To Chicago native Ailyn Pérez, Latin American and Spanish music have been instrumental in her development as a soprano singer. “The Bolero and Mariachi traditions are close to my heart,” she tells WFMT, “as they were the main forms of celebratory music at all of the parties in our household... This music brought a sense of joy, community, blessing, and tradition.”
Her recent EP Mi Corazón (My Heart), with guitarist Xuefei Yang, is a love letter to this music featuring works by the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce, the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos, and the Spaniard Manuel de Falla. You can also hear Pérez performing some of these rarely heard jewels with soprano Nadine Sierra and mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard this weekend on a Met Stars Live in Concert program streamed live from the Royal Opera of Versailles.
Pérez spoke to us about some of her favorite singers and how they inspired her. She also put together a playlist for us featuring these composers and other pieces of her favorite Latin American and Spanish vocal music.
WFMT: How did you go about picking the singers on your playlist?
Ailyn Pérez: I selected these singers because when I first listened to opera recordings, I tried to find women whose images I could relate to: on one hand, Victoria de los Ángeles could have passed for my mom, so that’s how I discovered her very extensive discography and beautiful voice. [Her recordings] include German art songs, concert work, as well as opera. And of course, discovering Montserrat Caballé’s voice and recordings was a separate and wonderful journey.
WFMT: You chose the enigmatic Maria Callas, what makes her so special to you?
Pérez: I would say that Maria Callas is the primary voice with whom I associated my path as an artist. Listening to her declaim the text and the musical style of every heroine she sang truly gave me the thrill of a lifetime and still does. To dream, to be inspired, and to pursue this craft…
WFMT: Renée Fleming is also on your list. How has she inspired you?
Pérez: Much to my joy and glee, Renée Fleming has been part of my singing family, so to speak. First, as an inspiration. It turned out my choral director’s wife Kay Swanson used to babysit her in Rochester! Many years later, Ms. Fleming became a mentor to me through the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, and since then, she has held such a great position of encouragement and generosity in my life.
WFMT: You also chose your former voice teacher Martina Arroyo, what impact has she made on you?
Pérez: [Martina Arroyo] has spoken to a new generation in terms of inclusivity, diversity, and in [the] way that we could relate to down-to-earth people in opera that are also iconic. Ms. Arroyo has instilled the importance in me of knowing the character, and basing all nuances and musical choices accordingly, to be as expressive as I can be.
Enjoy this playlist curated by Ailyn Pérez!
Note: Not all selections are available on both services
Mi Corazón, the latest release by Ailyn Pérez, features songs by Falla, Ponce, and Villa-Lobos.
On May 22, 2021, Pérez performs some of this music and operatic gems with soprano Nadine Sierra and mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard in a live broadcast presented by the Metropolitan Opera from the Royal Opera of Versailles in France. Livestream tickets are $20 and can be purchased at metopera.org.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.