While music videos are synonymous with any major song release today, they're still a relatively recent phenomenon. Audiences had to leave their homes to see one until The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" premiered on television in 1965, and it took 16 more years before MTV made the new art form consistently available. This technology timeline means that older genres of music, like classical, did not get the chance to showcase their sound in an accessible visual form. Now, Visionaire is looking to change that.
As part of an ongoing transition from print to other mediums, the creative company known for its collaborations is working with Anthony Roth Costanzo to promote his new album, ARC. The countertenor wanted to bring his project, which features his vocals alongside compositions by Philip Glass and George Frideric Handel, to a wider audience, which made co-founder Cecilia Dean conceptualize opera music videos. For nine of the album's 12 songs, Visionaire worked with acclaimed creatives to produce compelling visual experiences which bring Costanzo's take on opera to the contemporary viewer.
"Visionaire has always been a vehicle for creative expression and a place for the cross-pollination of different media," Dean said. "It cannot be fully appreciated unless you are dealing with it in real time in the physical world – and since our focus is towards film and television, the opera music videos were a natural evolution."
The project feels much more short film than promotional music video, but it still seems likely to captivate today's Instagram-obsessed audience. Tilda Swinton and Sandro Kopp's collaboratively directed piece features six minutes of dogs running around stunning beach scenery, drawing viewers in with cuteness but then holding attention by playing with time and perspective. Maurizio Cattelan, who has received acclaim for his satirical sculpture, worked with Pierpaolo Ferrari to create a constant stream of colorful scenarios in which a massive, not entirely human cast engages in unexpected activity. Mark Romanek, whose work has earned him 20 VMAs, did a one-take video of dancer Ron “Primetyme” Miles, whose movements hit on nearly every detail of Costanzo's performance of Glass' "Liquid Days."
Costanzo's presence is only vocal in most of the videos, but he stars as a knight in a nine-minute accompaniment to Handel's "Inumano fratel" and "Stille amare," directed by Call Me By Your Name's James Ivory as well as Pix Talarico. The countertenor does not mouth the lyrics, but instead goes on a journey through hills, forestry, and water add emotion to the shots in the same way a film score would. At the end of the piece, Costanzo encounters another armored figure, and a moment ensues that makes viewers question the nature of the two knights' relationship.
"One thing I love about Handel’s music is its ability to be narrative and abstract simultaneously," Costanzo said of the video. "I think Ivory and Talarico achieve a parallel affect by evoking a mysterious world of a medieval knight and his friend, foe, or lover, depending on your interpretation."
The new films are also a way of promoting Glass Handel, an interactive performance for which Visionaire has recruited artists from a range of fields to collaborate with Costanzo. George Condo will paint live on a giant canvas, and the New York City Ballet's Justin Peck has created new choreography for a cast including So You Think You Can Dance winner Ricky Ubeda. In what's sure to captivate some fashion people, Raf Simons has created a cohesive look for all the performers through Calvin Klein costumes.
"My hope is that if they see all of these artists at the top of their game turning to opera as a creative outlet, we can draw some of their aesthetically primed devotees from fashion, art, dance, and film," Costanzo said of his hopes for the performance's impact. "At the end of the day, opera is and always has been about extreme emotions we all experience at some point in life, and these heightened states can allow for deeply beautiful art to emerge."
Costanzo notes that opera has influenced countless art forms throughout its history, starting with ballet but leading to the style and aesthetic of even contemporary sex symbols in pop music like Madonna and Justin Timberlake. It seems like a natural next step for classical music would be this Visionaire collaboration, making the references contemporary artists make a bit more literal and helping to visualize a centuries-old music tradition.
"Opera doesn’t have to be stuffy or off-putting," Costanzo said. "The beauty of the human voice functioning at an Olympic extreme, has the capacity to move us and to inspire some wild visual responses that allow it to enter the zeitgeist."
Visionaire also wants to make traditional and historic forms of art more accessible, which is part of the reason it's taken this interest in film and live performance. In addition to bringing Costanzo's work to a wider audience, the videos expand the company's online presence in a highly visual, accessible way, and the performance will have reasonably priced tickets as well as free standing room.
Collaborations seem to be everywhere these days, made more popular in the social media age thanks to celebrities like Rihanna and hype brands like Supreme. But Visionaire has been working this way from the start, and Dean hopes the method's newfound popularity will endure.
"I do not believe this is a trend, but a new way to work," Dean said. "Everyone benefits."