Which is the better story, finding Babe Ruth's rookie card at a yard sale for a dime or hearing Stephen Costello sing his first Tonio?
Having a conversation with Stephen Costello isn’t like having a conversation with an opera singer even though his speaking voice is well placed. He speaks more like a dude you’d grab a burger with at Hodad’s.
However, make no mistake, Stephen Costello is an opera singer. Getting to hear him sing his first Tonio in Daughter of the Regiment is kind of like finding Babe Ruth’s rookie baseball card at a yard sell in the dime bin. This is a chance to have one of those “I remember when” stories.
That story might go something like this: “Stephen Costello? Of course, of course, I remember when I heard him sing his first Tonio at San Diego Opera. He was about 30 or 31-years-old and you just knew that he was something special--even back then. Can you imagine that voice singing Ah mes amis? Ya, ya, I know, amazing”.
Here's the story you could tell if you don't go to Daughter of the Regiment: "Stephen Costello? Of course, of course, I had a chance to hear him sing his first Tonio at San Diego Opera but I didn't go--don't give me that look. What? How was I to know? Okay fine. I blew it."
Don't tell that story folks. Daughter of the Regiment opens tomorrow night at the Civic Theater.
San Diego Reader: Tell me about the pinky ring. You never see those.
Stephen Costello: It's funny you should ask about that. This ring was given to me by aunt Anita. She is the aunt of my teacher Bill Schuman and my wife and I have adopted her as our own aunt.
She's kind of a spiritual person and she gave me this ring. She said she has meditated on it and that it's going to bring me good luck and it has. It has brought me a lot of good luck. I never take it off. I even wear it while I'm performing if my costume is a suit or something that works.
Sometimes I'll put it in my pocket while I'm performing. I feel better when I'm wearing it. Maybe it's just a mental thing but it works. It doesn't fit on any other finger except my pinky so I made it a pinky ring.
SDR: So it's not a Joe Pesci thing?
SC: Naw. It's funny. My wife gets upset because she's bought me rings and I really don't like wearing rings. I wear my wedding ring but I always futz with them. When Aunt Anita gave me this I was like, "It's awesome". I have a whole drawer full of rings from my wife and she always asks me why I don't wear them. I mean look at this thing, it could knock someone out. People also ask me if I could use it as a wax seal. It's not really for that but it looks cool.
SDR: Where have you been and where are you going?
SC: Well, I started the season with Moby Dick at San Francisco Opera. I wish I could have sung it here in San Diego last year.
SDR: That is such an amazing piece of theater.
SC: Yes, and Jake Heggie [the composer of Moby Dick] is always so grateful to the singers for performing his music. He is genuinely a nice, nice, nice person. He's one of my favorite people in the entire world. I love Jake. Jake could call and ask me to do anything and I'll jump at it in a minute.
The thing about Moby Dick is that when we first did it [in Dallas] we became a family. We've all kept in touch with each other. We talk with each other regularly. It's kind of great to get to go to work and sing music that I love and work with people I want to hang out with. It's like a family vacation except every once in awhile you have to go to rehearsal.
I got to meet Jay Hunter Morris [Captain Ahab]. Everyone else met him here but it was a pleasure to get to know him in San Francisco.
SDR: He's great and such a humble and genuine person.
SC: You know if there's anyone who is grateful to be in a career it's him. I think every day he wakes up and is happy to be singing the way he is. He seems to be honored to be wherever he is. He taught everybody a lot about how to look at things--how to be grateful for what you're doing and forget about all the other BS.
SDR: Hmm. That's interesting. I guess on any given day we have more to be thankful for than not.
SC: Right, right. That's true. I mean look, I could not be working. There's a lot of people out there that could be great. My teacher always tells me to be be thankful because there's always someone in a church out there that's better than you are that's waiting for their shot. It's true. There are a lot of people out there. There's probably people who could sing rings around Franco Corelli and we'll never know about them.
SDR: I don't know...
SC: We don't know. We just don't know--because they haven't been given their chance. Or they don't want to be singer or don't even know they can sing.
SDR: Yes, there could be tremendous singers out there who have no idea what type of voice they have. I think there's more and more of it.
SC: A big part of it is the emphasis in education is moving away from performing arts. If I didn't have the performing arts community in the public schools I grew up in I wouldn't be doing this today. I would have never--I mean my parents didn't listen to classical music.
I would have never experienced classical music. I wouldn't have know how to get involved in something like opera or even how to go see something like opera. I would have thought it was something for rich people. I don't know what I would be doing today because I wasn't the best in school. I think I took algebra II twice.
I probably would have ended up like the rest of my family in some sort of trade--which isn't a bad thing at all--I mean they're great at what they do but I didn't know if that was something I wanted to do. A lot times people just get thrown into a job because that's what their parents have done and that's what they know and what else do they have?
There was a time when I thought about not going to undergrad. My parents had to take out a loan for both my sister and I to go to college. Well, a loan for just the first year, after that we had to figure it out on our own. I had some scholarship money but I remember going to school my second year and wondering how I was going to pay.
I tried for more scholarship money but the dean said it was only for jazz and not classical music. I went to the college counselor and she said I could take out loans that have a high interest and that's what I ended up having to do.
I was still trying to figure out which way I was going to go. I was still trying to figure out my voice and whether I could make it in a career and here I was taking out loans for tens-of-thousands of dollars in order to find out if there's a chance that I could make it in a career and maybe pay these loans back?
To be continued.
Stephen Costello sing che gelida manina from La Boheme.