Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Youth Vote

April 24, 2011

Stephen Costello And Ailyn Pérez Photo: Cory Weaver/SDO 2011

Perhaps one of the smartest moves San Diego Opera has made in recent seasons is providing opportunities for the most promising of young singers to perform starring roles. In particular, I’m thinking of the appearances of tenor Stephen Costello and his wife, soprano Ailyn Pérez who returned to San Diego last night in the lead roles of Gounod’s Faust after a huge success there last year in Roméo et Juliette. And while they may not be the next Alagna and Gheorghiu (if that would be considered a good thing), they are both capable and rather exciting performers, and this Faust is a success in large part due to their vocal contributions. The fact that they can both act and actually look the parts is a decided bonus in the equation as well. Costello, who was making his role debut as Faust, has easy, solid top notes and sings with real athleticism and not an ounce of strain. And while it's not always the warmest voice, he can sell “Salut! demeure chaste et pure” to the point it almost overshadows Marguerite’s big arias in the same Act. You can bet he’ll be fascinating to watch opposite Anna Netrebko in the fall when he sings Lord Percy opposite her Anna Bolena when the Metropolitan Opera season opens. (Of course folks in Dallas already got a taste of this last year, so you’ve been warned.) Pérez’ dark-hued tone is equally lovely if a little less certain at the top of her range. She makes hay in a part that traffics heavily in tarnished innocence. She’ll be repeating this part this summer in Santa Fe as well, and husband or no, she’s a face to watch.

Brian Mulligan Photo: Cory Weaver/SDO 2011

There’s another young voice in the cast worth remembering and that is Brian Mulligan who sang Valentin, Marguerite’s principled brother. His two appearances on stage were superb and he gave arguably the all around most integrated and successful performance of the evening. Valentin’s rage and heartbreak were palpable and he stole all the scenes he was in with a role he'll repeat at The Metropolitan Opera in December. (He’s also singing title roles in two John Adams’ operas in the near future: The Death of Klinghoffer at Opera Theater Saint Louis this summer and Nixon in China in San Francisco the next.) The Méphistophélès was American Greer Grimsley who played up the more affable qualities of his part and meshed well with the ensemble. Siébel was sung by a bright and clear Sarah Castle. In the pit, Karen Keltner led an enthusiastic San Diego Symphony Orchestra that never lagged in an opera that can be bogged down without close attention.

The production itself was a revival of a familiar design from Robert Perdziola that has been seen on several American stages in recent years. It was last in San Francisco in 2010 with Patricia Racette, Stefano Secco and John Relyea and in the year before that in Chicago with Ana Maria Martinez, Piotr Beczala, and Rene Pape. This time around it was directed by David Gately who gave perhaps the most clarity I’ve seen yet with this particular show. He smartly added an extra dancer to Méphistophélès’ Act II aria to relieve Grimsley of having to mess with a violin that has tripped up everyone else I’ve seen in the part. Gately was also helped by clearer lighting that focused less on creepy atmospherics and more on ensuring the audience could make out the action on stage. It’s a trade off to be sure, and while I understood more of the action in these scenes than in the past, the show is a little less menacing at times. Still for the overall musical quality of the show and a chance to see three artists in the early stages of what will likely be exciting careers, this is a Faust worth seeing. There are three more performances through May 1.


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