Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello: "Love Duets"
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Summers. Texts, no translations. Warner Classics 0825646334858
Everyone loves a good love story, and when art and life converge, resistance is futile. Soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello met in school and, like many enduring couples, were friends before they became romantically involved — and subsequently married. Having conquered international opera stages both separately and together, they join forces here for a sublime collection of some of the most unabashedly romantic duets from opera and musical theater. Their chemistry is palpable and thrilling, especially in the former. Costello's bright, ringing tenor is insistent and irrepressible. His timbre frequently calls to mind the young Domingo, especially in the upper-middle register. Pérez's opulent soprano is more centered and contemplative, with shifting chiaroscuro. She unaffectedly harnesses emotion in every note and phrase in "Toi! Vous!… N'est-ce plus ma main," from Manon, using delicate pianissimos to build to her final desperate exhortations against Costello's vibrantly heroic attempts at resistance. In the charming "Suzel, buon dì!" (the cherry duet) from Mascagni's Amico Fritz, they bandy the flirtatious lines back and forth with a warm affection that informs their sound.
Pérez gains a more youthful affect without sacrificing color in "Signor né principe," from Rigoletto, and Costello's expansiveness carries just the right amount of machismo. The two inhabit Nemorino and Adina so thoroughly in "Esulti pur la Barbara," from L'Elisir d'Amore, that one can practically envision their physical interactions. In "Il se fait tard!" from Faust, Pérez's plea "Je veux t'aimer et te chérir" is heartbreakingly direct, while Costello's response, "Divine pureté!" captures a moment of unguarded wonder from the bedeviled hero. Curiously, the two most famous potboilers, "Un dì felice," from La Traviata, and "O soave fanciulla," from La Bohème, elicit the singers' least distinctive performances and are the most inclined to engender a hard edge in both voices.
The couple's connection sometimes seems less immediate in the musical-theater selections, even though they're singing in their native language. "One Hand, One Heart," from West Side Story, is sweetly attenuated, but Pérez and Costello don't seem to do much with it. Pérez compresses her sound a bit more than necessary in her solo verse of "If I Loved You," from Carousel; Costello is more successful in matching the weight of the music. The M-G-M-worthy sweep of the luscious orchestral sound achieved by Patrick Summers and the BBC Symphony carries the song, and both singers cut loose for an exciting climax. On the other hand, they fare quite well with "I'll Know," from Guys and Dolls. If it's a touch more operatic than conversational, both give attractive, characterful portrayals. Unfortunately, the wholly unnecessary addition of leaden time from the drums is distracting. Not surprisingly, the quasi-operatic "And This Is My Beloved," from Kismet, suits them best. The melody brings out a fruity color in Pérez's voice and a classic tenor croon in Costello's. It's a gorgeous rendering and a lovely way to end the collection, in terms of both sentiment and performance.
JOANNE SYDNEY LESSNER
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