When Tequila, a long-haired Chihuahua mix from Mexico was a tiny puppy, soprano Ailyn Pérez remembered, “I could hold her in my two hands.” Since then, the singer and her dog have had almost 15 years together.
“She is my first and only dog, and I adore her,” she says. “I remember thinking how could someone be so attached to a pet? But when you have one, it’s different. I’m hers, and there is a sense of comfort and peace with her, and play—she invites me to play.”
Tequila used to travel everywhere with Pérez. But now a long flight is too hard on the dog; she becomes stressed and it takes her a long time to transition from one setting to another. So when Pérez embarks on her post-pandemic world travels, Tequila will be with close family members in Chicago, living an old dog’s peaceful life of routine until his mistress comes home and is with her all the time.
Despite the cancellation of many roles and contracts in 2021, Perez maintains a spirit of gratitude for having been fortunate enough to sing some of the most important soprano roles in the repertoire at leading opera houses worldwide and to have had a few appearances before everything shut down. Beloved by audiences for her radiant portrayals of such roles as Violetta, Thaïs, Rusalka, and Micaëla, she is using the free time she has now to focus on her 2022 role debut at the Met as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” learning the difficult Cyrillic alphabet.
Such intense musical study is reminiscent of the preparation Pérez undertook as a student at the Academy of Vocal Arts under Maestro Christopher Macatsoris.
“During the pandemic,” she says, “I have had the time to go back to basics. As a performer, if you’ve done a role many times, you think you have uncovered everything, but when you go back you think, did I really honor that rest mark, is what I’m doing here more following tradition than doing what the composer indicated?”
Pérez has experienced a melancholy, a joylessness shared by many artists, which resulted from the lack of human contact during the past year.
“There is a poignancy to every opportunity we have to sing,” she says. “Recently I was one of four soloists in a concert conducted by my dear friend Lorenzo Viotti, a creative, wonderful person. One of the arias was ‘La Mamma Morta’ from ‘Andrea Chenier,’ which I had never touched. There is such profound sadness in it. During a rehearsal I completely broke down, which I didn’t expect—it was gushes of tears.”
Realizing how devastating the pandemic has been for young artists just starting their career, Pérez has joined up with like-minded friends and created online courses, helping the younger generation of singers in such areas as role preparation, foreign languages, and connecting them with conductors, composers, pianists and teachers. Her biggest concern is not just getting the singers back onstage but restoring the careers of orchestra members, stage crew, chorus.
“Opera is not a solo job, it’s a grand-scale type of performance,” she says.
Hopefully, the joyfulness will return soon for Pérez, Jagde, Crocetto and Pisaroni, as well as all those whose life is opera.