NEW YORK (AP) — For soprano Ailyn Perez, being rejected by the man she loves is part of the job these days. But accepting a marriage proposal in front of a live audience? It was something once in a lifetime.
She is currently performing in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” at the Metropolitan Opera as Tatiana, the shy peasant girl who falls in love at first sight with the haughty main character, who quickly rejects her.
Between performances, she has a much happier romantic fling, planning her wedding to bassist Soloman Howard. Now that opera houses around the world are back in business, it’s rare for two in-demand singers to be in the same venue, but Perez said they hope to wed before September.
Howard’s proposal last September during Puccini’s “Tosca” curtain call in San Francisco was captured on video and grabbed headlines. The pair have been together since before the pandemic and this was the first live performance for the two in the United States.
Pérez insists her boyfriend took her by surprise.
“Now, looking back, he had arranged for my parents to be there, and his sister and cousin for the last show,” he said. “But I didn’t make the connection.”
“As soon as I got up from my bow I saw Soloman stepping out of line…and the next thing I knew he had his arm up to silence the audience. I was out of breath, but I was listening. It was the first time that I didn’t interrupt him.”
Applause from the audience after he took a knee drowned out his response, but “I just shouted YES as loud as I could!” Perez said.
These presentations of Tosca marked a new phase not only in Pérez’s personal life but also in his career. The singer steps out of her comfort zone, exploring roles that require more vocal weight than those with which she has been identified, such as Mimi in Puccini’s “La Bohème”, Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” or the main character in “Massenet”. Manon”
“I think I always knew that the great operatic repertoire would be my focus,” he said. “But I really wanted to branch out into another repertoire.”
The 42-year-old said “now is the time to do it. Otherwise it will be a bit too late. There is never enough time in a race.”
This race has already been remarkable. The daughter of Mexican immigrants grew up in Chicago, studied opera at Indiana University and the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) in Philadelphia, and made her debut after graduating in 2006 .
“I’ve always found the voice to be an instrument of exceptional beauty,” recalls Bill Schuman, vocal coach at the AVA and Pérez’s teacher for many years. “She gives her voice with love and shares it. It’s very addicting. I think all great singers have that.”
For a time, she frequently sang alongside tenor Stephen Costello, another AVA graduate to whom she was married for six years until their divorce. In 2012, she was the first Hispanic to win the Richard Tucker Award for Outstanding Young American Singers. His Met debut came in 2015 as Liu in Puccini’s “Turandot.”
Tosca, with her dramatic vocal demands on heavy orchestration, was definitely a “growth”, but critics agreed that she succeeded.
“People were like, ‘Wow, maybe it’s a little early for that,'” recalls Gregory Henkel, head of the San Francisco Opera’s artistic division. “But I was confident. I felt like I could be on the right side early on.”
Tatiana, also singing for the first time, is, like Tosca, what New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe called “singing heavier than the operatic roles…for which she was best known at the Met.” But he added that “his urgency and commitment to the text helped make up for any lack of luxury”.
Puccini’s next new role she’s considering playing is the title character in “Madama Butterfly,” and she’d also like to sing “Suor Angelica” for him, which Schuman says would “amount to putting on the perfect glove” for her.
Next season at the Met, she will again play Alicia in Verdi’s “Falstaff” and debut another new role, Blanche, in Poulenc’s “Dialogos de Carmelitas.” It’s a role that has special meaning for her, coming from Virginia Zeani, who taught her in Indiana.
Entering an order of nuns that was banned during the French Revolution, Blanche struggles to overcome her fear of death for much of the opera before eventually joining her sisters in going to the guillotine.
“It’s really tricky because how do you stay scared and anxious for two hours?” Perez said. “I tend to really wear the characters I play. It touches me”.
But he is convinced that he has matured enough to be able to separate his roles on stage from his personal feelings.
“I had a good 10 years to figure it out,” the singer said. “Okay, take a break from character psychology. Overcome!”.