Mesmerised by Mozart

Rebecca Evans promises a spellbinding Pamina in the Royal Opera's Die Zauberflöte
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The Independent Culture

When David McVicar's highly coloured production of Die Zauberflöte is revived at Covent Garden tonight, a Welsh singer more famous abroad than in Britain will finally make her mark: Rebecca Evans's Royal Opera roles may have included Zerlina, Nanetta and Johanna (in Sweeney Todd), but Pamina in this production represents her big coming-out.

"This production is very much geared around the role," she says. "And it's wonderful not to be threshing around or jumping on the scenery, nothing directorially silly - the show doesn't go against the music, so I just get the chance to sing."

The Wales-born Evans's trajectory began in an unorthodox way: after leaving school, she trained as a nurse and worked as one for five years. "I wanted to be a singer from the word go, but my father said that I'd better have something to fall back on if necessary, and it was golden advice."

She began singing solos with the hospital choir, then with the best amateur choir in Wales, at one of whose concerts Bryn Terfel was a fellow-soloist. "He looked so young that I thought he must be the accompanist's son, but when he opened his mouth, I almost fainted. He asked me afterwards, 'What do you do?' I said, 'I'm a theatre nurse, a junior sister.' And he said, 'You're a fool - you need to go to study at the Guildhall, and you need to do it now.' He was the catalyst: it was the inspiration I needed. I followed his advice, and got a scholarship."

On the opera course, she was invited to sing Gretel with Welsh National Opera: "Everyone said, 'Go for it, you'll learn so much.' " Then she was invited to understudy Ilya in WNO's Idomeneo, "and as Amanda Roocroft had glandular fever, she never sang it, and that launched me."

That was in 1991, since when she has built up a busy career in Munich, Chicago and now Berlin, where Daniel Barenboim has taken her up in a big way. Her recordings include operas in English for the Peter Moores Foundation and a series of Gilbert & Sullivan recordings with Charles Mackerras (her hero and, coincidentally, her conductor for the ROH Zauberflöte). G&S suits her effervescent stage persona, and, like many singers, she gets cross at the snobbery about those operettas: "They're so singable, so melodious, and you come out so happy afterwards."

Recently, Evans has had to work hard at being happy: "Getting the news that my husband has MS knocked me sideways, but we've turned our world around and we're happy and sunny again. Music is now so important to me, mentally and spiritually, it's my medicine."

Even her nursing still has its uses: she was giving a recital for Radio 3 last year when the presenter suddenly interrupted to ask if there was a doctor in the house. Evans' response was to leap off the stage and give resuscitation. "Then I went back on and continued. It put singing into a different perspective."

'Die Zauberflöte', Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), tonight to 4 March

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