Review: Opera's Latest 'Love Couple' Fails to Heat Up Duets Album

Friday, June 06, 2014 - 11:00 AM

Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez (©Molina Visuals)

Why does operatic press agentry thrive on “Love Couples?” The phenomenon is not new: soprano/tenor pairs, when of roughly equal abilities and romantically involved, have made waves for centuries. Donizetti wrote Don Pasquale for Giulia Grisi and Mario (who enjoyed a massive 1854 U.S. tour) and Tchaikovsky tailored Queen of Spades and Iolanta for Medea Mei and Nikolai Figner. The closing days of 78 recording welcomed still-haunting duets by husband and wife Pia Tassinari and Ferruccio Tagliavini; Katia Ricciarelli and José Carreras—not married, at least not to one another—caused a frisson when paired in LP’s last years.

The "Love Couple" that broke the bank in the CD era was Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna: the tempestuous Romanian and Franco-Sicilian couple sometimes (as with their wedding by Mayor Giuliani) seemed to be entirely plugged into the pursuit of Taylor/Burton-style headlines, but they moved a lot of product—plus, their joint performances certainly raised the temperature. Whatever their shortcomings, the now-divorced duo both offered technical assurance and stylistic distinction.

Such qualities as yet only sporadically mark live performances and the new CD offering of the talented, photogenic American couple advanced by the industry—not least the award-granting Richard Tucker Foundation, who used to honor complete vocalists like Renée Fleming, Matthew Polenzani and Joyce diDonato. Chicago-born soprano Ailyn Pérez and Philadelphian tenor Stephen Costello met at his native city’s Academy of Vocal Arts, married, and have since forged respectable careers now going international.

London arts writers—as opposed to critics—seized the bait, with the London Times spouting nonsense about "the Jay-Z and Beyoncé" of opera and—essentially—celebrating their marketability: "They're modern, they're hot and their marital status is taking them beyond opera's heartland into Vanity FairThe Huffington Post and YouTube ubiquity." Yes, but...

Pérez, lovely and charming onstage, shows a lyric voice of great, billowing beauty. She must negotiate florid passages with care and—more seriously, and made evident in virtually every cut on the couple’s new album—her voice wavers and turns hard in high passages taken at full volume. Costello, always competent, has a more reliably produced instrument if—to my ears—one of less inherent charm and beauty than his wife’s. Stylistically, he’s more comfortable than she in the four non-inflammatory duets from musicals. But Pérez has the laudable gift of vivid verbal characterization: her Manon, Violetta and Gilda sound like entirely different people.

On the CD, the dutiful Costello comes to life principally in a very enjoyable duet from Elisir d’Amore and the technically imperfect but very heartfelt first colloquy from La traviata. For Mascagni’s ravishing “Cherry Duet” from L’amico Fritz, better seek out Gheorghiu and Alagna—or Tassinari and Tagliavini's unforgettable magic.

"Love Duets" (Warner Classics)
Ailyn Pérez, soprano & Stephen Costello, tenor
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Patrick Summers, conductor
Available at Arkivmusic.com

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Comments [8]

Nick Vega from Tampa

Let's also mention another loving couple, tenor David Miller (El Divo) and his beautiful wife, soprano Joy (Kabanuck). They frequently perform together as their careers permit.

Jun. 08 2014 10:15 AM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

And then there was the married couple who sang the original Tristan and Isolde. She later said that singing the role of Tristan was responsible for her husband's early death.

Jun. 07 2014 06:42 PM
Concetta Nardone from Nassau

When I was younger, we had Roberta Peters and Robert Merrill as a team. They were the Steve and Edye(?) of the opera world. Later we had Gheorgiu and Alagna. Both marriages ended in divorce.

Jun. 07 2014 02:43 PM

Re. OQ from Queens:

It seems they have. They market what sells -- so long as it sells. Then they move on to the next marketable pair.

DD~~

Jun. 07 2014 01:38 AM
Opera Queen from Queens

We've seen the whole Love Couple thing many times before. When will the record industry learn?

Jun. 06 2014 07:57 PM
David Shengold

Hi Albert--

Don't know how I came up with Texas, sorry about that error!

It's your job to promote this album and it's my job to say what I honestly think about it, so we are both on track! Much as I respect and like Hugh Canning, I don't turn to London for assessments of American musical comedy performance; the two nations are (as ever) divided by a common language, and very different tastes in re style in re musicals. Cheers!

Jun. 06 2014 05:13 PM
George from 40th St

They BOTH have beautiful voices. I saw them in concert at the Morgan Llibrary a few years ago and they were great. What do critics want from these singers? I have been an opera maniac for the last 50 years and have heard them all and Perez and Costello measure up favorably, either when singing together OR separately. They are, by the way, very humble folk. I am going to buy the album as soon as it is released, believe me.

Jun. 06 2014 03:48 PM
Albert Imperato from New York

Hey Dave, first a plea of guilty: I am the press agent for Stephen and Ailyn!

Sorry you didn't enjoy the album, my friend. I disagree with most of your criticisms, but I guess that shouldn't come as a surprise.

Just wanted to point out two things readers should know:

Ailyn Perez was born in Chicago, not Texas.

Hugh Canning, a major music/opera critic in London (SUNDAY TIMES), wrote a rave review for the album. He's not just any old "London arts writer," so I think your description above is rather incomplete. Hope this link works: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/culture/music/article1405605.ece

Jun. 06 2014 12:06 PM

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