Constantine Costi is a director and writer working across opera, film, and theatre. He was named one of the country’s 21 hottest creatives of 2021 by The Australian, and since then he has directed numerous productions including Melbourne, Cheremushki for Victorian Opera, Sweeney Todd for NIDA, La Traviata for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, and Mahagonny Songspeil and The Seven Deadly Sins double bill at the Old Fitz Theatre.
Con is writer and director for Musica Viva Australia's first tour for 2024, Long Lost Loves (and Grey Suede Gloves). Ashleigh Ho caught up with him in a break between rehearsals.
Hi Con. Can you tell us a bit about the show?
What's the show about? Well, it's interesting... Bolcom's cabaret songs are a series of unrelated, witty, vignettes. Some are angular and cynical and comedic. Some are heartwarming, beautiful, emotional experiences. We found they fall under two categories: there is an introspective thread amongst a lot of them, thinking about love in an urban environment; and then there is an outward, joyful, slightly cynical and performative thread. Our job was to work out how to synthesize these into some sort of experience that has a narrative for Anna Dowsley to perform.
I'm really happy that by leaning into the beautiful work of Bolcom we've discovered something new and exciting to frame this night out.
These songs weren't composed as a cycle. How did you go about writing a narrative between these songs?
The process of writing a narrative for these songs has been really collaborative. I'm working with the stunning soprano Anna Dowsley and the extremely talented Mikey Curtain on piano, and we sat down with all of these pieces and effectively decided to do a collage, a cut and paste job.
We've got stuff all over the floor with the titles cut up, working out that narrative arc. We're finding the songs themselves can tell a story, creating a character and dialogue and coming up with a through line.
We've discovered that Bolcom's songs have a lovely narrative thread that we've cobbled together with 'George', one of Bolcom’s most renowned pieces, as the centerpiece of the show, telling the story of a beloved eccentric New York City drag queen whose life tragically ends in murder.
Can you tell us a little about the music?
I'm really new to William Bolcom. Listening to his work for the first time is a completely joyful experience. He's so funny and clever. The minute something is too witty or overtly saccharine he takes you somewhere ironic or jagged or acidic. On a musical level, it's really exciting to be exposed to this vibrant, buzzy writing. And it's really special to see Mikey and Anna, who have such a beautiful relationship together as performer and pianist, use that chemistry and that dynamic on stage.
Can we talk about the lyrics?
Yes. It's not only about William Bolcom's incredible music, but also the witty acerbic text by Arnold Weinstein, the librettist. What we're finding is there's a lot of fun, a lot of playfulness, and a lot of heart in the words themselves. So alongside the brilliant musical writing of William Bolcom, Weinstein's words are equally alluring. He is an incredible writer: beyond his poetic capability, there's a hilarious, ironic edge to his work too. Working with this incredibly inventive text is a real joy.