Monday, March 15, 2010
San Diego Opera's 45th International Season continues with Romeo and Juliet, the third opera of the season which opened on Saturday, March 13, 2010. A masterpiece of grand French opera, Romeo and Juliet has not been seen in San Diego since 1998. Husband and wife duo Stephen Costello and Ailyn Pérez play the title roles, and join us in studio and for a rare treat - they'll sing!
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): ‘For never was a story of more woe. Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.’ That's how Shakespeare wrapped up his tale of young love, old hatreds and cruel fate. The tragic romance of Romeo and Juliet has inspired dozens of retellings from ballets to Broadway musicals. But one of the most successful and beautiful of the adaptations is Charles Gounod's opera “Romeo and Juliet.”
The San Diego Opera production currently at the Civic Theatre, has one more romantic twist up its sleeve. The two stars of “Romeo and Juliet,” Stephen Costello and Ailyn Peréz happen to be in love with each other in real life. They are, in fact, married. They will be talking with us about their unique story of love and career and about this beautiful and vibrant production of “Romeo and Juliet,” and they will be singing for us. So it’s a pleasure to introduce my guests. Tenor Stephen Costello, Romeo. Stephen, welcome to These Days.
STEPHEN COSTELLO (Singer, San Diego Opera): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And soprano Ailyn Peréz, Juliet. Hello, Ailyn.
AILYN PERÉZ (Singer, San Diego Opera): Hello. Thank you for having us.
CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Nick Reveles, director of education for the San Diego Opera, will be playing the piano. And, Nick, welcome. Thank you for being here.
DR. NICHOLAS REVELES (Director of Education, San Diego Opera): Thank you. Delighted to be back.
CAVANAUGH: Now most people will be familiar with Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” but this version is, of course, by French composer Charles Gounod. How does it vary from the original story, Ailyn? Is there much variation?
PERÉZ: There is. There are a few new characters. One is Stephano, who exists as a page. And also Lady Capulet is absent in the opera. But instead, Gertrude exists, still as Juliet’s nanny, and she sort of takes on that motherly role. So – But most of the story is even the same lines, ‘when two palms kiss,’ and, you know, when Romeo takes Juliet’s hand and asks for forgiveness and then they go into their big duet, “Ange Adorable,” which we will sing for you today.
CAVANAUGH: Ah, that’s wonderful. We’re looking forward to it.
PERÉZ: So it follows the story very, very closely. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: So is it, you know, ‘what light from yonder window breaks,’ and all that?
PERÉZ: It’s in…
COSTELLO: It’s actually in the aria that I’m going to sing later.
CAVANAUGH: I see, but we won’t recognize it because it’s in French, right?
PERÉZ: No, you’ll hear – you’ll hear kind of like a light awakening in the piano. And I think Nick’ll bring that out.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Saturday was opening night.
CAVANAUGH: How did that go, Stephen?
COSTELLO: I thought it went really, really well. I thought the level and the standard that the cast set was absolutely fantastic. I mean, well, I’ve done this production – this is my third time and the third time for Ailyn as well. And I think it’s one of the strongest casts that we’ve done this opera with. I mean, everybody really stepped up to the plate and did a really great performance and it set the bar very high and then the level just kept rising from there. And the very enthusiastic audience – I mean, it’s really – it was really a treat to…
PERÉZ: Sing here…
COSTELLO: …be here in San Diego because we had – We were talking about we had the student matinee where we have a matinee where the students come and see half of our show, and the way they were screaming and yelling was fantastic and we kept saying, well, we can’t get used to it because it’s not going to happen on opening night…
COSTELLO: …because, you know, they’re students and they’re just really enthusiastic but the audience at the end was the same way. They were all on their feet cheering and screaming, and it was kind of great. You know, it was a great audience and to do an opera in San Diego is fantastic.
PERÉZ: It was a great audience.
CAVANAUGH: That’s what – how energizing that must be after what I know is a very physical night for you.
PERÉZ: Right. It inspires us to enter in the next scene with, you know, more enthusiasm…
CAVANAUGH: I would imagine.
PERÉZ: …and sing our hearts out.
CAVANAUGH: Now I know everybody out there is saying let them sing, let them sing. But I just have one more question for the both of you before you sing, Ailyn. And I’m wondering, Stephen, if you could tell us a little bit about how you prepare for this role.
COSTELLO: How do I prepare? Well, I mean, you have to research the play obviously and be familiar with the story and all the characters and the intent that was written in the play. But then you also have to focus on the music and how condensed it is and what – and the factors that aren’t in the play that are in the opera or the factors that aren’t in the opera that are in the play. And, I mean, after you get all that established, then you approach it from a musical aspect and you learn your text and your lines and if you’re not a French speaker, you obviously translate your score. And then you have to associate the text by what Gounod wrote underneath you and how it reflects your emotion and it reflects your character’s interactions and feelings. And then, I mean, after that you work on it vocally. You take it to your teacher, you take it to coaches, and you just work it and you learn to sing it in a very healthy way since for Romeo and Juliet it’s a very long night and it’s a lot of music and it requires a lot of stamina and, I mean, a lot of smart – I think a lot of smart singing and being cautious and also transmitting the intention and the character and the musical aspects of it to the audience.
CAVANAUGH: I imagine, Ailyn, that Stephen hit on a lot of the ways that you prepare as well. Does the Zeffirelli movie come into it at all?
PERÉZ: Oh, that’s how we fell in love with the play, just watching that gorgeous movie. And…
COSTELLO: Yeah, you know, it’s…
PERÉZ: …also just even seeing “Romeo and Juliet” by Baz Luhrmann, the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah. Umm-hmm.
PERÉZ: …and Claire Danes. I think it’s inspiring for also the Mercutio just to see that psychedelic version of it. And, I mean, I don’t know, it’s just…
COSTELLO: It’s kind of great watching the Zeffirelli, the movie, because, I mean, he’s such a high respected director in the opera world.
COSTELLO: And just to see how he takes a play like that and brings it to life, I mean, it’s – it’s really, really wonderful. And a lot of the, you know, a lot of his characterizations, I think, are some of the basis of the way the people do it in the opera business now but, I mean, it’s a good reference point, I mean, for people that haven’t heard the opera or seen the opera or even seen the play on the stage, that’s a great first movie to see.
CAVANAUGH: I know that, Ailyn, you’re going to be singing for us and you’re going to be singing one of the most famous arias from Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.” You’re going to be – “Juliet’s Waltz.” And I’m going to let you do that now.
PERÉZ: Oh, thank you.
(audio of Peréz performing “Juliet’s Waltz” from the opera “Romeo and Juliet”)
CAVANAUGH: Oh, my goodness, brava. Thank you for that. Soprano Ailyn Peréz singing “Juliet’s Waltz” from the opera “Romeo and Juliet.” And Dr. Nick Reveles accompanying on piano. Amazing.
PERÉZ: Thank you very much.
CAVANAUGH: You made me tear up. Thank you. I just want everyone to know that when you were singing that, you were about three feet away from the – from our microphones. Yes.
PERÉZ: Oh, dear.
CAVANAUGH: No, that’s…
PERÉZ: Am I still too close?
CAVANAUGH: That’s amazing. And for people who haven’t attended the performance yet, I want people to know that you are not exactly a large woman. You are petite and with this glorious voice. Thank you so much for that.
PERÉZ: Thank you. Thank you so much.
CAVANAUGH: That was amazing. You know, a lot has been made of the fact that you two are married and I do want to talk a little bit about that because that is one of the – I don’t know, I was going to say curious but particular elements of this performance. And what is it like to perform together?
PERÉZ: I’ll take this question. It’s a great joy. I mean, Stephen and I met when we were training at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia for an opera career on an international scale. And so we’ve, you know, we’ve been colleagues and friends and then love sparked between us. And I still remember the moment when I gazed on him that way and it was in the moonlight and so, you know, your sense of love and romance, it – it’s still with us and it’s, thankfully, a great part of our marriage and a great part of our stage chemistry. When we have these moments where it’s the love at first sight that Shakespeare wrote, you know, it’s very easy and inspired.
CAVANAUGH: Now this is the fourth time that you’ve performed “Romeo and Juliet” but not together, is that right?
PERÉZ: That’s right…
COSTELLO: Well, it’s the third time that we’ve each done it.
COSTELLO: And this is the first time that we’re doing it together.
COSTELLO: The third time that we’ve done it, the first time together.
PERÉZ: That’s right.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Stephen, I wonder when you knew you were going to be married and have a life together, were you daunted with the idea of two operatic careers, trying to balance that?
COSTELLO: You know, it’s really hard because that’s some of the questions, I mean, our parents have asked us and our families have asked us, you know, how is it going to work out? I mean, if you have kids, who’s going to take the kids? Who’s going to do this? And, you know, we’ve both spent a lot of time working hard to start to have the career that we’re having and, you know, we’re still – we’re together and we, you know, it’s very hard to manage, I think, when she – like for instance, after this, I leave San Diego and go to Dallas and then she goes to Berlin. And the next time we see each other will probably be in a month and a half, maybe two months.
COSTELLO: So there’s that time apart that can be really very difficult but it just makes, you know, seeing each other and being close to each other when we come – when we get together a lot better. But, you know, we’re not – we’re taking things one at a time.
CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. Right.
COSTELLO: And not really worrying about starting a family right away, and if it happens, it happens. You know, we’re not planning it but, you know, it’s something we’ll deal with when it comes to it and, you know, there’s a lot of people – I mean, Natalie Dessay is a career mother and handles her career as well. So…
CAVANAUGH: Who is that?
COSTELLO: Natalie Dessay, the – is singing all over the world and she’s also – her husband’s a singer and she’s a singer, and they split up their career and, you know, while she’s working, he doesn’t sing. And when she’s working – I mean, when he’s singing, she doesn’t work. So…
CAVANAUGH: So you have role models.
COSTELLO: Well, we’ve met a lot of people, you know.
PERÉZ: We have references.
COSTELLO: We have a lot of friends that are in the business that are in the same type of situation that we’re in so…
CAVANAUGH: Ailyn, I was going to ask, what’s the hardest part of being married to an operatic performer but I think Stephen probably already answered it. Is it the separations?
PERÉZ: I think that’s the trickiest part about it but, you know, especially when you want to be there on the big night, you know, the big performance and sometimes you’re able to be there and it makes it that much more joyous. But when you miss it, (sighs), you know, you really just – I attend – When I’ve been – had the time to hear Stephen sing, I end up attending every single performance just because you can hear the nuances and, you know, it’s a big thrill. I love the theatre. I love being in theatre. And so when you can be there in person, it’s really wonderful.
CAVANAUGH: Is it tough to criticize each other? Or is that an essential part of your relationship?
COSTELLO: You know, it’s very tough. We try not to get into it sometimes because, you know, like all relationships and all people that work together, when you’re at work you talk about work, and when you’re at home you try to avoid it as much as possible. And, I mean, it’s hard for us because we have the same management team and the same teacher, so it seems that like it still follows us home but, you know, we set time away from work, and to criticize each other at home, I mean, can only make things worse. I mean, we’ve…
COSTELLO: …talked before about there were productions where if we’re singing together in a duet and we don’t agree on something, on either the style or phrasing or which way it should go, then we’ll consult the conductor or we’ll consult somebody on the musical staff because at least there’s a…
COSTELLO/PERÉZ: …a mediator…
COSTELLO: …between us that can see an outside opinion and, you know, I think that’s when people start to get in a lot of trouble with relationships when they really come home and criticize everything that they do. And we’ve seen that through a lot of different people. I mean, I’ve seen people criticize their spouse the moment they get off stage and say, well, why – why were you doing this? This is terrible. You shouldn’t do this. And it’s, you know, it takes a toll on everybody once in a while. So we try to do that as less as…
PERÉZ: Yeah, we keep…
COSTELLO: …little as possible.
PERÉZ: …critical things moving toward a positive direction all the time.
CAVANAUGH: What happens in the opera house stays in the opera house.
COSTELLO: …I mean, we’ll – like if we’re in a rehearsal in the opera house with orchestra and supposedly she’s upstage doing something and, I know, I couldn’t hear her or she couldn’t hear me, I would say, you know, maybe you should sing that more…
COSTELLO: …more towards the audience as opposed to singing it in the back of the stage. So, you know, we’ll give positive criticism that can only…
PERÉZ: Any help with the performance.
COSTELLO: …help that performance but when it comes to like vocal technique and style, we don’t do that.
PERÉZ: Yeah, we…
CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Stephen Costello and Ailyn Peréz, they are tenor and soprano respectively playing in the San Diego Opera production of “Romeo and Juliet.” We have to take a short break. When we return, we will hear more of their glorious singing and speak a little bit more about the production. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: The San Diego Opera is presently in production of “Romeo and Juliet” by Charles Gounod, and we have the two stars of that production, Stephen Costello and Ailyn Peréz, here, singing for us live in the KPBS studios this morning. Dr. Nick Reveles is also here as accompanist. And right now we’re going to go to another aria from “Romeo and Juliet.” Stephen Costello will perform for us “Ah! Lève-toi, Soleil!” And Stephen.
(audio of Stephen Costello performing aria from “Romeo and Juliet”)
CAVANAUGH: Thank you. That’s Stephen Costello performing “Ah! Lève-toi, Soleil!” from the opera “Romeo and Juliet.” Thank you so much. And I want everyone listening to know it is quite something to get opera singers to sing this early in the day, and we do appreciate it very, very, very much. Stephen, when – in what context is – does that aria come in the play? In the opera?
COSTELLO: Actually, it’s his second act op – sorry, it’s his second act aria and it’s right as he gets into the, I guess I would say, Capulet’s garden and it’s when he’s approaching the balcony of Juliet. It’s right before he hears her and sees her again after the banquet scene.
CAVANAUGH: And, Dr. Reveles, that’s where the light from yonder window breaks.
DR. REVELES: That’s right. That’s right. And the piano gets – or the orchestra, rather, gets this wonderful… (piano notes) …which I think is probably Gounod’s idea of the window opening and the light coming out. It’s wonderfully atmospheric, this piece.
DR. REVELES: It’s very sweet.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, and it must be a treat for the musicians to be able to play this beautiful score as well.
DR. REVELES: Yeah.
COSTELLO: Oh, they do such a great job with it.
CAVANAUGH: Now, I’m wondering, this particular production of “Romeo and Juliet” is very physical from what I understand. Tell us a little bit about the physicality involved in performing this role. Stephen.
COSTELLO: You know, I think Joe Sorenson, our Thibault, described it the best with our fight choreographer coming in and he said that when he knew Dale was on the scene and going to be doing all the fight sequences, he started training six months ahead of time for this production alone. And I kept thinking on the first day, I was like, you’re crazy, six months? Give me a break. And I’ll tell you, it was tough. It was really tough. There were days where I came home and my body was just physically tired and sore. And everyone kept saying, well, you know, you could get into an Epsom Salts bath or whatever, and I said, well, I don’t fit into the bathtub to do that. So I can’t – I can’t do these things.
COSTELLO: So, you know, but it’s been with – between the singing, you know, singing of the role and moving around and doing all the actions and doing the intent of the characters and then adding the sword fights and the – oh, it’s just – it’s backbreaking. And then doing all the climbing up the balcony and back down the balcony, it’s – oh…
CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that it’s because of his height, not because of his girth that he can’t fit into the bathtub. And, Stephen, that’s one of the points. You think that this production is taking advantage of the fact that there’s a youthful cast, a very fit cast, because I was trying to think of, you know, if Luciano Pavarotti were performing this, there would be not – we wouldn’t be seeing this kind of production would we?
COSTELLO: Well, I don’t know if he would or he wouldn’t but you’d hear – I mean, you’d hear it sung, I mean, magnificently I’m sure.
CAVANAUGH: Certainly. Certainly.
COSTELLO: Which is why they would come to see Luciano Pavarotti. But I don’t know, I mean, I’d like to think that, you know, the way the opera world is going now that we can still have great singing and a lot more acting and movement and…
PERÉZ: As genuine, incredible, umm-hmm, and…
PERÉZ: …expertly crafted like Dale Girard’s choreography.
COSTELLO: Yeah, and I think you’re right. It is a very youthful cast and I think it is one of the reasons that we can be a little more active on stage and we can – But, you know, I know people that are twice my age in the opera business that could, you know, run laps around me, you know.
CAVANAUGH: And this is also a physical performance for Juliet.
PERÉZ: Yes, it is. And it’s pretty much all in the balcony scene with the way the set is designed. It’s really difficult to stay quiet while you’re sneaking down the staircase backstage and then coming on wistfully and gracefully as – and rounding around Romeo to lay on a token of a vow. But it’s a lot of fun.
COSTELLO: Yeah, which really kind of annoys me because, you know, I’m climbing up this balcony and I’m climbing back down and then she comes down but she uses the steps. So…
PERÉZ: Thank you. Thanks.
CAVANAUGH: Ah, Juliet gets a little credit here, please. But I’m wondering, how many different languages do you need to know in order to perform opera professionally.
PERÉZ: I have to interrupt. Sometimes it’s very fortunate when you come from a second language background…
PERÉZ: …if that’s a romance language…
PERÉZ: …because most of the operas that we sing are in French, Italian and that’s it really. And, I mean, we do some German but…
COSTELLO: Yeah, you know, a lot of, I mean, some universities are giving diction classes on different languages which I think is nice to have but it’s also – it’s kind of a handicap in a way that you need – I think you really should, if you’re going to sing in the language, you should really immerse yourself in that language and you should try to learn to speak it fluently and conversationally with people just because, you know, when you go overseas and you work, I mean, you might be singing a French opera but you’re working in an Italian house where everybody on the set, even stage management and stagehands and most likely the conductor or the director, they’ll all speaking in Italian. So, I mean, you really should really learn I’d say French, Italian, German…
COSTELLO: …the languages where you’re going to go and perform because that’s – you know, you want to be able to communicate with your public and, you know, also want to be able to communicate…
PERÉZ: Bring in nuances to the text.
COSTELLO: Yeah, communicate to your cast members.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to – I know that you’re going to be singing a third aria for us – or duet, actually, and I want to make sure that we have enough time for us – for you to sing the whole thing. So let me introduce you now. You’re going to be singing “Ange Adorable” and this is from Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.” And the performers are soprano Ailyn Peréz and tenor Stephen Costello, accompanied by Dr. Nick Reveles on piano.
(audio of Peréz and Costello performing “Ange Adorable” from “Romeo and Juliet”)
CAVANAUGH: Thank you both. That was Stephen Costello and Ailyn Peréz performing “Ange Adorable” from “Romeo and Juliet,” which is now at the Civic Theatre as a San Diego Opera production. You know, I – We have practically no time left but I wanted to thank you and I did want to point out one thing. As you were talking, people need different languages if they’re going to perform but this is one opera where people don’t even really need to follow the subtitles that directly, do they?
COSTELLO: Yeah, you know, we were talking about that for a long time now, that this is an opera that is a great first opera for anybody who hasn’t been to the opera because if you don’t have to spend the entire evening looking up the subtitles because you know the story and you kind of know what’s going on in the scene. So along with that, you can just sit back and really enjoy the music and enjoy the interpretation that’s going on.
PERÉZ: And hear, and enjoy the experience.
CAVANAUGH: I just want to say, I love the way you look at him when he’s singing, Ailyn. It’s quite remarkable and I’m sure people will see that when they go to the opera.
COSTELLO: I think it’s just because it’s early.
PERÉZ: No way.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much. I really do appreciate it. I want to thank tenor Stephen Costello, our Romeo, and soprano Ailyn Peréz, our Juliet. And you can attend a performance of the San Diego Opera’s “Romeo and Juliet” tomorrow, March 6th and again March 19th and 21st at the San Diego Civic Theatre. For morning information, you can go to our website, KPBS.org/thesedays. And I do – don’t want to forget Dr. Nick Reveles, who’s director of education and who played the piano so beautifully for us. Thank you so much. Thank you, all of you.
COSTELLO: Thank you.
REVELES: Thank you.
PERÉZ: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And if you have any comments, please go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.