Double talk In conversation with Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello
In conversation with Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello
AILYN PÉREZ ON JULIETTE
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.”
STEPHEN COSTELLO ON ROMÉO
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