Interview: Ailyn Perez On her OPERA NEWS Award & Her Inspiration

By Francisco Salazar

In 2012, Ailyn Perez was regarded as one of the “next wave” of prominent leading sopranos when she was profiled in OPERA NEWS magazine. She was a relative unknown, despite having already obtained a number of high profile assignments in some of the most prominent festivals and companies in the world.

It was her first time on the cover story of the magazine, though being a part of that particular featured proved to be a turning point for her in terms of meeting new colleagues that would become a part of her professional life for years to come.

“I was so excited because we were excused from our job to fly to New York and I saw Kate Lindsey and it was the first time I met Luca Pisaroni, Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Michael Christie,” Perez told OperaWire in a recent interview. “I remember I had to go shopping because I didn’t have a plain white shirt and a pair of jeans. and it was the first time I met Affan Malik, my makeup artist. I was so excited and wasn’t thinking about the future. I was thinking, ‘Here I am with all these artists to get ready for a Photoshoot.”

Five years later she graced the cover for the first time as a full diva, having made her role debut in Massenet’s ‘Thais.”

And now, in 2019, she is being honored with the prestigious Opera News award.

“I am so honored to be mentioned at this time in my career and it is absolutely thrilling to be among the winners.”

Becoming A Reader

Ailyn Perez first came across the prestigious magazine when she was studying in high school.

“When I was in high school my voice teacher had OPERA NEWS and I know he had it in his studio. I was there for voice lessons, but I never paid attention to it.”

But once she started her college years, Perez became curious about the publication and used it as a learning ground.

“It was when I started attending AVA in Philadelphia that I went nuts. They had a collection of all the OPERA NEWS and I pulled one that highlighted Mirella Freni,” she revealed. “I remember the color and the feel of it and the incredible features on the interpretation that magazine would ask the artists.”

Of all the issues that she read during that time, there was one that particularly stuck with her.

“It was a profile of Hei-Kyung Hong and she spoke about how being Korean as she was interpreting Liù. She felt that her heritage and temperament had a lot of fire and she brought that into her interpretation of Liù. And I was mesmerized. I had listened to an album of hers early on and having read that interview, I connected the voice and the artist with what she was talking about.”

Her love for the magazine grew from there and she continued to be a fervent reader and advocate of it.

“The way that OPERA NEWS connects the artists to the public through interviews and highlighting the career as well as through archives is so important. We live for understanding the artform of opera but also getting to know the artists and their interpretations as people and the way they are in a community even outside the stage. For me it’s a moment of reflecting and saying thank you and to look forward to more opportunities,” Perez emphasized. “What’s great about the magazine is as they feature artists and F. Paul Driscoll’s perspective is unique. He travels to listen and it’s like he knows what the future will hold before some of us dare to believe.”

A Sense of Arrival

The future that Driscoll envisioned has certainly developed for Perez, who is performing leading roles all around the globe. And now, she is going to be honored alongside some of the greatest opera singers of the past generations.

“I am in awe and I can’t wait to share the moment,” she noted about receiving one of the 2019 OPERA NEWS Awards. “It’s a humbling moment and its also a thrill to be honored in this way. It’s a sense of arrival and to be mentioned with Rosalind Elias, Ramón Vargas, Luca Pisaroni, and Laurent Pelly is incredible.  These are legendary artists.”

The prize also has an extra meaning to her as an artist of Latin American descent.

“It’s also a way to encourage people of my background to continue to pursue this artform. I always feel that sense of responsibilities and I have always felt that.”

As a young artist, Perez always felt like an outsider being from a Latin background and not understanding where she belonged.

“I chose music because I felt like I never belonged. I wasn’t super Mexican and I wasn’t super American and it wasn’t easy to make friends,” she added. “I found that in orchestra and band, I had a place that led to the friendships and the camaraderie and that is why I think theater spoke to me.”

From there she has worked to promote her Latin American background and sharing that with her community.

“It’s about how we as artists can engage with our communities and our audience. How we are as people and how we can inspire and the way we collaborate with each other. Let’s celebrate our roots and share in the story so someone else will feel inspired.”

Adding to the excitement is the fact that Perez will be recognized alongside Mexican tenor Ramon Vargas, one of her heroes and first inspirations in the opera world.

“Ramón Vargas is such an important artist for me because he is one of the first Mexican singers I had heard about and he put so much emphasis of Maria Grever and Augustin Lara’s songs that my family and I knew on his programs. Of course, his operatic performances are also stellar.”

That inspiring artist eventually became one of her partners on stage in a historic performance of “La Bohème.”

“I remember when we were at la Scala in 2015 where we were at the expo. Gustavo Dudamel was conducting ‘La Bohème’ and it was the orchestra and chorus of the El Sistema and he turned to me and said ‘I just want you to remember because it is probably the first time two protagonists of Mexican heritage are singing here.'”

That is a moment that Perez would never forget and one that would inspire her.

“I think that the reason that it’s important to mention our heritage is that it is time that people of all backgrounds feel proud of where they came from because we are all equals. I can now tell people that they can be a Marschallin if they are Hispanic. It’s a moment to change and hopefully, more and more people will feel included.”

For Perez, having seen artists like Vargas as well as  Monserrat Caballé or Victoria de Los Angeles or Nancy Fabiola Herrera or Ana María Martinez or Plácido Domingo helped her.

“It would have been much harder and a different world. I hope I can follow in their footsteps.”

Upcoming Releases

Next up for Perez is an major album launch that emphasizes many of her artistic goals.

“What I would like to celebrate next is my album and I am looking forward to creating more recordings and that is my next goal. I want to do more concert work and do more collaborations.

One she is particularly excited for is a concert with Joshua Guerrero where the two artists will perform Boleros.

“I like the diverse background that I have. We are going to perform a concert of some of our favorite boleros. We want to get to the music that moved our souls at the beginning and that speak to our community. That gets me excited to perform the music from my childhood and that means a lot to me.”

Perez also hopes to find a way to bring more Spanish opera to the forefront.

“I have not seen ‘Del Cruzar de la Luna’ and I want to listen to it to see what the story is. And of course there is Daniel Catan’s ‘Florencia en el Amazonas,’ I want to see it produced in a big way in New York. My hope is to get it at the Met and bring it to our community.”

Perez is an advocate of education and her culture and she believes that her mission is just that – to promote as much as she can of that heritage.

“If we are concerned about ticket sales and promoting this artform, sharing people’s perspective and the story is important in order for us to connect this to a future audience. What you see is what you can be. I want to inspire our community to be interested in opera and build our audience. I think it all comes from education and being inspired from the work. It’s up to us to do it together and be in support of those efforts.”


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