Classical Couples: Sweethearts Sharing The Stage
Soprano Ailyn Perez and tenor Stephen Costello met in music school. Now married, the couple sings together around the world — as in Gounod's Romeo and Juliet at Opera Philadelphia in 2001.
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Cupid's arrow has often inspired love between classical musicians. There's J.S. Bach and his second wife, Anna Magdalena, the soprano for whom he created the Anna Magdalena Notebook. There's Rossini, who wrote operas for his wife, powerful Spanish diva Isabella Colbran. Pianists and composers Robert and Clara Schumann made concert tours together. Gustav Mahler published his wife Alma's songs. And Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline DuPré's partnership in the 1960s can be heard in numerous recordings, including Elgar's Cello Concerto.
Happily, the arrows are still flying and the roster of musical matchups keeps growing. For this Valentine's Day, we offer a few contemporary couples making beautiful music.
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Ailyn Pérez And Stephen Costello: Passion And Puccini
Opera is fertile ground for romance both on and off the stage. Soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello got to know each other while singing Puccini as students at Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts. "We did Bohème and I figured, make the move," Costello recalls on YouTube. "And he made the move and that's it," Pérez says. "He took me dancing and he just shook it. It was great." Now the two are called opera's power couple. They married in 2008 and both won the Richard Tucker Award, one of opera's most distinguished prizes. Their first album together is due out this spring. In May they'll appear as Verdi's troubled lovers in La traviata at London's Covent Garden. "I just didn't expect to find my true love onstage," Pérez says. "It was amazing that the man I fell in love is the man that I get to sing with professionally. It's amazing."
Shaham And Anthony: Romance, With Strings Attached
Love in the halls of the Juilliard School. That's where it started for a pair of violin students named Adele Anthony and Gil Shaham. Reportedly, it took Shaham quite a while to pluck (sorry!) up the courage to ask Anthony out. That was back in 1991 when Shaham's star was already rising as a young virtuoso with a couple of acclaimed big label albums under his belt. Anthony would go on to win the Carl Nielsen Violin Competition in 1996 and the following year collaborated with Shaham on a recording of Arvo Pärt's Tabula Rasa. The couple married in 1998. They are raising their three young kids on Manhattan's Upper West Side. In 2009 they released a Sarasate album together for Canary Classics, the label Shaham founded in 2004.
"We don't play together very often, but when we do, we really have similar musical tastes, luckily," Anthony told Violinist.com. "The nature of our relationship is not competitive, so we have a lot of fun. It's nice to play with someone you know so well, and you don't have to work on the more fundamentals."
David Robertson And Orli Shaham: An Aspen Proposition
Gil wasn't the only Shaham to find love on the job. His sister Orli Shaham became engaged in a most romantic way. It's the summer of 2002 and conductor David Robertson (music director of the St. Louis Symphony) is leading an orchestra at the Aspen Music Festival with Orli as piano soloist. At intermission, Robertson hands Shaham an engagement ring and asks her to marry him. Robertson strolls back onto the stage to address the audience: "You know I think Orli is so great, I asked her to marry me. She said 'yes.'" Then Orli joins him for an onstage kiss. The couple married in 2003. "Getting to perform with a soloist is a really a great joy for a conductor, but when the soloist happens to be your wife there's a really special communication that takes place," Robertson told the San Diego Symphony. Yet they don't get to make music together as often as they'd like — a common complaint for musical couples. "So it's always nice to be onstage and get a little alone time," he says, "even if there's an orchestra of a hundred and an audience of 2000."
Patricia Racette And Beth Clayton: Love In The Land Of Enchantment
The year that Ellen DeGeneres came out on The Oprah Winfrey Show, 1997, soprano Patricia Racette found her sweetheart, mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, onstage at the Santa Fe Opera. Clayton played best friend to Racette's leading lady in Verdi's La traviata. "There was a sort of undeniable energy and chemistry we had," Racette told Metro Weekly. The onstage chemistry blossomed and after eight years, the couple held their marriage ceremony in 2005 in Santa Fe, where they built a beautiful home. Like DeGeneres, Racette also came out very publicly — in the pages of Opera News, with her photo on the cover. "What it did for us, personally, was this great sense of validation as a couple," Clayton says in the video the couple made for the "It Gets Better" project. Their paths haven't crossed that much in the opera house, Racette says, but that's OK: "We're a very harmonious, happy couple. We're very lucky."
Finckel And Wu Han: For the Love Of Chamber Music
Robert and Clara Schumann may have been classical music's original power couple, but they have nothing on cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han. The couple met some three decades ago when Finckel (cellist with the Emerson String Quartet for 34 years) taught at the Hartt School in Connecticut and Han was enrolled as a student. "In the very beginning there was this chemistry," Han has said in interviews. "It's mysterious and we don't understand it," Finckel told the San Francisco Classical Voice. "But between musicians it either happens or it doesn't." A lot has since happened for Finckel and Han — who married in 1985 — and most of it centers on chamber music. In 1997 they started Artistled, their own record label. In 2003 they founded the Music@Menlo festival in California and the following year they began their co-artistic directorship of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which they still hold. The couple, named the 2012 Classical Musicians of the Year by Musical America, have also set up a chamber music studio at the Aspen Music Festival and School.
Patricia Racette as Blanche and Beth Clayton as Mother Marie in Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites.