An Opera Singer & Cabaret Artist Record an Astonishing Version of David Bowie & Queen’s “Under Pressure”

On the sur­face of things, Antho­ny Roth Costan­zo, the inter­na­tion­al­ly-rec­og­nized coun­tertenor and Justin Vivian Bond, the sub­ver­sive per­for­mance artist best known for their cre­ation Kiki DuRane, “an alco­holic bat­tle-axe with a throat full of razor-blades,” would have lit­tle rea­son to share a mic, let alone inhab­it the same stage.

Leave sur­faces behind!

Their genre-defy­ing, just released album, Only An Octave Apart, explores the depths that lurk beneath them, find­ing com­mon cause between their cho­sen art forms and then some. The album’s title, a nod to the open­ing num­ber of a Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera tele­vi­sion spe­cial star­ring come­di­an Car­ol Bur­nett and oper­at­ic sopra­no Bev­er­ly Sills, is just the tip of the ice­berg.

As they state in the pro­gram notes for a recent appear­ance with the New York Phil­har­mon­ic at Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter:

We each sound dif­fer­ent from what you would expect when you look at us. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of our voic­es, per­son­al­i­ties, and reper­toire sub­verts notions of high and low, be it in terms of pitch, cul­tur­al ech­e­lon, or degrees of camp — not to men­tion the dif­fer­ence in height.

If you thought David Bowie and Fred­die Mer­cury sent things into the stratos­phere when they joined forces on “Under Pres­sure,” lis­ten to Costan­zo and Bond’s take, above.

Their Dido’s Lament / White Flag Med­ley smash­es the musi­cal bina­ry with a del­i­ca­cy that is giv­en room to grow.

Costan­zo begins with two and a half soar­ing min­utes from Hen­ry Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas.

Intro­duc­ing the num­ber at Jazz at Lin­coln Cen­ter, he recalled how Dido & Aeneas was one of his first pro­fes­sion­al opera gigs at 19. No, he was­n’t cast as the fatal­ly dis­traught Queen of Carthage, a diva role he’s eyed for years, but rather the Sec­ond Woman and First Witch.

(“Sec­ond Woman / First Witch…sounds like the sto­ry of my life,” Bond mar­veled. “I own it! Can you imag­ine if you were First Woman and Sec­ond Witch?”)

Costan­zo got his chance at Dido in the sum­mer of 2020 when, with per­for­mance venues still closed due to the pan­dem­ic, he hatched an idea to cart Phil­har­mon­ic musi­cians and guest singers around the city’s five Bor­oughs in a rent­ed pick­up dubbed the NY Phil Band­wag­on80-some free per­for­mances lat­er, he felt ready to record.

When Bond joins in, it’s with Eng­lish singer-song­writer Dido’s 2003 chart top­per, White Flag, which also speaks to the pains of love. The sin­cer­i­ty of the per­form­ers caus­es a gor­geous alchem­i­cal reac­tion to soft­en the posi­tions of more than a few staunch opera-phobes and pop-deniers.

(“The won­der­ful thing about the opera,” Bond cracks, “is when you wake up, you’re at the opera!”)

Their Egypt­ian Sun mash up is born of an even can­nier pair­ing — The Ban­gles’ mid-80s hit, Walk Like An Egypt­ian and Philip Glass’ ancient Egypt-themed min­i­mal­ist mod­ern opera, Akhnat­en, in which Costan­za recent­ly starred, mak­ing his first entrance nude and flecked with gold.

Oth­er trea­sures from this fruit­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion include skill­ful inter­twin­ings of Tom Jobim’s Bossa nova favorite Águas de Março (Waters of March) with Gioachi­no Rossini’s Cin­derel­la-themed con­fec­tion La Cener­en­to­la,  and Gluck’s 18th-cen­tu­ry mas­ter­piece, Orfeo ed Euridice with Don’t Give Up, a “mes­sage of hope in the bleak­est of moments” and a hit for Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush when Bond was a year out of college…and  Costan­zo was four.

Lis­ten to Only an Octave Apart in its entire­ty on YouTube or Spo­ti­fy.

Antho­ny Ross Costan­zo will reprise his role as the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pharaoh, Akhnat­en, at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera lat­er this spring.

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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