Richardson — The Dallas Opera is expanding both its offerings and geographical reach in a most welcome manner. Their move into art song recitals fills a gaping hole in the musical life of the Metroplex and Richardson’s beautiful Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts is a logical northern destination. Both of these goals were addressed on Sunday with a concert of songs and love duets presented by opera’s favorite young and relatively newly wedded couple, soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello.
For the most part, the concert was a success. Musically, it was terrific. The problem was the inadequacy of what served for a printed program. It listed the musical selections and gave some extensive biographies, but not a word about the music we were going to hear, let alone translations to follow. In opera or song, sung in a foreign language, we need to know what is going on. Even if the music is in English, a singer’s diction is often difficult to follow.
For example: Pérez is famous for her portrayal of Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata and her performance in the first act duet, which opened the recital, was filled with detail and nuance. Those of us who are word-for-word familiar with the score were captivated by her every expression. Others, while still enjoying the music, missed the whole thing. Songs are little mini-operas and we need to know what is being sung in these as well. To make matters worse, the dark theater made what we had for a program impossible to see.
Things were lightly better for the second half. The singers made an effort to tell us what they were singing about and the lights were brighter.
Costello is well known in the area—discovered here, actually—so his fans packed the audience. He played Greenhorn in the Dallas Opera world premiere of Moby-Dick, a landmark in the history of opera in Dallas.
Costello has been suffering from a sinus inflection. In fact, when the pair presented this same recital in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11, Costello sang a few notes of the opening La traviata duet and stopped mid-high note with vocal distress. Pérez took over and sang the entire recital by herself.
Costello obviously felt better enough to sing on Sunday, but did make an announcement before hand. He sounded fine with only a touch of raspiness in every tenor’s danger zone—those notes between the middle and high voice. But the only people who might have noticed would be other singers or those who were very familiar with his voice; his coach, perhaps. For everyone else, his sturdy and clear tenor voice demonstrated once again why he is booked solid for years to come.
Pérez was a revelation. All the buzz about her is deserved. She has a gorgeous voice with a lot of flexibility and flawless technical abilities. Few, if any, singer’s repertoire lists both the lighter voiced Susanna and the heavier, more lyric/spinto, role of the Countess in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. The daughter of first-generation Mexican immigrants attended two of the best opera programs in the country (Indiana University and the Philadelphia Academy of Vocal Arts) and won the 2012 Richard Tucker Award.
With only slight changes in program to accommodate Castello’s condition, the pair presented an interesting and well-sung program of songs and duets. They have recently released a CD of similar repertoire and this tour was planned to promote it. The CD is excellent, but the recital lets you see the naturalness and charm of the couple. Pérez, spectacularly dressed worthy of a trip down the red carpet, softened the glamour look when she kicked off her high heels. Costello wore a rumpled tux with a black t-shirt underneath. You had to love it.
There is not a trace of the diva or even any indication that the pair is nearing the top level of the opera world. They might just as well have been the nice young couple down the street singing for you in their living room.
The pianist, Danielle Orlando, was amazing. It was too bad that she didn’t have a fine piano, but she quickly accommodated to the shortcomings of the instrument. She was a stylistic chameleon, changing her technique and approach to the music as she moved through the wide variety n the program, from orchestral opera to subtle art songs—and composers a different as Verdi, Manuel de Falla and Jake Heggie, composer of Moby-Dick.
By the time it was over, all was forgiven about the program. The love duet program, as you could tell from the warm and enthusiastic ovation, ended up being a love duet between the singers and the audience. Let’s hope they return soon, singly or (better) together, in main stage roles at the Winspear.
P.S.: Another recital would be nice as well.