It takes a bold woman to step into Cecilia Bartoli's slippers as the sexually voracious heroine in a production of Il Turco in Italia created expressly for her, but Aleksandra Kurzak is unfazed. "I don't think about comparisons at all," says the feisty Polish singer. "And in any case, she is a mezzo and I am a soprano, so it will be completely different." Ever since Placido Domingo singled her out in his Operalia festival 10 years ago, she's been topping the bill wherever she goes, but the secret of her confidence goes much further back.
"My opera-singer mother had always told me I had a voice – and I proved that by singing along with her warm-ups when I was five. I sang 'Queen of the Night' shadowing her note for note, and doing all the coloratura." She spent her childhood preparing to become a professional violinist, regarding singing as too easy, but at 19 decided to trade on her vocal gifts instead. For her first professional engagement, she sang Susanna opposite her mother's Contessa: "That was a beautiful moment for me, particularly as we look very alike, and have a similar colour in our voices." Whenever she does a new role, she still gets coaching from her mother.
Is she happiest in comic roles? "Not necessarily – I love to die. When I am doing Gilda in Rigoletto, I can't wait to start dying. But I like being a coquette, too." That we shall see when she incarnates Fiorilla tomorrow, in subtly nuanced form. "I'm filled with the desire for pleasure, but I'm no female Don Giovanni. It's 'I would like to, but I'm afraid, because I'm married,' so I am cautious." But she still manages to have her cake and eat it.
'Il Turco in Italia', Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000; Roh.org.uk) 3-19 April in rep