Just call it San Diego Opera 2.0. The 50 year-old company, on the brink of closure last Spring, sought new leadership and a new vision after public demonstrations of support to keep the company afloat. In an impressive matter of weeks, the company announced a revamped 50th anniversary season that would cut costs, but also add new concerts. This season-opening recital from soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello is one of those events. San Diego Opera, a company long-admired for nurturing young careers has often been able to turn such support into prudent long-term artistic relationships and, as was clearly evident Friday night, has found powerful champions in the persons of Pérez and Costello.

Ailyn Perez with Stephen Costello © MolinaVisuals
Ailyn Perez with Stephen Costello
© MolinaVisuals
Husband and wife, Pérez and Costello are disarmingly at ease in recital. But there is nothing casual about their talents or musicality. The dashingly handsome duo posses powerhouse voices that compliment each other to an uncanny degree; his steely and heroic, hers sparkling and coy, both lyrically persuasive. 

From the first notes of the La traviata duet, "Un di', felice" it was clear that these are thrilling operatic voices, capable of shattering high notes and spine-tingling messa di voce. But whether Verdi or Mascagni (a sensual duet from L'amico Fritz), the dramatic intelligence in their duets was engaging. Most successful was an adroit, playful excerpt from L'elisir d'amore ("Caro elisir!"). Costello did a Charlie Chaplin-esque introduction with his prop and both he and Pérez were completely involved onstage, and with each other, whether sauntering buoyantly or feigning jealous outrage. They were in complete command. 

Yet this was only the tip of the iceberg, musically. In their solo sets, each singer impressed with their interpretive and vocal range. Pérez delivered an evocative set of songs from Reynaldo Hahn, sung with exquisite control. Costello delivered a tour de force from Jake Heggie, his Friendly Persuasions: Songs in Homage to Poulenc. Heggie's songs are clever and poignant. Costello's endurance was impressive and his intimate relation of the text, illustrative.  

Pérez also delivered a spirited performance of Manuel de Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas and Costello followed with some Tosti songs worthy of swoons.  But wait — there's more! Pérez and Costello dazzled in solo French arias, hers from Massenet's Manon, and his from Gounod's Faust, featuring a confident high C in "Salut! demure chaste et pure".

It was a lot of music, a generous program. Pianist Danielle Orlando was a proficient collaborator, always in perfect balance and at ease in all styles. The scheduled program concluded with "One Hand, One Heart" from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, but the performance wasn't over. In the words of Stephen Costello from the stage, "we are here to celebrate a rebirth" and it was a celebration that no one wanted to end. Each singer offered an encore, Costello's appropriate "Without a Song" was rapturous, Pérez with a gorgeous Obradors song, and the final duet of the evening, "If I Loved You," from Richard Rodgers' Carousel was ardent.

The zealous audience had good reason to be jubilant and never missed an opportunity to show their enthusiasm. They cheerfully allowed Costello an encore of a Tosti song and often couldn't wait for the hushed cadence of a piece. In the intimate and beautifully restored Balboa Theatre there was an atmosphere of triumph. Staff, audience, and performers alike were all in this together and, according to new Board president Carol Lazier, "San Diego Opera is going to be around for a really long time." With talents like Pérez and Costello, San Diego Opera 2.0 may have found the magic elixir to not only survive in the future, but thrive.