Opera icon imparts wisdom to students during visit

Nic Baggetto and Tiffany Kajiwara

Following in the footsteps of actress Sharon Muthu, who visited the school last year, international opera singer and Elk Grove High School Alumni Ailyn Perez revisited the hallowed halls of EG on Friday, September 2.

Perez toured the school, noting changes from her own time here in the mid 90s. Principal Paul Kelly personally escorted her around the premises. Along the tour, she visited the music wing and the football stadium, where she received a special performance from the marching band, before ending the day with a Q and A session in the theater. There, she described her time at EG, explained her path to fame, and joked that English teacher John Bottiglieri still scares her.

The session was reserved for students taking fine-arts classes, meaning only the current band, orchestra and choir students were permitted. Perez responded enthusiastically to inquiries from curious students with questions regarding her past.

At the end of the session, Kelly presented a distinguished alumni plaque for the first time since taking position of principal here, honoring her as one of the most prestigious former students of EG.

As a student here, she was a part of choir, speech and soccer. When applying for college, she utilized her background in the fine arts programs to get scholarships and eventually chose opera singing as a full time career.

After graduating from Indiana University, Perez required more experience before starring in a major opera. She spent several years at a vocal arts school as well as in competition circuits and local opera houses before landing her first major role. To do so, her manager gave samples of her performances to various playhouses, which, in turn, asked for auditions and offered roles.

World travel for performances has been a key part of her life, and she intends to visit Spain, Malta and Italy again soon.

Perez cites winning the Beverly Sills award as one of the most important and daunting accomplishments in her career.

“No, I’m not Beverly Sills, but I am inspired by her,” Perez said. “It was a moment of clarity and redefining my life.”

Perez also elaborated on her current lifestyle and schedule. She described a fast-paced rehearsal period for operas internationally where they start productions less than two months after rehearsals begin.

“I think being a singer has impacted my personal life on a very dramatic level,” Perez said. “My voice is my instrument which really puts a damper on what kind of atmosphere I can hang out in.”

Perez described missing out on family time and the cost of her lifestyle. When explaining this to her audience, she assured them that achieving such goals is a difficult path, one that requires more dedication than she was able to comprehend when she was in their shoes.

“I thought it was inspiring that someone from Elk Grove could rise up and make a name for themselves in a tough industry,” sophomore choir student Kathleen Dandan said.

At this point in her life, Perez intends to slow down and ease up on her packed schedule so she can spend more time with her family in Illinois. This is what also allowed her to visit the school.

On September 28, she opened downtown in the production of “La Boheme,” a Puccini opera following young Bohemians around Paris. It was the basis of the popular modern musical “RENT.”

Perez dispensed advice for current performing arts students by stressing the importance of sharing one’s goals and aspirations with those they are closest to in order to better themselves.

“As an artist, as a student, as a human being, you find someone that you resonate with and you talk to them and ask, ‘What advice do you have for me?’ Be receptive and find something tangible that you can actually do about it.”