Grand night…..

Bravo Mr. Costello.


Posted on Sat, Oct. 27, 2007

Phila. tenor enjoying success at the Met

By David Patrick Stearns
Inquirer Music Critic

NEW YORK – Metropolitan Opera debuts are hardly created equal.
Last month, 26-year-old Philadelphia tenor Stephen Costello was onstage and favorably noticed at the season’s opening night performance of Lucia di Lammermoor. On Thursday, he enjoyed a one-shot promotion from the secondary role of Arturo to the leading role of Edgardo – a much bigger deal, facilitated by none other than music director James Levine, who was impressed by Costello at a dress rehearsal.

It was a success. He couldn’t have hoped for better. But you can’t call it a star-is-born moment. Costello was already scheduled for a debut at the ultra-glam Salzburg Festival in Otello (singing Cassio) under Riccardo Muti in the summer. So stardom is well underway – with the best-and-worst-of-times moments that come with it.

While Met photographer Ken Howard hunched over his laptop at intermission marveling at how the wig and makeup department transformed this nice-looking Philadelphia kid into a movie-star presence, Costello was discussing disaster scenarios with the stage manager: “If I pass out, come and get me, wake me up and I’ll go back on.

“You get so nervous,” he explained Friday morning, “that you forget to breathe.”

He breathed, and what resulted was a sense of mutual discovery: A wider audience heard how his boyish lyric tenor voice handily fills the 3,800-seat opera house. And Costello could be heard exploring ways to use the huge auditorium. The sense of calculation that was heard in his singing in the first two acts was gone by his final scene, when he sang with an abandon that was probably responsible for his receiving the most applause at curtain calls – even more than the creamy-voiced French soprano Annick Massis, who sang Lucia’s famous mad scene with virtually no audible labor and chilling theatrical reality.

Backstage, Costello faced a 90-person greeting line. More than half of them were from the Academy of Vocal Arts, which is responsible for molding his raw natural talent into an international-caliber one over the last four years. Some were from Opera Company of Philadelphia, which has hired Costello for Cyrano later this season. And the rest? Fans!

“It’s getting unreal,” said Costello, whose music career began as a trumpeter at George Washington High School. “When I first came, [superstar tenor] Roberto Alagna showed up in my dressing room and said, ‘What you do onstage is great.’ This is a tenor I used to listen to for study purposes. That’s surreal!”

Real life soon returned. The cheeseburger and onion rings he had after the show didn’t sit too well. Packing up the Upper West Side apartment he’s rented for the last two months kept him up until 4:30 a.m. Next morning, his dog Tequila – adopted during a visit to Mexico with his also-rising-star fiancee, soprano Ailyn Perez – had to be walked.

Yet he leaves New York with a strong supporter in Levine. Any intimidation disappeared when the conductor dispelled the tenor’s worries about being heard: “I was intimidated at first,” said Costello. But “he has a way to get singers to free up their voices. He said that what you hear onstage and what you hear in the pit might mislead you: ‘Just ignore that and sing the way you sing and I’ll promise you it’ll come across.’ He can sense when you’re having a good day or a bad day. He’ll adapt. If you need more time, he’ll give it to you.”

Costello also learned that life inside the Met is hugely different from how it’s portrayed on the outside. Few worlds are more gossip-prone than opera. Rumors of acrimony between stage director Mary Zimmerman and star soprano Natalie Dessay, he says, were exaggerated. Costello was said to have lunched with the glamorous Anna Netrebko. He got a call from his fiancee asking him to explain that one. “I had lunch next to Anna Netrebko,” he says, “at the Met commissary!”

Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at


~ by aprilemillo on October 26, 2007.

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