Who says it has to be lonely at the top?
While many cling to the idea that one should not defecate where one eats, that hasn’t stopped operatic power couples from forming almost as quickly as the genre came together: Soprano Anna Tessieri Girò, who sang in many of Vivaldi’s operas and traveled in the composer’s entourage, was rumored to be doing more than singing for the Red Priest.
Rossini and his mistress-then-wife Isabella Colbran caused similar scandals before they made it legal. Sutherland and Bonynge were inseparable as soprano and conductor, and later this month we’ll see the husband-and-wife duo of bass Ildar Abdrazakov and mezzo Olga Borodina together on the Met stage for Mussorgsky’s Khovanschina.
With love in the air, it’s hard not to think about other dynamic and romantic duos, both onstage and off. With that in mind, we’ve taken five of our favorite singers and matched them to both their main onstage squeezes and offstage partners. All are singers and all, for the most part, make it work. Read on for our picks and tell us: Onstage or off, who are your favorite operatic couples? Leave your picks in the comments below.
Onstage: Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti
Offstage: Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov
Freni and Pavarotti grew up together in Modena, Italy—their mothers were colleagues, Carmen-like, in a cigar factory in the town famous for its balsamic vinegar. And while Pav famously made music with Joan Sutherland (she originally hired him as an unknown because the towering soprano needed a tenor taller than her), his Verdian pairings with Freni are the stuff of legend. The two were also very much in-demand as Rodolfo and Mimí in La bohème.
In real life, however, Freni preferred basses, marrying Bulgarian bellower Nicolai Ghiaurov in 1978. The two formed Vignola’s Centro Universale del Bel Canto, where Freni still teaches, and often recorded together. They even issued a reading of Boito’s Mefistofele, featuring—you guessed it—Pavarotti as Faust.
Onstage: Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann
Offstage: Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna
Oh yes, it’s on-again, off-again with Gheorghiu and Alagna, despite their duet collection titled Angela & Roberto Forever. Setting aside the numerous recordings that Bobby and Angie originally made for EMI (including an essential La rondine and Manon), La Gheorghiu has recently cultivated another onstage beau in Jonas Kaufmann. The two have been seen on the Met stage as an impassioned Violetta and Alfredo and recently made a potent case for Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur and have their own EMI legacy with a balmy Madama Butterfly. But at the end of the day, Jonas goes back to his own singer spouse, mezzo Margarete Joswig, and their three children. And, for the time being, it’s still Angela and Roberto 4-eva.
Onstage: Patricia Racette and Roberto Alagna
Offstage: Patricia Racette and Beth Clayton
Alagna wasn’t one to waste any time finding a new onstage Angela, latching onto the ascending star of present-day Scotto Patricia Racette for some electrifying Puccini accounts, including their own Madama Butterfly and Tosca, both sung at the Met. One hopes that Racette will get into the recording studio for some of these works very soon, but the soprano also has a taste for contemporary rep (she’s on the world premiere recording of Floyd’s Cold Sassy Tree and has sung a fair amount of Britten).
We may sooner see Racette's work on an operatic adaptation of Erica Fischer’s Aimée & Jaguar with her wife, mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton. The pair, who fell in love during a Santa Fe staging of La traviata, married in 2005 and (among other accomplishments) made a touching video for the It Gets Better project in 2010.
Onstage: Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón
Offstage: Anna Netrebko and Erwin Schrott
Before his health troubles, Rolando Villazón was Anna Netrebko’s go-to guy, forming a pairing on par with Sutherland and Pavarotti. They had their breakthrough as an onstage couple in the Willy Decker production of La traviata for the Salzburg Festival, an electrifying performance that was preserved live on both CD and DVD, and went on to release a La bohème both on recording and in a cinematic adaptation.
Diversifying the portfolio was an album of duets from the likes of Les pêcheurs de perles, Manon, Rigoletto, Lucia di Lammermoor, Iolanta and Luisa Fernanda. As Netrebko’s star continued to rise, however, Villazón’s fell and she has since regrouped with partners like Roberto Alagna and Piotr Beczala. Trebs also performs sporadically in concert with Uruguayan baritone Erwin Schrott, with whom she has a son, Tiago. Despite often referring to him as her husband (and, to be fair, he has put a ring on it), the busy pair have yet to officially tie the knot.
Onstage: Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello
Offstage: Ailyn Pérez and… Stephen Costello
Sometimes the person with whom you go onstage is also the person with whom you go offstage. Soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello met at Philadelphia’s prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts and may be the first breakthrough American husband and wife team. Both also come from working-class backgrounds—she from Chicago, he from Philadelphia—but have rich voices that blend harmoniously. Lucky for them, their schedules coincide in a convenient way and they often appear as a package duo in works like Roméo et Juliette, Gianni Schicchi and Faust. It doesn’t get much more adorable, or audible, than that.