Suburban soprano Ailyn Perez finds Lyric's 'Faust' role 'too good to pass up'
With the best opera singers booked years in advance, getting soprano Ailyn Pérez for Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production of Gounod's "Faust" -- just weeks before it opened -- proved challenging.
Pérez, who grew up in Elk Grove Village and now lives in Bloomingdale, had to cancel engagements in Munich and Hamburg to take over the role of Marguerite after Ryan Opera Center alumna Erin Wall withdrew last month for health reasons.
"I thought that this would be too good to pass up," said Ailyn (pronounced I-lean) Pérez. "We reached out to the other theaters and they were very understanding about my eagerness to sing in my hometown."
Pérez has a full list of singing honors ranging from the 2012 Richard Tucker Award to the 2016 Beverly Sills Award. So it's surprising that Peréz made her Lyric debut only last year in a concert honoring world-famous singer/conductor Plácido Domingo.
"Faust" marks Pérez's first time starring in a fully staged Lyric production. She performed the title role of Massenet's "Thaïs" last year at the Metropolitan Opera in a production that debuted at the Lyric in 2003, and she's eager to work again with "Thaïs" conductor Emmanuel Villaume for "Faust."
As the orphaned Marguerite, Pérez is both swept up in love and then abandoned by Faust (French tenor Benjamin Bernheim), an aged scholar who sold his soul to the devil so he can be young again. Méphistophélès (American bass-baritone Christian Van Horn) terrorizes Marguerite as he tries to win over her soul as well.
"Marguerite touches my heart so much," Pérez said. "It is one of the most depressing roles that I sing, and I do notice my mood -- it's very hard to shake her off at the end of the night or at the end of a long day of rehearsal."
"Faust" director Kevin Newbury is doing his part to test Pérez. That's because his production is a very physical one.
"We have this whole team of 'devil actors' who lift her, and move her and build the action -- it's all about our dark side and light side coming together and fighting for primacy, and (Pérez) is up for anything," Newbury said. "It's a really wonderful cast of singing actors, and Ailyn in particular is just such a beautiful, communicative singer."
The overarching inspiration for this new "Faust" is the multimedia work of California-based artist John Frame. Set and costume designer Vita Tzykun, projection designer David Adam Moore and director Kevin Newbury collaborated with Frame to bring his miniature sculptures and stop-motion animations to life on an operatic scale.
"We are all now an extension of John Frame's sculptures," Pérez said.
Pérez hopes to be cast more locally in the future so she can stay close to her Mexican-American family. The same goes for Pérez's former teachers at Elk Grove High School, who hold up the artistically gifted and driven alumna as an example.
"We're so proud of her and she deserves all of the recognition she has received," said Jerome "Jerry" Swanson, Pérez's former choral teacher. "(Pérez) needs to know that her hometown area supports her and recognizes her."
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Where: Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, (312) 827-5600 or lyricopera.org/faust
When: 7:30 p.m. March 3, 6, 9, 12, 15; 2 p.m. March 18 and 21
Other: Sung in French with projected English translations