On June 9, Stephen Costello makes his Glyndebourne Festival debut, performing the role of the peasant Nemorino in Donizetti's popular bel canto comedy L'elisir d'amore (16 performances through August 4). The production, directed by Annabel Arden, features soprano Danielle De Niese as Adina, the object of the besotted Nemorino's affections. Costello has sung the role in three previous productions, and undertakes it again this fall when he returns to the Vienna State Opera (Nov 8-18) for a second consecutive season. Costello will begin the new season in New York City, however, when he reprises the role of Lord Percy in Donizetti's Anna Bolena, opening the Metropolitan Opera's 2011-12 season on September 26 in a new production featuring Anna Netrebko in the title role.
"Nemorino is the first role I ever sang, and it's incredibly enjoyable to do," says Costello. "It gives you the chance to show off your comic acting, but also serious moments to open up your soul and let it pour out to the audience."
Costello's performance as Nemorino at Michigan Opera Theatre in March 2009 drew high praise. Opera News noted:
"When tenor Stephen Costello sang the opening notes of 'Quanto e bella'...at the Detroit Opera House, my ears told me I was in for some fine singing. As he continued through the aria, it became clear that I was in the presence of a first-class talent. By the time the opera finished, several hours later - its Act II highlight an 'Una furtiva lagrima' whose eloquence continues to resonate - there was no doubt that Costello was an intelligent, well-trained singer whose enormous talent and natural musical instincts mark him for potential greatness... . Costello is clearly destined for a major career."
Reviewing the same production, the Detroit News singled out Costello's "endearing, effortlessly comedic appearance," observing, "It's hard to know which to admire more, Costello's smart, heart-tugging comic turn, something between Charlie Chaplin and a young Steve Martin, or his superb singing - and not just in Nemorino's hugely famous lament 'Una furtiva lagrima.'"
In the brief Q & A below, Costello discusses his Glyndebourne debut and looks ahead to the new season.
A conversation with Stephen Costello
Q: How does it feel to be making your debut at such a prominent opera festival as Glyndebourne?
SC: It's very exciting, and while the performances will bring considerable pressure, the rehearsal period has been very relaxed. You feel like you're at summer camp! You rehearse, you meet with everyone in the courtyard, and then you go back to rehearsal. Later on, the bus takes you all back to the city and you go to a pub. When you walk outside there's an entire field full of sheep. I keep wondering if they've been sacrificing any of them for some of our meals!
Q: Nemorino is a role that you have sung a few times before.
SC: That's right - I've done this role three times. I sang it for the first time in school - it was, in fact, the first role I ever sang. I sang it for the first time on the opera stage in Bordeaux, France, and then with my wife [soprano Ailyn Pérez] in Detroit at Michigan Opera. It's one of the roles I am most familiar with.
Q: You get to sing one of the most famous tenor arias ever written.
SC: Yes, 'Una furtiva lagrima' is certainly a great aria, but all of the music is fantastic. You get to show off your comedic acting, which is really fun to do with colleagues. But there are also serious moments that allow you to open up your soul and pour it out to the audience. It's a real versatile acting role: the story isn't complex, but it gives you a lot of chances to use your acting and vocal tools. With 16 performances you are really going to get it under your belt, which allows you the opportunity to try new things.
Q: One reviewer of your Nemorino performance at Michigan Opera said your performance was reminiscent, in part, of the young Steve Martin. Do any of the popular Hollywood comedians inspire the way you approach comic roles?
SC: I try not to read reviews. I just like to joke around and be a smartass. The best part of doing this role is that you can be a smartass on stage and people think it's part of the opera! I like film and you learn from everybody that you watch. I have my own way of doing things, but you obviously absorb many influences along the way. Nemorino reminds me a bit of James Stewart, an actor I've always had the greatest respect for. This character is very simple, but also very honest and open. James Stewart could go from a funny person to a crazed man in the drop of a hat.
Q: You'll be doing this same role in November when you return to the Vienna State Opera.
SC: The first time I went to Vienna, which happened last season when I did La bohème there, I was nervous as hell! The Met is huge and it's the biggest thing you've ever seen, but even though the theater in Vienna is more intimate, you still feel overwhelmed by the sense of history that's there. When I went to my dressing room and saw all those great people in the costume book - legends like Plácido Domingo and José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti and so on - it's very intimidating. You perform in the same productions that the old famous singers have done, so you're really walking in their shadow.
Q: You'll be opening your new season at the Metropolitan Opera as Percy, a role you've done before, in Donizetti's Anna Bolena. In fact, it's the opening night of the Met's new season, which is certainly a special occasion. Anna Netrebko is in the title role: have you worked with her before?
SC: In fact, I did Romeo and Juliet with her in Salzburg last summer. And we'll be doing La traviata together at Covent Garden in the upcoming season. I think she's great! What an incredible artist and singer. She lets you be you. She doesn't try to steal the spotlight and always wants to help you and the cast. She's the warmest colleague I think I've ever worked with on stage. I've admired her in Romeo and Juliet. You think she's singing all out, but then she opens up and there's even more. Just incredible! She won't sacrifice singing for acting or vice versa: really incredible - so controlled and well-presented. When you work with her, you begin to understand why she is the big star that she is.
Q: You recently sang Romeo and Juliet with your wife. Is it confusing to go from doing a romantic role with Anna Netrebko to doing that same role with your wife?
SC: Ailyn has already been very kind and generous. Wives are jealous when their husbands get kissed, and vice versa, but I think it makes for a steamier night after the show!
Stephen Costello: upcoming 2011 engagements
East Sussex, England
Glyndebourne Festival (debut)
Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore (Nemorino)
Additional performances: June 12, 17, 24, & 30; July 3, 8, 10, 14, 16, 19, 22, 24, 28, & 31; & Aug 4
New York, NY
Donizetti: Anna Bolena (Lord Percy)
Additional performances: Sept 30; Oct 3, 6, 10, 15, 18, 21, 24, & 28; & Feb 1 & 4
Vienna State Opera
Donizetti: L'elisir d'amore (Nemorino)
Additional performances: Nov 11, 15, & 18