When Eglise Gutiérrez left her native Cuba to study singing in the US, her college assigned her her first role. It was Amina, heroine of Bellini's La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) – an enormously demanding bel canto lead. She virtually sleepwalked into it, having no idea what a challenge lay ahead. "Sometimes you are so naive and you don't realise," she laughs.
This week she is Amina again, this time at the Royal Opera House. It's an auspicious moment for a thrilling young soprano whose warm, supremely flexible voice has drawn comparisons with Joan Sutherland.
Gutiérrez started singing by accident. "I learned classical guitar as a teenager, and I liked rock and jazz, but I had no interest in opera," she says. "One day I was singing in the street, making fun of something, and my friend said to me, 'Oh my God, you've got an amazing voice – you have to sing opera'. I thought she was joking. Then, when I was about 17, I heard a CD of Maria Callas. I fell totally in love with opera because of her."
La Sonnambula remains a challenge, but is now a favourite too: "It's truly from the heart, really touching."
'La Sonnambula', Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000; www.roh.org.uk) to 18 November
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