20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Tenor Stephen Costello

Classic Arts Features   20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Tenor Stephen Costello
On Sept. 26, just days before his 30th birthday, Philadelphia-born Stephen Costello sang the tenor lead in the season-opening performance of Donizetti's Anna Bolena at the Metropolitan Opera. He is the latest contributor to our irreverent Q & A series.


It’s the first time the company has ever staged the work, and it features Anna Netrebko in the title role. It’s also the second time Costello has sung an opening night at the Met, a feat that he first achieved in 2007 when, at 26, he made his debut there and was quickly invited back to perform again later that season.

Since that time, Costello has gone from strength to strength, winning the prestigious Richard Tucker Award in 2009, and performing in many high-profile productions, including Verdi’s Otello with Riccardo Muti at the Salzburg Festival (available on DVD) and creating the role of Greenhorn (Ishmael) in the Dallas Opera’s acclaimed world-premiere production of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby Dick. Among the highlights for his current season are his company role debut as Alfredo in Verdi’s La traviata at London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and Rodolfo – with his wife, soprano Ailyn Pérez, as Mimì – in the Los Angeles Opera's production of Puccini’s La bohème.

Described by Opera News as “A first-class talent,” and by the Associated Press as, “A prodigiously gifted singer whose voice makes an immediate impact,” Costello also has a passion for movies, a love affair with his native city, and a fear of bees. His responses to our 20 Questions below include, for the first time in our series, some video commentaries as well.

1. A few works of classical music that you adore:

I really love Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, the “New World” Symphony. I remember hearing it for the first time in high school as a trumpet player, when I heard the Philadelphia Orchestra perform it. It was amazing. I remember how I felt when the fourth movement came: just listening to the first few measures with the strings getting more furious leading to that huge brass down beat made me so excited – I was blown away. I listened to the Karajan recording with the Berlin Philharmonic over and over again. I also love Verdi’s Otello – it is just incredible!

2. Classical music recordings that you treasure:

Jussi Björling and Bidu Sayão singing Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, a live recording from the Metropolitan Opera. It’s my favorite opera to sing and that was the first recording I listened to after learning the score. Fritz Wunderlich’s recording of Schumann’s Dichterliebe is also a favorite.

3. Favorite non-classical musicians and/or recordings:

Miles Davis’s Kinda Blue is an essential jazz recording. I have to say that I do enjoying listening to Eminem, Dave Matthews Band and Counting Crows. Also anything by Ella Fitgerald Louis Armstrong, or Frank Sinatra. I am also a big fan of Broadway musicals.

4. Music that makes you cry – any genre:

Singing Romeo and Juliet with my wife. [Details available at Costello’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79rK3h4mnUw]

5. Definitely underrated work(s) or composer (s):

I’ll have to get back to you on this one.

6. Possibly overrated work(s) or composer (s):

Pachelbel’s Canon drives me crazy. The first time you hear it you think, “This is beautiful.” Then, after the 100th time, you start to go mental.

7. Live music performance (s) you attended – any genre – that you’ll never forget:

Guillaume Tell (William Tell) at Carnegie Hall with Marcello Giordani [Details available at Costello’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfIcnVO-iMY]

8. A few relatively recent films you love:

The Social Network. I have become a big fan of Jesse Eisenberg.

9. A few films you consider classics:

I love anything with Jimmy Stewart: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is one of my favorite movies; Destry Rides Again is a great film; also Harvey. My wife and I watched Harvey over and over the Christmas we were stuck in Valencia. Of course I have to mention my mob fascination. I love the Godfather I and II, Goodfellas, Scarface. However I cannot leave out Tom Hanks, whom I believe is the Jimmy Stewart of our day: Forrest Gump, Philadelphia and Big are all classics. So basically if it has either Jimmy Stewart or Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro, or Tom Hanks, I have either seen it or will see it in the future.

10. A book (or two) that is important to you (and why):

Melville’s Moby Dick. I had to read it in preparation for Jake Heggie and Gene Sheer’s opera Moby Dick. It was the world premiere so I had to do a character study on Ismael, the character I was playing. I will never forget how long it took me to finish it, but the payoff was amazing. Working on that show was one of the great experiences of my life. I had a chance to make great music with a great composer, librettist and artists. I also made the most incredible friends.

11. Thing(s) about yourself that you’re most proud of:

How much I’ve grown up since starting my career. [Details available at Costello’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9FK1IERn6M]

12. Thing(s) about yourself that you’re embarrassed by:

I have these indentations on both of my ears. My cousin Brian used to make fun of me all the time about them. I was born with them. When people ask me I tell them I was bitten by a dog, and then they stop asking.

13. Three things you can’t live without:

Pizza, Music, Sex. I don’t think there is any explanation needed. Yeah, probably said too much already.

14. “When I want to get away from it all I…”

Go to the movies. There is something about going to the movie theater to watch a film that clears my mind. Sometimes I will even go to the theater and see five films in one day.

15. “People are surprised to find out that I…”

Am very afraid of bees. [Details available at Costello’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZBArA_zXq4]

16. “My favorite cities are…”

First on the list is Philadelphia. It is the greatest city in the world. It is where I went to school, where my close friends live, where I met my wife, where we got married, and where my family lives. Not to mention the home of the cheesesteak. The next city would have to be a tie between San Francisco and Chicago.

17. “I have a secret crush on…”

Well, if I told you it wouldn’t be a secret.

18. “My most obvious guilty pleasure is…”

Annoying my nephew Sean. There is something about getting him angry that is funny. I mean don’t get me wrong, he gives it right back, but it makes me laugh. If anyone is around when we are together it is obvious.

19. “I’d really love to meet – or to have met…”

I would love to meet Tom Hanks. He is such a great actor and seems like a really nice guy. I will be in Los Angeles this season [May 2012 at Los Angeles Opera], so if you’re reading this, Tom Hanks, let’s hang out.

20. “I never understood why…”

Men take steroids. I mean ok, it makes you big and buff, but it shrinks your penis. I mean ok, the muscles attract the women, but at the end of the night, aren’t they embarrassed? But seriously, I do not understand why people don’t know how to turn off their phone at the theater. I can understand when cell phones first came on the scene and they were new and no one knew how they worked. Well that was fifteen years ago. I think there should be a device under people’s chairs so that if the phone goes off in the middle of the show they get zapped. I think people will eventually remember to turn them off.


21. Question you wish someone would ask you (and the answer to that question):

Q: Is it hotter kissing Anna Netrebko or your wife, Ailyn Perez?

A: My wife, of course, but why choose?


Past installments of 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS:

Pianist Alexandre Tharaud

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann

Soprano Christine Brewer

Soprano Kate Royal

Baritone Paulo Szot

Baritone Nathan Gunn

Bass-Baritone John Relyea

Pianist Yuja Wang

Pianist Kirill Gerstein

Organist Cameron Carpenter

Choreographer Peter Martins

Soprano Diana Damrau

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein

Pianist David Fray

Violinist Sarah Chang

Pianist Ingrid Fliter

Mezzo-Soprano Joyce DiDonato

Pianist Yefim “Fima” Bronfman

Soprano Sandrine Piau

Soprano Natalie Dessay

Harpsichordist and Conductor Christophe Rousset

Guitarist Xuefei Yang

Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti

Soprano Nicole Cabell

Pianist Jonathan Biss

Tenor Ian Bostridge

Soprano Danielle de Niese

New-Music Sextet eighth blackbird

Composer and Violinist Mark O'Connor

Composer Jake Heggie

Composer Ricky Ian Gordon

Pianist David Greilsammer


Albert Imperato, a music promoter who co-founded 21C Media Group in January 2000, writes frequently about the arts for various publications and blogs. 

His new series, 20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS, is his take on (and nod to) Vanity Fair's "Proust Questionnaire." Email him at aimperato@21cmediagroup.com.

Today’s Most Popular News: