Hailed by the New York Times as “a beautiful woman who commands the stage” and “a major soprano,” Ailyn Pérez is increasingly in demand at the world’s leading opera houses and cultural capitals. She has won both the 2012 Richard Tucker Award, thereby becoming the only Hispanic recipient in the award’s 35-year history, and the 15th annual Plácido Domingo Award. As Opera News observes, “The phrase ‘an embarrassment of riches’ might have been invented to describe the combination of talents that belong to Ailyn Pérez, … who truly seems to have it all.”
Already something of a calling card for Pérez, the role of Violetta in La traviata is the vehicle for five of her operatic engagements in 2013-14. She launches the new season at the Hamburg State Opera, opposite her husband and frequent co-star, tenor Stephen Costello, before revisiting Verdi’s doomed heroine at Spain’s Ópera de Oviedo and the Bavarian State Opera. Pérez and Costello reunite to reprise their portrayals at San Francisco Opera and London’s Royal Opera House, at which Pérez has already been hailed as “an ideal Violetta” (Observer, UK). She may be seen twice more at Covent Garden this season, undertaking the title part of Massenet’s Manon in Laurent Pelly’s celebrated treatment, and making her role debut as Liù in Puccini’s Turandot. Read more →
In the Press
What brought opera’s “power couple” to Branscombe Festival 2013?
Paul Strange | Sidmouth Herald | August 3, 2013
Branscombe – let alone other parts of Devon – has never witnessed anything quite like the prestigious three-day music festival staged in the village last weekend (July 26-28).
Masterminded by London lawyer, philanthropist and Branscombe resident Ian Rosenblatt, the festival featured performances from international classical, opera and jazz artists, rarely seen outside London, Glyndebourne or New York.
Opera’s “power couple” – American soprano Ailyn Pérez and her husband, tenor Stephen Costello – were a star attraction. What brought them to Branscombe?
“We knew this was going to be something special, so we had to jump on it,” says Stephen, 32, shortly after their memorable performance on Saturday night.
“We’re happy that Ian invited us here,” says Ailyn, 34. “We know it’s a special place. Ian is a resident here. He loves the arts, he loves the young talent and he loves sharing it with as many people as possible.”
Their recital was very intimate…
“Yeah, it was wonderful,” says Stephen. “It was nice to be on stage and to see people’s faces.”
Not only did they enjoy their performance, but the couple also loved Branscombe.
“We’ve never stayed on a farm with local honey where people keep bees,” says Ailyn. “It’s a different experience. It’s a wonderful village and we’re glad the community embraced us.”
“We’ve never experienced anything like this,” says Stephen. “As much as it is for the people in the town to get a chance to see art like this, it’s a chance for us to come and see a part of England that we would never think of coming to, because it’s so far away.”
“We’d be delighted to come back,” says Ailyn. Ian Rosenblatt – the man behind the festival – has been equally delighted by the audience’s response to the inaugural event. “I’m thrilled,” says the 54-year-old lawyer, as we chat near the end of the festival’s second night. “I can only judge that by the feeling that I’ve had a great time. All of the audiences seem to be delighted.”
What had been his favourite moments?
“Listening to Philip Higham playing cello in the church was amazing, to get the Carducci String Quartet… just to see these international artists performing in these intimate venues in this village is just amazing in itself.
“However, if I had to choose a favourite moment, it was Stephen Costello singing part of the aria from La Boheme to my mother.”
You mentioned the intimacy of the venues. Was that deliberate?
“Just the way it is. You get a great cellist in a Norman church, and you can’t go wrong!”
What inspired him to stage the inaugural festival?
“I’ve had a house in Branscombe for 15 years and I had a concert series in London – the Rosenblatt recital series. We did one concert here – about six years ago – which was successful.
“I had friends staying. Pianist Iain Burnside was going to St Endellion in Cornwall where they have a festival and it sparked my imagination. So I thought we’d give it a go in Branscombe and see what happened.”
What did he think he’d brought to Branscombe?
“International artists of the sort you’re not going to hear normally outside London,” he says. “From a village point of view, it’s brought people, so I hope it’s helped to contribute to the local economy. The local church has raised some money today, so that’s good.”
What difficulties had he experienced in putting on the event?
“No mobile phone signal! We even tried walkie-talkies and they didn’t work either! Other than that, no problems. And the local community have been incredibly helpful, very supportive.”
Presumably – with the low ticket price and small venues – the festival wasn’t about making profit?
“No, it’s lost money. There’s no chance of it making a profit at all! There are easier ways of making a profit than putting on live music!”
You’ve said in the press that you’d like more festivals. Is that possible?
“Yes, I hope so. I want to assess it, but I’d love to be able to make it an annual thing. We need to ensure that the word gets spread around the South West of England as much as possible. Obviously we want local support in Branscombe, but also it’s music and events available to people from all over.”
Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello, partners on stage and at home, pair up for a San Francisco Opera program at Stern Grove
Cheryl North | San Jose Mercury News | August 2, 2013
What do Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Pierre and Marie Curie, Robert and Clara Schumann and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning all have in common? They are all couples who share (or shared), with great gusto, both their domestic and professional lives. The Curies were both scientists; the Schumanns, pianists and composers; the Brownings, poets; and Angelina and Brad are actors and philanthropists.
And Ailyn and Stephen? Both are sought-after opera stars and both won first place in the prestigious Richard Tucker Awards, (the Heisman Trophy of opera). Both also happen to have movie-star good looks.
The glam couple will appear together, along with selected Adler Fellows and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra on the festival stage in Stern Grove, at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard in San Francisco, at 2 p.m. Aug. 18. Music to be performed will be by Giuseppi Verdi and Richard Wagner in celebration of their 200th birth anniversaries, as well as by Benjamin Britten in celebration of his 100th. The highly acclaimed George Manahan will conduct.
Perez was born in 1979 in Chicago to first-generation Mexican immigrants. She graduated from Elk Grove High School in Illinois before moving on to the Indiana University School of Music and then to the Philadelphia Academy of Vocal Arts, graduating in 2006. That very year, she placed second in Placido Domingo’s “Operalia” competition, and in 2008, she sang opposite Rolando Villazon in the Salzburg Festival’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Her 2009-10 season included another performance with Domingo in Baku, Azerbaijan, and with Jose Carreras in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She made her Russian debut last year at the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow as Mimi in “La Boheme,” a role she has also sung in Rome, Salzburg, Ravinia, Toronto, Tokyo, Zurich and more.
Husband Stephen Costello is likely her favorite singing partner these days. The two brought down the house with their portrayals of the lovers Violetta and Alfredo in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at London’s Covent Garden last year. Fortunately for us in the Bay Area, the couple is slated to reprise Alfredo and Violetta in the San Francisco Opera’s June 2014 production of “La Traviata.” They have also reaped extravagant praises for their joint appearance as the lovers in the Vienna State Opera’s production of “L’ Elisir d’amore.”
Costello was born in Philadelphia in 1981 and graduated from that city’s Academy of Vocal Arts in 2007. While he was still in school in 2006, he made his professional debut as Rudolfo in Puccini’s “La Boheme” with the Fort Worth Opera; sang the tenor lead in “L’elisir d’amore” with the Opera National de Bordeaux; portrayed Leicester in “Maria Stuarda” with the Dallas Opera; and made his Carnegie Hall debut.
Following his graduation, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut, on opening night no less, as Arturo in “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Met management immediately signed him up for more roles during that same season. After his Moscow debut as the male lead in Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette,” also in 2007, he hastened back to Texas to sing the title role in the Dallas Opera’s “Roberto Devereux.” All this was followed by engagements at a number of the world’s most important opera houses. Perhaps most noteworthy to Bay Area audiences was his role as Greenhorn (Ishmael) in the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Moby Dick” with the Dallas Opera, which he repeated when San Francisco Opera mounted the second production last season.
He has been described as “a first-class talent … an intelligent, well-trained singer whose enormous talent and natural musical instincts mark him for potential greatness” by the highly respected Opera News. Just a couple of weeks ago, he wowed the crowd with what was described as “a string of flawless high C’s” during his performance of the “Ah, Mes amis” aria during one of the Metropolitan Opera’s Summer Recital Series concerts in Central Park.
In an online interview, the couple explained that they fell in love during a production of “La Boheme” in Philadelphia — he was Rodolfo, and she was Mimi. He took her out dancing after one of the performances. They married in 2008, and according to Ailyn, still consider each other “both best friends and soul mates.”
Stern Grove performances are all free of charge, and patrons may come early and bring chairs or blankets for picnics. All are urged to take public transportation, since there is very little parking available. Find information on public transportation at www.sterngrove.org/home/2013-season or call 415-252-6252.
Ailyn and Steve: The new operatic power couple?
Condemned to Music | December 19, 2012
When Audra McDonald called them an opera power couple on the recent PBS broadcast of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation Gala, I broke out laughing. Not at McDonald, and not because she was inaccurate: Soprano Ailyn Perez and tenor Stephen Costello fit the definition – both are headed toward the top of the opera profession if they aren’t there already – but they don’t fit the part, which was delightfully apparent in odd, peripheral moments on the telecast (still available for streaming here).
Aren’t power couples supposed to be awe-inspiring? Bullet-proof? Untouchable?
Certainly, power couples are not sensible. They don’t go to Sears for a new flat-screen TV – which is what Costello was doing when he found out that his wife had won this year’s Tucker award. (He won it three years ago; they’re the first married couple to do so.) Perez is the one who decided that Philadelphia taxes were too high considering how little time they had come to spend there – and thus moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Is that a power-couple thing to do?
Seeing them together, one could easily envision these two in a reality show. Each puzzles over the other’s received ethnic tendencies. She ponders his Irish pessimism. (Yes, Costello is mostly Irish. And Ailyn, by the way, is pronounced “Eileen.”) He doesn’t get how her entire Mexican family can spend an evening together in a restaurant and then another 20 minutes in the parking lot saying goodbye, even though they’re all headed for the same home. She’s a Bikram yoga devotee; last time I checked, he was still fighting the idea of hiring a trainer. At the Met, he sometimes warns stagehands that he occasionally forgets to breathe, so if he passes out, just drag him offstage, give him a minute or two and he’ll be singing again. (To my knowledge, this has never actually happened.)
Their talent developed along different trajectories. Perez arrived at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts having first gone to Indiana University. I heard her first public performance at AVA – a Reynaldo Hahn song – and I swear that the talent was all there, fully formed, with a warm, natural stage presence and a Victoria de los Angeles-ish voice. She only needed to bolster her coloratura technique, since it’s the Violettas and Gildas that build great careers (even though she’s a lyric soprano at heart).
Growing up in working-class Philadelphia, Costello started out playing trumpet, discovered his tenor voice and was accepted at the AVA. Since then, he has evolved by the year. He could barely navigate a stage until he was cast as Cassio in Otello at the 2008 Salzburg Festival. I sometimes feared for his vocal health until last year’s tonsillectomy. Some critics still didn’t love his high notes in last season’s Met Anna Bolena, but I heard a turning point – so I was pleased not only to hear him singing better than ever at the Tucker gala, but also with a deeper sense of Italianate style.
If his career has gone a bit faster than hers, it’s because tenors are in greater demand. Also, for all her exterior poise, Perez can sometimes be derailed by nerves. (That was occasionally detectable, manifested as pitch problems, at the Tucker gala, though by the Traviata ensemble with her husband she was on firm ground.)
They also sang the so-called Cherry Duet from L’Amico Fritz – and their dynamic is interesting. There’s no doubt that they enjoy each other onstage, but there’s never any sense that they absolutely need each other. They’re sturdy individual talents on their own.
But wasn’t it sweet when, at the end of the duet, savvy lip-readers could see him quietly saying “I love you” to his wife? Well, don’t we all?
By David Patrick Stearns