Marina Poplavskaya: At full throttle

Covent Garden calls her 'turbocharged' – and the Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya certainly lives life in the fast lane, discovers Jessica Duchen

If it's the ability to go the extra mile that marks out a star, then no wonder Marina Poplavskaya is already shining bright. When the Russian soprano appears as Tatyana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House in March, it will be the latest landmark in a career that has seen her making that additional effort time after time since childhood – sometimes by motorbike. It's no coincidence that, in the ROH brochure, her photograph has the tag-line "Va Va Voom".

"They call me 'turbocharged'," Poplavskaya says, giggling over the booklet; it declares that she does 0-60 in one second – decibels, that is. "Some people think it's embarrassing, others say, 'Oh, she doesn't deserve it', but I don't care. I think everybody deserves a little piece of sun."

Poplavskaya, 30, who has risen through the ranks of Covent Garden's Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, has already won more than a bit of limelight. Last year she starred as Elisabetta in Verdi's Don Carlo when Angela Gheorghiu declined the role, and a few months later she replaced Anna Netrebko at short notice as Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni at the ROH. "This was Poplavskaya's big break and she dazzled," reported the Evening Standard.

She's girlish, unpretentious, and a fantastic raconteuse – but when it comes to singing, the engine revs at an astonishing rate. She has sung for as long as she can remember. Her parents were scientists, "but there was always music in our little apartment," she says. "Russian songs are so charming..." She recalls walking on a beach aged two, singing a folk song and drawing approbation from passers-by, who gave her fruit and chocolate. "My mum was so embarrassed!"

Her mother was in for more surprises. When the small Marina announced she wanted to be a singer, her parents advised her to pursue a better-paid profession and sing as an amateur. They took her to swimming classes instead. "Then, one day," Poplavskaya recounts, "I missed my swimming class because I'd heard on the radio that auditions were being held for the Bolshoi Theatre children's chorus."

Aged eight, she left a note for her mother – "Gone to audition at Bolshoi" – and crossed Moscow alone by train and bus, only to find some 300 candidates ahead of her. "Everybody was standing in line, and all were eating something. I was hungry, but of course I hadn't brought any money." Finally, it was her turn. "The conductor asked what I wanted to sing and I said, 'Well, I have quite a large repertoire!' – can you imagine? There was trouble when I got home..."

The next day, though, the Bolshoi called. "I saw how proud my mum was that I had achieved something," Poplavskaya remembers. "She taught me not to be jealous of others, just work hard myself to achieve what I want."

And work she has. After leaving the Bolshoi, she auditioned for the chorus at the Novaya Opera Theatre of Moscow, founded in 1991 by the conductor Evgeny Kolobov. He made her a soloist instead. "Kolobov was my first 'tutor' in the opera world, he introduced me to beautiful roles such as Tatyana and Rosina, and an amazing opera based on Turgenev's novel First Love by Andrei Golovin." She sang Tatyana for the first time aged only 18. Later she joined the Stanislavsky Opera Company, and learnt much about stagecraft, gesture and movement.

The fact that she is now at Covent Garden is thanks to the aforementioned motorbike. Half an hour after her Covent Garden audition, she had to catch a plane to Moscow for a rehearsal that evening and a recording the next morning. It sounded impossible, but she was determined to do both. So she booked a motorbike courier. "I was in my long concert dress and the guy put a windproof jacket and a helmet on me, and said, 'If it's too fast, tell me to slow down'. But eventually I was screaming, 'Faster, faster!'." She made the plane, the rehearsal, the recording, and the Young Artists Programme, too.

Today, she says, home is "where my luggage is". In 2006, she married the American bass-baritone Robert Hale – they met when they sang in Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer together; but now the marriage is over, though they remain best friends. Her first year in England was stressful, she says, but "I'm grateful because I learnt so much. Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I'd be proud to call this house [the ROH] my home".

The feeling seems to be entirely mutual. With her charismatic voice and all that va va voom, it looks as if Marina Poplavskaya will be calling Covent Garden home for years to come.



'Eugene Onegin', Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), 8 March to 7 April

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world