Opera's Next Wave
The phrase "an embarrassment of riches" might have been invented to describe the combination of talents that belong to Ailyn Pérez, the Chicago-born lyric soprano who truly seems to have it all. A lovely voice with a timbre like nobody else's? Check. Musical imagination? Check. A beautiful face with enormous brown eyes that can make any tenor or baritone weak at the knees? Check and double check. Acting ability that can break an audience's collective heart? Get out your Kleenex: this woman can jerk tears like a champ. Add to all these virtues an impressive appetite for hard work, a sharp sense of humor and a rare capacity for kindness, and you have something of the measure of Pérez, a fast-rising artist who was named winner of the 2012 Richard Tucker Award.
A graduate of Indiana University, San Francisco Opera's Merola Opera Program and the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, Pérez comes from a family that she says had little cultural connection to opera: in a video interview posted on her website, Pérez admits that it would have been more likely for her to have made a career in music singing "mariachi or [Spanish] pop." She fell in love with opera because of La Traviata. One of Pérez's favorite lines in the opera belongs not to Violetta — a role she has sung at venues from St. Louis, Miami and San Francisco to London, Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna — but to Alfredo, as he tries to convince Violetta that true love can be hers: "Di quell'amor ch'è palpito dell'universo intero." These days Pérez's favorite Alfredo is her real-life husband, tenor Stephen Costello, who sang in Traviata with her at Covent Garden in January and at Cincinnati Opera in July. Pérez and Costello, who is also a Tucker Award winner, met while both were studying at AVA and were married in 2008. They sing together frequently, but not exclusively, in a number of works, including Faust, Roméo et Juliette and L'Elisir d'Amore. Earlier this season, Costello and Pérez appeared as Rodolfo and Mimì at Los Angeles Opera (May–June), as well as in a June concert of L'Amico Fritz in Moscow.
This month, Pérez visits the Ravinia Festival for Pamina in Die Zauberflöte and the Salzburg Festival for Mimì in La Bohème. The coming season holds Mozart's Countess Almaviva in Hamburg, Mimì at Florida Grand Opera and Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore in Vienna. The list of prima donna roles on Pérez's resumé grows longer every season — in recent years she has added Massenet's Manon, Verdi's Amelia Grimaldi and Léïla in Les Pêcheurs de Perles to her repertoire — but some of her most memorable performances have been in pieces that call on her impressive skills as an ensemble member. In a neatly cast Nozze di Figaro at Boston Lyric Opera in 2007, Pérez's Susanna was the heart of the show — warm, generous and elegantly funny in a production that tended to paint Mozart's characters in fairly broad strokes. The highlight of the evening, not surprisingly, was "Deh vieni, non tardar." Dressed in blue satin and looking like a million dollars in the soft stage moonlight, Pérez poured her heart out in perfectly shaped phrases as her Figaro, Kyle Ketelsen, listened in jealous anguish, hidden behind a pedestal just a few feet away from her. Every word Pérez's Susanna sang was pointed at the heart of the man she loved. It was an unforgettable moment that promised much from an artist then at the very beginning of her career; that promise has been more than fulfilled in the seasons since.
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