For her inaugural appearances at Houston Grand Opera, American soprano Ailyn Pérez makes her role debut as Desdemona in Otello, opposite Simon O’Neill in the title role of the company’s first staging of John Cox’s production. As on Love Duets, she sings under the baton of Patrick Summers, Houston’s artistic and music director (Oct 24–Nov 7). Although this marks her first performances as Desdemona, Pérez is no stranger to Verdi’s tragic leading ladies. As Vienna’s Kronenzeitung recognized, she has long been “destined to portray the great, passionate Verdi and Puccini heroines,” and indeed, it was her recent account of Violetta at the San Francisco Opera that prompted San Francisco Classical Voice to observe:

“The star of the evening was Pérez. … Her allure and ability to give herself over, body and soul, to Verdi’s doomed heroine were so complete that it was hard to take eyes off her. Her pain was so palpable, and her conviction so moving that Violetta became real before our eyes.”

This fearless interpretation of her roles, which she approaches with musical abandon, completely embodying each of the characters she portrays, has been often noted; as WQXR’s Operavore points out, “Pérez has the laudable gift of vivid verbal characterization: her Manon, Violetta and Gilda sound like entirely different people.”