Ever since, as a small girl, she sang along with her opera-singer mother's warm-ups – shadowing her coloratura note-for-note in Queen of the Night – Aleksandra Kurzak has been up for challenges. She spent her childhood preparing to become a professional violinist – regarding singing as being too easy – but when Placido Domingo singled out this feisty young Pole in his Operalia festival, she decided to give singing a go instead.
Three years ago, she stepped into Cecilia Bartoli's shoes and gave a brilliant performance as Fiorilla in the Leiser-Caurier production of Rossini's Il turco in Italia at Covent Garden. Next week, she returns there as Rosina in the composer's Il barbiere di Siviglia, and sparks will fly. Last year, she sang this role in Vienna and was shocked to discover that she was expected to go on after a mere two days' rehearsal. It sort of worked, she says, "but that way you can't develop your part with any precision – everything is approximate".
Fresh from rehearsing the singing-lesson scene in London – where she and her paramour flirt under the nose of her jealous guardian – she's full of praise for the rehearsal regime at Covent Garden: "Here, with a full two weeks, we can work on all the little things on which the comedy depends." The production has been filmed with Joyce DiDonato in the role (she broke a leg doing it), but Kurzak won't watch this interpretation: "I don't like to copy people. I like to search for my own character, to find what works for me. To convince the audience, I must first convince myself."
'Il barbiere di Siviglia', Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000) 18 January to 8 February