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Ken Howard


Ailyn Pérez comes to the Lensic to crush some opera

March 16, 2016, 12:00 am

Achtung, lieder-lovers. Fans of French mélodie, listen up. Aficionados of canciónes Españoles, get ready. Mark your calendars for Santa Fe’s premier vocal recital of the season when soaring lyric soprano, Ailyn Pérez, sings a multilingual concert with pianist Gary Matthewman in a program sponsored by the Santa Fe Desert Chorale. The event takes place Tuesday, March 29, at the Lensic.

She’s a jewel, beguiling and pathetic by turns. Can Pérez float a note? Don’t even ask. Her voice gleams with expression, making coloratura seem effortless. Above all, there’s personality in her technique. She combines feeling and power with the deft phrasing that characterizes everything she sings.

Wait a minute. Doesn’t that last paragraph sound familiar? Yes! It’s plagiarized! Busted! SFR published those self-same words in a review of Pérez singing Marguerite in the Santa Fe Opera’s 2011 opening-night Faust. The byline?

Well, mine. Is self-plagiarism such a horrendous sin? Handel got away with it, plenty of times. Why should the present writer be given an exception? Especially since recent hearings do absolutely nothing to amend his opinion of that glowing soprano voice.

Pérez’ vocal career has been in powerhouse mode since her memorable Marguerite, notably as winner of the ultra-prestigious 2012 Richard Tucker Award for young singers. She’s performed at all the leading opera houses: La Scala, Zürich, Hamburg, Glyndebourne, Barcelona’s Liceu, the Royal Opera House, and stateside at Houston, San Francisco, Dallas and the Met.

This summer, Pérez returns to the Santa Fe Opera in another Gounod role, Juliette, in the company’s first-in-sixty-years Roméo et Juliette. Last week, we managed a cheerful phone chat (Pérez’s schedule is crazy) during her ecstatically received Manon at the Dallas Opera.

SFR: What are your thoughts on Santa Fe and our opera company?
“I love it here. It’s like family. So many opera people look forward to a summer off. Not me, not here. We’re all artists together for a matter of several weeks, and we all grow and learn together. I especially like working with Stephen Lawless, who directed that 2011 Faust and now the new Roméo. He’s a man I trust, plus he’s full of great ideas.”

Any roles that you want to add to the repertoire?
“Oh, yes. I’m enjoying Manon so much, I want more Massenet. For starters, put Thaïs on the list. And there’s Musetta next month. I’m really into roles for strong, sympathetic women with fully developed characters. Violetta set me on my operatic path.”

What about your March 29 program?
“Well, we begin with back-to-the-basics: a set of Schubert songs. Then, and I’m really excited about this, Robert Schumann’s great, great cycle, Frauenliebe und -leben, the deepest, truest story of woman’s life and love in all song literature. It’s a whole world. After the interval, we’ll do songs from the French and Spanish repertoire: Fauré, Hahn, Turina, de Falla—some of them on my solo album, Poème d’un jour. And encores. I love encores.”

You call this a debut recital. Why?
“Well, this is my first concert with the wonderful young song pianist, Gary Matthewman. We met at Glyndebourne in 2013. I was singing Alice Ford in Falstaff; he was working on Ariadne auf Naxos with Vladimir Jurowski. We just hit it off.” (And a note here for all you Downton Abbey fans: A few Sundays ago at that BAFTA tribute to Downton, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa reprised her Dame Nellie Melba turn, Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro,” from the series’ fourth season. Matthewman was at the piano both times.)

"As you learn to know your voice, use it. Keep using it. And then use it some more."

Ms. Pérez, you’re well known for your master classes and your engagement with young singers. Any advice for them?
“Oh, yes. I grew up in Illinois in a nonmusical family. My parents were Mexican immigrants from villages near Guadalajara. But they encouraged me. And I had wonderful teachers in high school and, of course, at Indiana University and especially at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts. So I’d advise three things: First, know your voice. Really know it as it develops and matures. Second, get all the experience you possibly can in hearing, seeing, feeling your and others’ voices. And third, as you learn to know your voice, use it. Keep using it. And then use it some more.”

The concert’s sponsor, the Desert Chorale, takes Pérez’ advice mighty seriously, to the point that they’re offering 80 free recital tickets to Santa Fe and Albuquerque high school and college voice students. A win-win? Just pay attention to Puccini’s lyric, as Dame Kiri sang it: “Si, si, ci voglio andare!” Or, in English: “You bet I want to go there!”

Ailyn Pérez and Gary Matthewman Recital
6 pm Tuesday, March 29. $35-$150.
The Lensic Performing Arts Center
211 W San Francisco St.,


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