“Soprano Ailyn Pérez’s career trajectory has taken her from the launchpad of the Wolf Trap opera program to the Met, La Scala and other European opera houses with numerous prestigious awards along the way. Friday, after a homecoming recital at the Barns at Wolf Trap accompanied by her early mentor Kim Pensinger Witman, a car was waiting to whisk her to Manhattan where, Saturday, she hosted the Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” production of Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” …
She must be doing something right. And she is — on a number of fronts. Her recital of turn-of-the-20th-century Spanish and French songs revealed a splendidly supported vocal instrument with just enough edge to give it clean definition, powered by a smart, thoughtful musician and actor.
In the Spanish sets, with music by Fernando Obradors, Joaquín Turina and Manuel de Falla, Pérez emphasized the varied colors the Iberian idiom offered, including the all but inaudible and glowingly sensual ending of Obradors’s “Del Cabello Mas Util,” the introspection of Turina’s “Nunca Olvida” and the joyful exuberance of de Falla’s “Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas.”
In French songs by Fauré and Reynaldo Hahn, she broadened legatos and let the language revel in a more spacious focus. And she managed all this entirely within appropriately chamber-size proportions, never sounding like a scaled-down opera singer …
Concerts at the Barns always feature a post-intermission question-and-answer session hosted by WETA’s Rich Kleinfeldt, during which the performers respond to members of the audience. It’s a nice, informal and sometimes informative 10 minutes, and Pérez showed off another of her talents, talking about music. While she spoke movingly of dealing with language and of the next role that she would like to take on, she was most helpful in answering another question — about whether an audience ought to clap between songs of a set (as many did in this concert). She made this distinction: Because the songs in these Spanish sets were not part of a story line, clapping would be fine. But “in a cycle like Schubert’s ‘Winterreise,’ ” she said, “clapping would be a little like jaywalking in Vienna,” a distinction all audiences might take to heart.”
Joan Reinthaler – Washington Post
“When Ailyn Pérez burst onto the stage at Wolf Trap, in the summer of 2006, the American soprano had just finished her graduate studies. She was a sensation then …
The voice has continued to sparkle and bloom in regular appearances at major venues, including Santa Fe Opera over the years. Now, a decade later, she returned to the Barns at Wolf Trap on inauguration night for one of that presenter’s alumni recitals, having just concluded an acclaimed run as Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera.
The program was almost identical to Pérez’s solo album Poème d’un jour, released in 2013 on the Opus Arte label. In three sets of Spanish songs, Pérez displayed a striking fluency in language and musical idiom, having grown up speaking the language as the child of Mexican immigrants. In a selection of songs from the Canciones Clásicas Españolas by Spanish composer Fernando Obradors, intense vocalises on hummed notes and colorful characterization combined for vivid story telling. Her tone has filled out admirably, including a more ample and full sound at the bottom of the range as displayed in the first song, “La mi sola, Laureola.” The two closing songs demonstrated an extended range of vocal color, with a shimmering softness in “Del cabello más sutil” contrasted with the lusty swagger of “Chiquitita la novia” …
Manuel de Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares Españolas, a showpiece for a singer with flair like Pérez, provided the big finish. She offered a smoother, more contained sound in the intimate songs like “El paño moruno” and the hypnotic lullaby “Nana,” while broadening the tone considerably for the saucy, extroverted style of “Seguidilla Murciana.” In the tragic “Asturiana” she created a sort of weightlessness playing off the harmonic tension of the piece. Having scaled her dynamics quite beautifully to the smaller venue, she opened the throttle for a thrilling, impassioned conclusion in the final song, “Polo.”
Two sets of French songs were also beautiful, if without the same natural simplicity of the Spanish pieces. Pérez’s time in major opera houses has given her impeccable pronunciation in French, which was easy to understand without having to refer to the texts in the program. In Gabriel Fauré’s “Rencontre,” the first song in the set Poème d’un jour, Pérez took the challenges to her breath support in stride, spinning out the final phrase effortlessly after a minor struggle earlier in the piece. The chatty stream of words in “Toujours” had a delightful restlessness, conveying the agitation of the lover who will not be put off, while “Adieu” offered the most subtle interpretation of the entire program, a silken legato murmured in an unbroken ribbon of charming half-line rhymes …
In the final song, “Le printemps,” Pérez could expand her voice again into a more full-throated tone, which made for an exciting conclusion … a second encore, Mimi’s aria “Donde lieta uscì” from Puccini’s La Bohème, revealed the full power and pathos of Pérez’s operatic voice, making it a true showstopper.”
Charles T. Downey – Washington Classical Review
“There’s no business like show business, but does that include opera? If in a few years people finally agree that opera is genuinely another form of musical theater, it may be because of the current career rocketship of American soprano Ailyn Pérez.
Never mind her recent run as the star of the Metropolitan Opera’s uber-popular production of La Bohème. Six days after the show’s closing (don’t worry, the Met’s La Bohème will be back next season, and every season after that), Ms. Pérez was in Washington for a celebratory return to the Wolf Trap Opera Company, where she basically interned a little over a decade ago.
In a sparkling solo recital at The Barns with WTO Senior Director Kim Pensinger Witman on the piano, Ms. Pérez displayed her completely natural showbiz instincts paired up with a rich, rose-colored and notably ample-for-a-soprano lower and middle voice range that masterfully blooms on the way up.
The evening was billed as entirely Spanish and French music with no Italian opera or songs in English in store, although Ms. Pérez and Ms. Witman had some surprises waiting. But no musical moment exceeded in importance the fun audience Q&A session that is a regular feature of WTO’s annual recital with a “graduate who’s made it.”
The payoff came when the evening’s genial host, musical man-about-town Rich Kleinfeldt, reading off submitted audience question cards, asked Ms. Pérez what she felt was different about singing a staged opera versus performing a solo recital. She thought a couple of seconds, and then answered that what’s really important is how the two situations are exactly the same.
Ms. Pérez explained that opera scenes can last 10 or even 20 minutes with plenty of time to explore a character’s emotions, but in this recital she was singing entirely suites of short songs with an immediate demand to communicate what the character is feeling. So being in character on stage has to be transferred directly to the recital stage without compromise. Ms. Pérez made this shift from song to song, completely inhabiting the character in question at every moment, with no deadly “indicating” of the character’s feelings than can still be seen on the opera stage …
Vocally, one of Ailyn Pérez’s skills that helps bring this off is an ability to place a soft volume or pianissimo anywhere she wants within a single note or phrase. She can put it at the beginning of the note (pretty standard in preparation for getting louder), at the end (quite a trick especially on high soprano notes that surely are easier to “belt”), and incredibly right in the middle (creating an expressive sound valley in the middle of a note or passage). This was in evidence in abundance in a suite called Canciones Clásicas Españolas (“Classic Spanish Songs”) by Fernando Obradors. At one point in one of these songs, Del cabello más sutil (“Of the softest hair”), she repeatedly goosed up and down a set of notes and words all on a single breath.
Ms. Pérez brought more of a big overall flair to Manuel de Falla’s similar-named but rather different suite, Siete Canciones Populares Españolas or “Seven Spanish Folk Songs” from 1914. I particularly loved the vocal storytelling in a song called “Jota” which begins with the Spanish equivalent of “They say we don’t love each other because they never see us talking” – milking the same sly approach to romantic love that Rodgers and Hammerstein would later employ in Oklahoma! (“People Will Say We’re in Love”) and Carousel (“If I Loved You”).
It would be easy to say that Ailyn Pérez should readily be able to pull this off because Spanish is one of her native languages – except that she clearly transitioned her sung Spanish to the Castilian accent of Spain rather than a native Latin American pronunciation. For that matter, people in the know say that Ms. Pérez’s superb diction in French makes it sound native as well. In fact, a highlight of the evening was a set of three substantial French songs from Gabriel Fauré’s suite called Poème d’un jour, featured in her 2013 album of the same name.
This gorgeous set of songs entitled Rencontre (“Encounter”), Toujours (“Always”), and Adieu(“Goodbye”), is by turns slyly sensuous, modestly argumentative, and hesitantly regretful. In Rencontre she showed a pure soprano in long, lyrical lines with hills and valleys of dynamics above Ms. Witman’s flowing piano. Toujours has fast, demanding lyrics mostly in the upper range, and Ms. Perez brought a bigger vibrato at the end of lines that certainly got across such lyrics that translate from the French as “Do not hope that my soul will tear itself from bitter sorrow, and shed its passion as springtime sheds its flowers.”
In the gentle Adieu she oscillated between major and minor, and her skill at note placement with leading tones hugging up against their target fifths and octaves created wonderful overtones along with an even vibrato that would be equally pleasing on the Broadway or opera stage. Another set of French songs by Reynaldo Hahn, and a suite of five Spanish songs with real Iberian flavor by Joaquín Turina, rounded out the program.
It was in two encores that Ailyn Pérez came back to English (equally native to her as is Spanish – in fact her spoken English bears clear traces of her Chicago upbringing) and her global triumphs in Italian opera. First came “Children Will Listen” from Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Then followed Addio senza rancor (or “Goodbye without resentment” in one possible translation) from Act 3 of La Bohème.
It’s worth noting for this theater-oriented website that if you’re very familiar with Jonathan Larson’s Rent, it really does deepen the show’s meaning if you eventually also see its model La Bohème from 1896, exactly a century before. No doubt Ailyn Pérez brought to her Washington audience the Act 3 aria of her character of Mimì because this song really does showcase her ability to float dynamics and vibratos all across the spectrum, and she’s won special recognition from often crusty and cynical opera critics for this part of her performances in La Bohème. The Wolf Trap audience knew it, and gave her a rapturous response.”
David Rohde – DCMetroTheaterArts