San Diego Opera has regularly employed “One Amazing Night” to title its solo and duo vocal recital programs presented as part of the company’s dētour Series. And I have always felt that this title suffered a bit from that slick hyperbole so beloved by public relations departments.
After experiencing Wednesday night’s formidable San Diego Opera performance at the Balboa Theatre by soprano Ailyn Pérez, tenor Joshua Guerrero, and pianist Abdiel Vázquez, I felt “One Amazing Night” was pallid understatement. This was One Incendiary Night, One Stupendous Night, One Impassioned Night.By the time Pérez had soared through her exuberant opening aria, Juliet’s “Je veux vivre” from Charles Gounod’s opera Roméo et Juliette, the voltage meter had already jumped past “amazing.” While the overtones of her glistening high notes were still bouncing around the hall, Guerrero launched into Romeo’s cavatina from the same opera “Ah, lève-toi soleil!” piling one thrilling vocal climax upon the other.
The two singers then joined in the ecstatic opening section of the opera’s fourth act where the soprano and tenor express the connubial bliss—“Nuit d’Hymenée”— of their characters’ wedding night. While I was noting the two singers’ sumptuous vocal compatibility and the deft intertwining of their gorgeous phrases, I am pretty sure most of the patrons were wondering just how far the amorous physical intertwining of these two performers was going to go on the Balboa stage. And would the authorities be called?
Pérez and Guerrero vividly brought to the Balboa stage the dramatic chemistry they discovered when they sang Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette—their first time together on stage—for Santa Fe Opera in 2016. Their vocal and dramatic euphoria electrified the theater, even when only one of the singers was alone stage center singing a solo aria. Among the first half offerings, Guerrero’s passionate amount of Des Grieux’s aria “Donna non vidi mai” from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut—a role he just completed with great success for Frankfurt Opera—and Pérez’s touching “Un bel di” from Madama Butterfly were breathtaking, and their Butterfly duet “Vogliatemi bene” brought the house down.
Pérez’s soprano remains radiant throughout her range, whether she is caressing a pianissimo phrase in her lowest register or exulting fortissimo in her gleaming vocal stratosphere. I was charmed by the baritonal warmth of Guerrero’s mid-range tenor—not a virtue many tenors can claim—and transported by the wondrous Italianate resonance of his powerful upper range that never disappointed.
In tribute to the two singers’ Mexican-American heritage, and abetted by the stylistic acumen of their stellar Mexican pianist Abdiel Vázquez, they devoted the second half of their program to a fragrant bouquet of traditional Mexican love songs. From Agustín Lara’s elegant “Solamente una vez” to María Grever’s “Cuando vuelva a tu lado” (a song that became a hit in the U.S. as “What a Difference a Day Makes”) to Juan Gabriel’s passionate “Amor eterno,” Pérez and Guerrero immersed their audience in the florid emotions of romantic songs whose every third word was either “amor” or “corazon.” They turned Grever’s “Júrame” into an entrancing duet, improvising a charming waltz together while Vázquez took off on his effulgent piano variation of the theme.
For these popular songs, the singers used microphones, not because these grand opera voices needed amplification, but because the style of this music usually begins with that kind of delicate parlando that is more like a sung stage whisper, an intimacy that would be lost in the 1200-seat hall without mics. Yet, when the singers moved into soaring climactic phrases, they subtly pulled the mics aside and let their unamplified voices ring the Balboa Theatre rafters.
For encores, Pérez treated us to Ponce’s charming “Estrellita,” and Guerrero chose his very operatic take on “Granada!” The two also joined in the first act duet from Puccini’s La Bohème “O soave fanciulla.”
This concert was presented by San Diego Opera on Wednesday, December 11, 2019, in the Balboa Theatre in downtown San Diego.