Interview and photos by Frances Marshall
In this sincere and enlightening interview, Pérez gives practical advice for competitions, tips for performance days and her views on the current portrayal of gender roles in opera.
THIS INDUSTRY LOVES TO COMPARE ARTISTS. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON THIS?
I definitely see comparison as a positive and very eye-opening. I didn’t come from a music background so it helped to put me on some kind of relatable scale. If you keep being compared to Victoria de los Ángeles for example, it can give you a lot of information about your sound and how you’re being received by the audience. You have to remember that most soprano roles have been sung by a legendary figure at some point, so comparison is inevitable and it comes with the territory.
A big mistake would be to let it affect your repertoire selection, that should only ever be done with a teacher. I can’t stress enough that you have to eventually learn to be yourself. Your voice and temperament are extremely unique and if you try to create a sound that is not your own, your instrument will eventually collapse. I’ve always felt that I can learn so much from every artist – even beyond the music – there will be something in their process or their life experience that will teach me something. So rather than compare, I’d rather learn and be inspired.
HOW DO YOU KEEP THE FLAME LIT?
I don’t think anyone wakes up and says ‘I wanna be OK at this’. You want to either follow in someone’s footsteps or create a new path. It’s a sport, and it takes a lot of inspiration to come this far and a lot more to keep dreaming about new opportunities. A big lesson I learned about this career is that you won’t get that feeling of ‘I have arrived’ – it’s a perpetual process of becoming.
ARE YOU IN A CONSTANT STATE OF REEVALUATION?
Yes, and that’s a good thing. You can’t stop, you need to keep going. A few years back I got into a phase of ‘let’s keep going’, but I had no idea what was coming next, so that can make you apprehensive. However, if I had stopped I would have missed out on one of the greatest opportunities of my career, which was the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s Great Scott with Joyce DiDonato and Frederica von Stade. I just adore Jake and I loved every minute of that process.
SO IN A CAREER WHERE YOU CAN’T STOP, WHAT DO YOU INTEGRATE INTO YOUR LIFE TO KEEP YOU GROUNDED?
I definitely feel like I’m turning a corner. I want to be more mindful and invest more in my personal life, which is a big challenge in this career. One area you have to be careful of is that if you’re lucky enough to become extremely busy and then you get a bit worn out, it’s very easy to start complaining about everything and forget how lucky you are. That’s why personal relationships are very important to maintain and if you have genuine friendships within this industry that is such a blessing – it’s very hard to find. Everyone needs to be able to vent, clear the air and restart.
DO YOU HAVE A PERFORMANCE DAY ROUTINE?
Ha! I’m still working it out. Routines are very much encouraged, but I think it’s more important to work out whether you’re a person who needs one. I’m still not certain what category I fit into. I also deal with reflux that can get worse with stress and it affects what I can eat. So my aim on a show day is to get into a good flow and have a peaceful mind.
It’s important to be aware of who you let in on a performance day. You need to know who makes you feel good and who you’re more likely to argue with. This is all normal human behaviour, but I’m not a sterilised person who can cut off their humanity. As a singer, you are your instrument and the bottom line is that you need to do your job.
IF SOMETHING NEGATIVE DOES HAPPEN, HOW DO YOU GET YOURSELF BACK IN THE PERFORMANCE MINDSET?
I’m extremely lucky in that I’ve always found refuge in the music. Music has always healed me and that’s one of the main reasons I do what I do. So if I’ve had a tricky event or circumstance on a performance day, I generally look forward to getting on stage because it makes me feel so much better. I let the music carry me, it’s the most amazing feeling.
WE’RE CURRENTLY LIVING IN A WORLD WHERE GENDER ROLES ARE EVOLVING VERY FAST, WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON HOW FEMALE ROLES ARE PORTRAYED IN OPERA?
The bottom line is that the libretto has been written and it’s up to the production to either challenge it, play with it or dismiss it. Puccini, for example, kills his women way too brutally and of course the music is incredible, but it’s too much. It’s all about building your awareness and looking at how we want to portray the composer’s intentions, who may have lived in a completely different culture and time period.
WHAT’S THE BEST APPROACH TO COMPETITIONS?
See them only as a way of getting funds, which is so important at the beginning of any career. Treat them like an audition and pick something that the audience will really enjoy. If you’re sick, cancel. It takes a long time to undo a bad impression, especially when you’re young. Never just throw yourself up there and hope for the best – perform in front of a studio class or a peer group. Artists spend a lot of money travelling to compete, give it everything you’ve got and be as prepared as you can.
YOUR NEXT PERFORMANCE IS THE ROLE OF MICAËLA IN CARMEN AT THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE. WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS PRODUCTION?
Maestro Julia Jones is fierce and fabulous and it’s a really great cast. This is a great rendition of Carmen and it’s very different to what we traditionally perform – the operatic gesture is different.
The role of Micaela is presented as a blooming character in terms of her sexuality. There’s a physicalization of her movements that just appear and she doesn’t know why – it’s a very layered idea that’s also subliminal and a lot of fun to work with. There’s a great Marlene Dietrich influence and a great showmanship of cabaret.
YOU’RE EQUALLY KNOWN IN EUROPE AND THE STATES, WHICH IS QUITE RARE, HOW DID YOU BUILD YOUR CAREER IN THIS WAY?
It happened very early for me. YouTube was getting going and my agent at the time sent a video of me performing Gilda in Rigoletto to Joel Thomas at Askonas Holt, who then signed me and we’re still working together. This led to my debut at the Staatsoper Berlin, which was a big moment for me, and my European audience and awareness grew.
AT THIS STAGE IN YOUR CAREER WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG SINGER?
In the first lesson I had with my singing teacher Martina Arroyo, she told me ‘this is a very difficult path, it involves a lot of family sacrifice and it’s expensive, so if you think you would like to do something else, please do’. And I would say the exact same thing now to any young artist, but I would hope that they would ignore me too. When you want to be a singer, you have to believe in the beyond and know that this is your contribution to humanity.