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Opera couples debate dual role as lover and colleague

Singers who are linked offstage see pros and cons of working together onstage. Some say it heightens the operatic drama. Others say home life gets more complicated.

April 29, 2012|By David Mermelstein, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Yet working together isn't always a paradise. "The cons are dealing with stuff in the workplace that you try not to bring home," said Costello, who calculates that he and Pérez work together about 40% of the time. "If you're both having unpleasantness in the same production, then you go home that way. Whereas if you're each doing something different, there's less chance of that. There's double stress when you're working together."

These pros and cons are a balancing act for partners soprano Patricia Racette, who sang the lead in Britten's "Turn of the Screw" at L.A. Opera last season, and mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, who have been together since the late 1990s. Though they met while performing Verdi's "La Traviata" in Santa Fe, N.M., they have subsequently worked together infrequently.

"It's a casualty of our repertoires," Racette said by phone from Seattle, where she just finished starring in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." "There aren't that many roles that are right for us together. It would be very interesting to do Strauss' 'Rosenkavalier' with Beth, but I don't think that's repertoire for me. And Puccini was not very kind to the mezzos."

Racette maintains that gaining employment in the same productions isn't really the issue. "Our challenge is not so much to work together but to be together," she said. "We call it 'wife-ing.' It's not easy to pick up and pack and take care of the dog and get your house set up all by yourself while you're meeting new people and learning a new production. So it's great to have help — and we both like to cook."

As for what the presence of an offstage couple on stage does for audiences, Pérez makes a compelling case, citing a performance of "Traviata" at Covent Garden in January. She had just finished her debut run in the house, as Violetta. Costello was concluding his separate run as Alfredo in the same opera — opposite Netrebko. But she fell ill, and Pérez was asked to fill in.

"I'm sitting there on stage," Pérez recalled, "getting ready for the prelude, and it was announced I was substituting for Anna, but then they added that Stephen and I were married. And the roar of the crowd was incredible. So I know this information gets a reaction. I think it elevated the whole night. I had done eight performances in the house already, but I'll never forget that night."

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