Dou­ble talk In con­ver­sa­tion with Ai­lyn Pérez and Stephen Costello

In con­ver­sa­tion with Ai­lyn Pérez and Stephen Costello

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Michael Wade Simp­son


For Ai­lyn Pérez, the role of Juli­ette is a jour­ney she be­gan at age seven­teen, when she first learned the fa­mous aria, the waltz song, “Ah! Je veux vivre.” The jour­ney con­tin­ues to­day at age thirty-seven, as she faces the chal­lenge of play­ing “younger” with a voice and the dra­matic un­der­stand­ing that could only come with age. “We think of Juli­ette like Aphrodite, a young girl just about to blos­som into a wo­man, “she said. “In opera, though, the voice changes dur­ing your twen­ties, and, if you sing the right rep and stay on a healthy path, will just be bloom­ing in your thir­ties.

“Juli­ette is a long, romantic, heroic role. It’s very dif­fi­cult. The mu­sic by Gounod has such beauty, it’s dev­as­tat­ing. When you sing, you’re in fact act­ing with your voice. Juli­ette starts off pretty light, but her ‘poi­son aria’ is much more dra­matic than any mo­ment in Manon [one of the tour-de-force so­prano roles in French opera, which Pérez re­cently sang in Dal­las]. It’s like a bat­tle cry in terms of fem­i­nin­ity. It feels big, heroic, a cry of des­per­a­tion.

“As a Latina, I’m sen­si­tive to cul­tural dif­fer­ences and family ri­val­ries [like those of the Mon­tagues and Ca­pulets]. The more vi­o­lence, the more we sep­a­rate from each other — is it re­ally worth it? Juli­ette makes huge de­ci­sions im­pul­sively, against her family. I un­der­stand what it’s like to feel like an out­sider.

“In cer­tain places, Gounod wrote the in­struc­tions fil de voce on the score. That means ‘thread of sound.’ What I love about singing is the op­por­tu­nity to create col­ors with emo­tion be­hind them, to create a thread of sound. It’s like the mo­ment when Juli­ette wakes up in the tomb and sings, ‘Where am I?’ Her in­no­cence is about to be lost for­ever. I don’t think she ever could have imag­ined that things would end like this.

“The way you take out a dag­ger can be cheesy. I’ve been in a pro­duc­tion where the au­di­ence laughed be­cause the su­per­ti­tles were ahead of the ac­tion. You want to have nu­ance, even while the mu­sic is dra­matic, pulling you on­ward, to the end. Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing.

“I haven’t sung this role in five years. I feel lucky to have been given another go at it. It’s a dream, a chal­lenge and very scary, all at once.”


Roméo is one of tenor Stephen Costello’s sig­na­ture roles. He has ap­peared in six pro­duc­tions of Gounod’s opera, in Moscow, Salzburg, Bal­ti­more, Philadel­phia, Austin, and San Diego. “The part fits my voice well,” he said. “You have to like singing it. And it’s a good char­ac­ter. He starts as a young boy and grows up fast. It gives me a good chance to show dif­fer­ent sides of my­self. There are huge emo­tions.

“You have to be­lieve that for Roméo, this is real love. He is com­pletely in love with her. In the be­gin­ning, their fam­i­lies are to­gether, at a ball. He starts out feel­ing play­ful. It’s young ro­mance, like a first date. When fight­ing be­gins, the anger and rage he feels is new for him. So is the re­morse at killing Ty­balt. The mu­sic shows the pain he is go­ing through.

“The longer I do this role, the more I find sym­bols in the mu­sic, in the un­der­scor­ing. It helps me un­der­stand all the char­ac­ters, gives you hints about where you should be, emo­tion­ally, in the story. Also, I of­ten pick up some­thing new when I work with new peo­ple. They change the way you think of things.

“I’ve never worked with Harry [Bicket, SFO’s chief con­duc­tor, who will be hold­ing the ba­ton for Roméo

et Juli­ette] be­fore. He lets you bring your ideas in. A great col­lab­o­ra­tor will ask ques­tions and let you explore. The con­cept of this pro­duc­tion is a first for me — set in the Civil War pe­riod. I’m go­ing to kind of miss wear­ing tights. You get more peo­ple Twit­ter­ing about you.

“This is my first time singing in Santa Fe. The dry­ness and tem­per­a­ture changes af­fect the voice. Singing out­side can be dif­fi­cult. Also, there’s no cur­tain, so if you want to get a drink of wa­ter be­tween acts, you have to walk all the way off­stage.

“Learn­ing how to die takes some time. I try to be re­al­is­tic, and not over­dra­matic. Still, some­times au­di­ences laugh. And not only in that scene. In the bed­room scene, the lyrics are repet­i­tive. He says he hears birds so he has to leave. She says no. Then later, she says she hears birds so he has to leave. They say it about four times. It’s the direc­tor’s job to help pull that one off.”

Stephen Costello and Ai­lyn Pérez, © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016

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