneas." Although he played the most evil character in the opera, he sang like an angel, his voice swelling, filling the theatre with sweet throbs: From the ruin of others our pleasures we borrow. The spirit of malice, he destroys Dido, the Queen of Carthage, for the pleasure of it.

Artists often give the best words and music to devils and monsters. Caliban, Shakespeare's monster, adores music, his speech itself a song: "The isle is full of noises, / Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not./ Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments/ Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices, That, if I then had waked after long sleep,/ Will make me sleep again . . . " Milton's devil speaks in magnificent measures: "Farewel happy Fields/ Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail/ Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell/ Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings/ A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time./ The mind is its own place, and in it self/ Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n." Satan's wondrous shield hangs "on his shoulders like the Moon, whose Orb/ Through Optic Glass the Tuscan Artist views/ At Ev'ning from the top of Fesole."

By comparison, the devils of our own culture are one-sided, cartoonish, vampire lovers like Johnny Depp included. Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) in "Deadwood": you can have him. Tony Soprano mumbles. They don't have lines worth quoting.

Next year Costanzo will be a soloist in Handel's Messiah. Heaven.


  1. what a wonderful essay! It made me want to pull books off the shelf and download music.
    Thank you! I see you are having a fruitful trip!

  2. Thank you, Susan. It was a fine trip in rainy weather.