This was the first time I had the chance to listen to Ailyn Pérez live and it was again another happy coincidence for Londoners to see her in concert, as an indisposed Giuseppe Filianoti meant that she accepted to cover for him at this occasion, as it was it was stated from the stage, it was disappointing not to have Filianoti, but that feeling did not last too long when Pérez accepted in a matter of minutes. As she jubilantly expressed on stage, this was her third time performing for the Rosenblatt recital series and was obviously excited.
Her opening Hahn songs did not quite reach the rounded beauty those songs attain when sang by Veronique Gens but that has to do more with Pérez’s burnished timbre and much more explosive stage presence. These songs require a radiance and warmth that in my view are too restrictive for her beautiful lyrical instrument. Her voice is as expressive as her dress sense for this recital, a beautiful red dress that looked very demure till one noticed the gold detailing on the plunging bare back and side slash, revealing much more leg that I am accustomed to on recital stages. Overall she exuded beauty and charm in equal measure.
When she moved on to the Spanish section of the programme (she did let us know she had just returned from Seville and felt more in tune with the material) she took flight, the delivery was ardent without sacrificing the smooth delivery. Her Luna song was fiery and embodied the heroine who declares her pride to be Spanish finishing off the song with her shoulders dancing to the rhythm of this 1918 piece of Hispanic exotica. The De Falla songs were delivered with panache, deep understanding, sense of fun and anguish in appropriate measures. A good example what a great singer can bring to more prosaic material was her El paño moruno/The Moorish cloth which was delivered with sweet anguish and longing. Adding a layer of interpretation to a few lines of very unambitious poetry. In the hands of a less gifted singer this would turn into a farce all too easily, it is those small exceptional touches that show true class. The gorgeous lyricism of Asturiana was a marvel, softness and depth of feeling alongside Iain Burnside’s exemplary, pared down playing was a moment of magic. In Nana she deployed her mezza voce with a bronze like quality caressing the long and winding melody of this lullaby transporting us to a private world of devotion and love. The last two songs were much more fiery affairs that brought instant release and a fitting close to the first half.
What followed after the interval was even more exciting. The two Manon arias and Desdemona’s Willow song scene were as close to my idea of perfection as possible.
Her Manon was so vividly acted, all the little laughs and sideways glances added to the naiveté of the character which was galloping through Massenet’s smooth melodic line with such vibrancy and gusto. It was simply so fantastic that I can’t imagine what’s holding the Royal Opera from booking her as their next Manon. She had all the spark of Beverly Sills with the glowing ample tone of Victoria de los Angeles, paired with engaging acting ability. It is hard to imagine anyone in the audience not being moved by her Adieu, it was so genuinely heartfelt she obviously welled up in the conclusion. She more than brought the house down after this triumphant portrayal.
Her Amelia Boccanegra was equally vivid with liquid tone and sharp upper register. This aria is a true workhorse for any lyric soprano, which can make it a bit of a chore to listen through from a lot of lesser singers. She made it work beautifully but we all anticipated her Desdemona which was the juiciest part of this recital.
This scena is one of my most favourite arias in the history of opera, a still lament where it really displays a singer’s understanding of Verdian style and also an unforgiving display of coloratura, use of shading and shifts in dynamics. Her depiction was truly amazing. A transporting, transcendent experience. Every turn of the Willow song was thoughtful and dramatic, a display of acting skill and warm all enveloping sound. The concluding Ave Maria was smooth and her sound grew and hugged every word, the final phrase closing the aria as a mere whisper. She is set to perform the role on stage in Houston and I can only hope it will be webcast or committed to a disc format as an important document of this truly exceptional young singer.
The move to the Puccini section was with a lovely rendition of the aria from La Villi, which was perfectly lovely and followed on by a devastatingly strong Liu which gave us an insight how she will perform the role in her upcoming appearances at the Royal Opera. It was a potent mix of crisp delivery with a simmering undercurrent of anger and devotion. It was complex and rounded definitely spine tingling. She concluded the recital not with the scheduled Butterfly aria (she did explain that was due to the effects of her plane journey. After such a demanding programme we really had no right to complain) but with Donde lieta usci which was lustrous and bright displaying her crisp diction and direct, full-throated delivery.
If you’ve made it this far, you will know what an extraordinary evening this was, the enthusiastic, grateful reception by the audience verging on adulation was more than justified. I am looking forward to seeing her as many times as possible in the future and dear readers if she is performing nearby (she has a debut appearance at The Met coming up) go and see her. A huge star in the making is amongst us.