For soprano Ailyn Perez, a starring operatic role and a surprise proposal
NEW YORK — For soprano Ailyn Perez, being rejected by the man she loves is part of the job these days. But accepting a marriage proposal in front of a live audience? It was once in a lifetime.
Perez is currently performing at the Metropolitan Opera as Tatiana, the shy peasant girl who is struck at first sight by the haughty lead character in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” – only to be quickly rebuffed.
Between performances, she embarked on a much happier romantic adventure, planning her wedding to bassist Soloman Howard. Now that the opera houses have resumed operations, it’s rare for two wanted singers to be in the same location, but Perez said they hope it will happen before September.
Howard’s proposal last September during the encore after Puccini’s “Tosca” in San Francisco was captured on video and made headlines. The couple had been together since before the pandemic and this was the first return to performing in the United States for the two.
Perez insists she was blindsided by the event.
“Now, looking back, he had arranged for my parents to be there, along with his sister and cousin for the last show,” she said. “But I didn’t put it together.
“As soon as I get up from my bow, I see Soloman step out of line…and the next thing I know his arm is up and silences the audience. I was out of breath, but I was listening. It was the first time I hadn’t interrupted him.
The audience cheered after he got down on one knee and drowned out his response, but Perez said, “I just yelled YES! as big as possible.
This series of Toscas marked a new phase not only in Perez’s personal life, but also in his career. She steps out of her comfort zone, exploring roles that require more vocal strength than those with which she has been identified, such as Mimi in Puccini’s “La Bohème”, Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” or the main character of Manon de Massenet.
“I think I always knew that the great operatic repertoire would be my focus,” she said. “But I really wanted to expand into another rep.”
At 42, she said: ‘Now is the time to do it. Otherwise it will be a bit too late. There is never enough time in a career.
This career has already been remarkable. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she grew up in Chicago, studied opera at Indiana University and the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, and launched her career after graduating in 2006.
“I’ve always found the voice to be a uniquely beautiful instrument,” recalls Bill Schuman, vocal coach at AVA. who was Perez’s teacher for many years. “She gives her voice with love and shares it. It’s very addicting. I think all great singers have that.
For a time, she performed frequently with tenor Stephen Costello, another AVA graduate to whom she was married for six years until their divorce. In 2012, she became the first Hispanic to win the Richard Tucker Award for Outstanding Young American Singers. His Met debut came in 2015 as Liu in Puccini’s “Turandot.”
Tosca, with her demands for dramatic vocals over heavy orchestration, was definitely a “stretch”, but critics agreed she pulled it off.
“People said, ‘Ooh, maybe it’s a little early,'” recalls Gregory Henkel, head of the San Francisco Opera’s artistic division. “But I was confident. I felt it could be the start of the good side.
Tatiana, who she is also singing for the first time, is, like Tosca, what critic Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times called “singing heavier than the lyrical roles…for which she is best known at the Met” .
But he added that “his urgency and commitment to the text helped make up for any lack of brilliance”.
Puccini’s next new role she’s planning is the title character in “Madama Butterfly,” and she’d also love to sing her “Suor Angelica,” which Schuman says “would be like putting on the perfect glove.”
Next season at the Met, she will reprise her Alicia in Verdi’s “Falstaff” and debut another new role, Blanche, in Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmélites.” It’s a part that has a special meaning for her since it was created by Virginia Zeani, who taught her while she was in Indiana.
Blanche, who joins an order of nuns banned during the French Revolution, struggles to overcome her fear of death for much of the opera before eventually joining her sisters in going to the guillotine.
“It’s really tricky because how do you stay scared and anxious for two whole hours?” Perez said. “I tend to really carry the characters that I represent. It affects me.
But she is convinced that she has matured enough to be able to separate her roles on stage from her personal feelings.
“I’ve had a good 10 years to figure it out,” Perez said, “OK, rest from the psychology of the character. Buy yourself a life!”
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