Why the Jay-Z and Beyonce of Opera Love Philly
Hometown superstar tenor Stephen Costello and his remarkable soprano wife, Ailyn Perez, have international opera careers that span the globe. They are both the recipients of the Richard Tucker Award, given to American opera singers who show great potential for a renowned career. They’ll be returning to Philly to perform at Opera Philadelphia‘s 40th Anniversary Gala on September 12th.
But, according to Costello, if he was a youth in Philadelphia’s public schools today, he doesn’t think he would have “made it.”
“I wasn’t a great student,” he tells me. “I would have gotten so lost without the arts. There’s a lot of people like me who would have lost their direction. The Philly school system isn’t giving them a chance.”
“Had we not had music in school, we’d be different people,” she says. “Lorenzo Da Ponte, the librettist who wrote most of Mozart’s operas, lived in Philadelphia. The city has a huge history of writers, composers and philosophers. We’ve got to keep this thriving.”
Although Perez didn’t grow up in Philly, she, too, has a deep connection to the city; she met Costello while studying at the Academy of Vocal Arts.
“If you can survive AVA, you can survive anything,” Costello says. His wife quickly adds, “Seriously! It is countless hours of training, reading [music], and learning how to read.”
Clearly, the dedication to music and singing have paid off; both singers have performed the world over, and were even dubbed the “Jay-Z and Beyoncé of opera” by UK’s The Times and, later, Vanity Fair. When I asked them about this title, which has stuck, they were quick to make light of it.
“I see Stephen as a mogul,” jokes Perez.
“Seriously, [Jay-Z and Beyoncé] have so much more money than us, but the secret is I’m a better dancer than Beyoncé,” says Costello.
If we want to test that theory, we’ll have to wait until the pair performs at the Opera Philadelphia gala where the couple is preparing a host of “fun stuff,” to use Costello’s words, a mix of classics, musical theater, and party music. It’s also a chance for the pair to come back to a city they love.
“I can’t wait to move back,” says Costello. “When we’re here, we’ve got to do at least two Stephen Starr restaurants and a cheesesteak.”
“And there’s Joey [Berardi] who does our hair!” adds Perez. She’s referring to the Richard Nicholas Hair Studio on Sansom Street. “If I go to someone else, he knows; he’ll look at me and say, ‘I didn’t do this.'”
In fact, both singers love Joey so much that he did their hair for their cover of Love Duets, their newest album, that features songs from productions ranging from La Bohème to West Side Story.
When asked about their success story, they both boil it down to the same thing: people.
“It’s all about the people in your life who have been there to coach you along the way,” says Perez. “You know, your temper might want you to be a dramatic soprano, but you need someone to say, ‘Don’t jump the wall.’ You don’t know how much time you’re going to have in this career.”
“Great people have come our way,” says Costello. “We’re constantly thinking about work. The art form is changing and shifting. Like anyone who is successful, 99 to 100 percent of the time, you’re always thinking.”
I had to ask: For a pair who is always thinking about work, but who seem so down-to-Earth and practical, what do they do with their free time?
“There really isn’t a lot of downtime,” answers Perez. “When there is, I’m seeing my family or catching up where Stephen is. I just learned tennis, but don’t get me wrong: I don’t even own a racquet!”
“For me, I read TMZ,” says Costello. “I read it so much, I feel like I know these celebrities; we’re friends. My biggest guilty pleasure? I eat pizza and don’t go to the gym.”
Will they be partaking in any guilty pleasures while in Philly? During a break in the gala, Costello is going to get a burger at Butcher and Singer (“It’s the best burger in Philadelphia,” he says). It goes to show how much this pair knows Philly … loves it.
“It is absolutely the best city in the world,” says Costello.
To find out more about the Opera Philadelphia gala, visit their website.