Breakout: Opera Singer Ailyn Pérez
By Taylor Smith
“When I look back at my life, it almost seems like I was destined to become an opera singer.”
Soprano Ailyn Pérez made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Micaela in Carmen. She won both the 15th Annual Plácido Domingo Award and the 2012 Richard Tucker Award, making her the only Hispanic recipient in the award’s 35-year history.
Ailyn Pérez will return to The Met stage in Spring 2016 as Musetta in Zeffirelli’s La Boheme. This summer, she will perform as Juliette in The Santa Fe Opera Festival’s production of Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette. Other recent performances include Jake Heggie’s Great Scott at The Dallas Opera and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at The Houston Grand Opera.
Pérez studied Vocal Performance at Indiana University in Bloomington and received her Artist Diploma from The Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. “I would say the first four years spent at Indiana were completely mind blowing to me in terms of how much repertoire and different niches of music one could dedicate their life’s work to. It was a paradise of so many talented musicians interested in not only completing the course work, but also in working creatively and seeking performance opportunities every week.”
Growing up bilingual and bicultural also aided in Pérez’s musical training. “I grew up speaking Spanish at home and was comfortable going back and forth between English and Spanish. In a way, I believe that my language background has played a major part in how I learn music.”
“I grew up listening to my parents record collection which ranged from popular American music and Romantic Spanish music, to Mariachi, and traditional folkloric Mexican music and dance,” she adds.
In light of all of her success, Pérez never forgets to thank the influence and support of her own family. “My family is there for me in a heartbeat. I am so grateful that my cousins, aunts, uncles, godparents, neighbors, family and friends have frequently driven more than 4 hours to hear me sing.”
The process of preparing for an operatic role is intensive and time-consuming. “We are expected to arrive on the first day of rehearsal with our role completely memorized and ready to stage.” Pérez is currently learning Russian for her role as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
Props and costuming can also pose a challenge. “Walking around furniture without knocking things over in a petticoat is something to be learned and practiced.”
Most performance days consist of two six-hour time blocks with a piano rehearsal in between. “Time rehearsing onstage is pretty expensive and difficult to organize due to availability while productions are playing every evening. So usually, there is a room where the dimensions are marked with different colored tape on the floor corresponding to the acts and scenes of the opera.”
When asked to pick a favorite character that she has played, Pérez says, “Every role has its very own life, however I definitely gravitate to the tragic heroines in Italian opera. I would say my favorite role to sing has been Violetta in La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. It’s an incredibly satisfying role to play for its beauty and dramatic intensity.”
Significantly, each singer brings their own element of artistic interpretation to the role. “Singing and performing allows you to interpret each musical line through phrasing, recreating and relating to the character. Opera is a wonderful place to pour your heart into and gain perspective on the human condition. I think that is what I love most about being an opera singer, that it allows me to use my life experience in my artistry.”