When Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello came together to sing Puccini’s ill-fated lovers in Cincinnati Opera’s La bohème, it was a match made in opera heaven. The Enquirer called Pérez’s Mimì “radiant” and Costello’s Rodolfo “wonderfully sung,” and praised the “warmth of tone and effortless high notes” of their duet; likewise, Music in Cincinnati reported: “The two singers made an attractive and emotionally appealing couple, with fresh young voices that soared. … The chemistry between Costello and Pérez was potent.” Now – in the first of three collaborations together this spring – the lyric soprano and tenor dubbed “America’s fastest-rising husband-and-wife opera stars” (Associated Press) reprise the same roles at Los Angeles Opera, where they headline the company’s signature production of Puccini’s masterpiece. Marking Costello’s house debut, the revival opens for six performances on May 12.
“I feel very comfortable with Ailyn on stage and that allows me to be more intimate in love scenes,” Costello explains. “I also think she is a singer who takes chances when given and that means I have to take chances in order to hold my own on stage.” He adds: “Bohème is very special because we both sang it for the first time together and that is when we started dating.”
Pérez expands on her very operatic love story with her husband now of four years:
“Stephen and I were studying at the Academy of Vocal Arts together. We had worked together in the past, singing opposite each other in La traviata and L’elisir d’amore, but Bohème is what brought us together. We had always been friends, but it was during rehearsals for Bohème that we started dating. I lived alone in a tiny little attic around the corner from Stephen, where he lived with a few other guys – just like Mimì and Rodolfo! After rehearsals we liked to blow off some steam, and Stephen asked me out dancing to the salsa club across the street from where he lived. My response was ‘you don’t salsa!’, but surprisingly enough, he can! He tried to kiss me on the way home, but I turned him down. That didn’t last long though, and over the next few months we fell in love. A lot of couples fall in love over Bohème, and lots of them have a line from the opera that is special to them. My favorite line is ‘Sempre tua per la vita’ [‘always yours, for life’], which Mimì tells Rodolfo in their Act III break-up scene.”
Originally created by iconic film director Herbert Ross, the L.A. Opera’s La bohème has been credited with “maintaining the work’s charm, while breathing vitality into its characters and supplying imaginative new action” (Variety). Conducted by Patrick Summers, music director of the Houston Grand Opera, and featuring a strong supporting cast, the new revival is staged by director Gregory A. Fortner.
Pérez and Costello spent the holiday season on the other side of the Atlantic, where they took London by storm, appearing (in different casts) as the romantic leads in Richard Eyre’s production of La traviata at Covent Garden. As the Independent described, the tenor’s dramatic impact was both immediate and powerful:
“From the moment Ermonela Jaho meets her Alfredo in the form of Stephen Costello in her glittering salon, you sense the electricity between them… . Jaho’s gestures and attitudes have an expressive grace for which Costello’s airy, boyish lyricism makes the ideal foil.”
As for Pérez, the Observer hailed her as “an ideal Violetta,” marveling:
“The bewitching young American soprano puts her heart into every twist of the drama, from the impetuousness of her love for Alfredo…to the febrile emergency of her death… . Her performance was glorious, the quiet passages magical.”
Similarly moved by her performance, the Sunday Times observed: “She was one of the most affecting Violettas we have seen at Covent Garden recently, not a grand visiting diva, but a vulnerable, dying woman in a hostile society, whose demise in Act III tore at the heartstrings.”
For both singers, the 2011-12 season is a significant one. Singing opposite Anna Netrebko in the Metropolitan Opera’s premiere staging of Anna Bolena, Costello helped launch the company’s new season; the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini reported: “Costello won a hearty ovation for his Riccardo… . To hear this rising artist stretching himself was part of the excitement.” Another Donizetti opera – L’elisir d’amore – was the vehicle for Costello’s return to the Vienna State Opera, and his season includes European concert performances of two more: having sing Maria Stuarda’s Leicester in Munich, this month he undertakes Lucia di Lammermoor’s Edgardo in Seville.
Pérez’s performances as Violetta represented her second Covent Garden engagement of the season, following her “mesmerizing” (Gramophone) contribution to the Royal Opera House’s Domingo Gala concerts this past October, when she sang Gilda alongside Plácido Domingo in Rigoletto. Having recently starred in Gounod’s Faust at Hamburg State Opera, the soprano looks forward to headlining Poulenc’s Gloria with the Atlanta Symphony in April, and reprising her portrayal of Mimì at Zurich Opera two months later.
The two singers, who have amassed such honors as her 2006 George London Award and his 2009 Richard Tucker Award, first met at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts. They frequently perform together in leading romantic roles, and this season, in addition to their Los Angeles Opera engagement, they appear opposite one another in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz with the Moscow Philharmonic and in La traviata once again at Cincinnati Opera. Their many future engagements together include a production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Vienna State Opera in spring 2013.
More information about the artists is available at the web sites listed below, after details of their upcoming engagements together.
Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello: upcoming joint engagements
May 12, 20, 23, 26, & 31; June 2
Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles Opera
Puccini: La bohème (Mimì; Rodolfo)
Moscow State Philharmonic Society
Mascagni: L’amico Fritz (Suzel; Fritz)
July 25, 27, & 29
Verdi: La traviata (Violetta; Alfredo)
Ailyn Pérez at Askonas Holt
Follow Ailyn Pérez on Twitter
Follow Stephen Costello on Facebook
Follow Stephen Costello on Twitter