A SOPRANO WHO LOVES TO DIE

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This Season: Michael Church chooses a Polish soprano in an Italian opera for his pick of the winter season...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, November/December 2012

To see a Covent Garden audience cowering as Rossini's feisty Rosina hurls darts at the wall in a rage—and makes a feint at the stalls—is to realise how powerful Aleksandra Kurzak's stage presence can be. Allied to her gifts as a farceuse is one of the most perfect high coloraturas in the business, earning critical comparisons with Callas. Now 35, this Polish soprano is at the top of her tree, but still takes tutorials from her opera-singer mother, by Skype if necessary, whenever a problem of technique or interpretation arises. And that is how she began: shadowing her mother's warm-ups note-by-note at five, haunting the opera house in Wroclaw where she performed, starting a parallel career as a violinist. Singing took over when she found herself sharing the stage with her mother in her first operatic role: a beautiful moment, she says, and as life-changing as the one when Covent Garden's casting director, who had watched her compete (unsuccessfully) in Plácido Domingo's Operalia contest, offered her a role. 

Singers who began as instrumentalists tend to have a businesslike approach to their craft: Kurzak's comes out in her refusal to push her voice with over-heavy parts, and in her down-to-earth separation of life and art. "When I am doing Gilda in 'Rigoletto', I can't wait to start dying," she says. "I love to die. But I love playing the coquette too." As we shall see at Covent Garden, when she sings Adina opposite Roberto Alagna's heart-broken Nemorino in "L'elisir d'amore".
L'elisir d'amore Royal Opera House, London, from Nov 13th

CLASSICAL AT A GLANCE
The Tempest (Met, New York, Oct 23rd). Thomas Adès conducts the Met premiere of his opera from Shakespeare's play. Robert Lepage directs, with the baritone Simon Keenlyside as Prospero and the incomparable countertenor Iestyn Davies as Trinculo.  

Marc Minkowski (Cité de la musique, Paris, from Oct 23rd). This inspirational conductor has transformed Baroque performance. In a six-concert season, his Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble play Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Offenbach.

Benjamin Grosvenor (QEH, London, Oct 31st). At 20, this British pianist has technique, artistry and showmanship: hence the Blue Danube variations with which he will end this recital of Bach and Chopin.

Daniel Barenboim (Wiener Konzerthaus, Nov 11th). There's no stopping this virtuoso, also conducting Wagner in Berlin and Milan. In Vienna, under Daniel Harding's baton, he will play piano concertos by Chopin and Tchaikovsky.

Michael Church is the classical music critic for the Independent