An Evening with Ailyn Pérez / Washington National Opera
“The first were three songs by 20th-century Spanish composer Fernando Obradors. “Al Amor” was delightfully saucy. It was followed by “Del cabello más sutil,” its melodies caressed by Pérez with tender, lyrical legatos, its crescendos swelling, then descending into sensual hums, half-hums, swallows and glottal stops . . .
“Je suis encore tout étourdie,” from Jules Massenet’s Manon, introducing it with a charming personal anecdote—the first of many—and sailing into and away with it, vocally and character-assured. Expansive, with sustained top notes ranging from the joyfully ringing to the spine-tinglingly floating, the latter not in the least disturbed by her terpsichorean swerves and dips, Pérez’s rendition was summed up with two words in this writer’s notes: NAILED IT. The audience ate it up.
Three songs by Reynaldo Hahn followed. “À Chloris” and “Le rossignol des lilas” were spontaneous and natural, conversational and intuitive, while “Le printemps” was most striking for Pérez’s gloriously triumphant delivery of its ending high note.
Which was excellent preparation for “Je veux vivre,” the famed “Juliet’s Waltz” from Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, beloved by audiences (and sopranos who can conquer its dynamic leaps and daunting tessitura). Here Pérez positively reveled in the top notes, tossing off fortissimos like championship Frisbees . . .
Now at ease, hearing the first notes of the opening recitative, which, after all, leads into one of the un-funniest arias in all opera (ridi, pagliaccio?) was something of a wake-up call. It was also disconcerting but thought-provoking to hear Pérez offer an interpretation that differed not only from the more commonly heard ones that impart to the air a mournful delicacy, but also from her own of years past. Heavy, flat-lined and dark, tenebrous and vibrato-free, it effectively portrayed a Desdemona who has lost all hope. The concluding, heart-tearing “Ah! Emilia, Emilia, addio, / Emilia, addio!” began with a gratifyingly electrifying shriek, following Verdi’s masterfully, deceptively lulling silence; but the final notes, repeating the cry no less intensely, but in lower voice and in a lower range, to this listener’s ears lacked the terrified realization of a woman seeing her death that Pérez has suggested before.
Manuel de Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares Españolas recalled the Obradors selections from the first half of the program, hitting comparable emotional registers in just over twice the number of songs. There was coarse humor and rough scolding in “El paño moruno,” “Seguidilla murciana” and “Canción,” and conversationally idiomatic, free-flowing through-line in “Jota.” There was the thoughtful delicacy of “Asturiana” and the exquisite, almost palpable gentleness and nurturing warmth of “Nana” (for which Pérez lovingly crossed her arms across her breast as if embracing a beloved baby). And there was the demonically demanding “Polo” (for which Orlando crossed her hands across the keyboard for brutally, relentlessly hammering, finger-breakingly bravura staccati).
Swiftly switching gears once more, Pérez and Orlando took us next to Giacomo Puccini’s fragile embroiderer, and “Si, mi chiamano Mimì” from La bohème. But no: love them as she may, and doomed as she may be, this is no delicate flower. Unlike most, Perez’s Mimì tells Rodolfo who she is with a full, rich tone. No shyness or hesitation here, no soaring joy or sweetness. This Mimì knows who she is, and likes who she is. (It would be interesting to see Pérez in the role, to see if and how it alters the dynamic of the story.)
Pérez pretty much knocked “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,” from Puccini’s La rondine out of the park, the top notes providing a clarion, passionate purity of tone, a musical delineation of youthful, irrepressible desire . . . she graciously responded to the continuing applause and cheers with two encores: one a favorite, the other made famous by Jane Powell in a 1948 film. For “Summertime,” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Pérez assumed a sly smile, deliberately kicked off her four-inch silver high heels, and proceeded to draw every drop of cream from the cherished song, oozing and sliding, feeling the summer’s heat, and—topping it all off—descending into lazy but well-earned languor with an impeccable, pin-point glissando.
Nacio Herb Brown’s “Love Is Where Your Find It” may seem, at first glance, an odd choice to end a classical recital. At second glance—and first hearing—any song that drives a singer in multiple musical circles, that recalls every crazy ride you’ve ever been on in an amusement park, and that ends in a blood-curdling, hair-standing, full-throated, get-out-my-pitch-pipe-was-that-really-F-above-high-C? Well, let’s just say: it’s beyond Beyoncé. And if anybody’s keeping score: beginning with loss, and ending with love, is a musical “score” that’s well worth keeping.”
Leslie Weisman – DCMetro Theater Arts