The statuesque Barbara Frittoli greets me with one hand in a sling - the result of a skydiving injury. It's nothing, she says, just the result of an airborne lark with her daughter. And when she tells her life-story, the setbacks are dropped in with similar casualness. She used to go to concerts by Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones, and had no big operatic dreams; she began singing in the chorus in her native Milan purely for fun.
Before long, she was judged to have a natural opera voice and was sent to a teacher, but the effect was calamitous. "He said that because I had low notes, and because I liked to darken my voice, I was an alto. In the next six months I lost all my high notes; I was like Radio Sahara" - and to demonstrate she makes a dry, breathy sound.
Two further teachers helped to get some of her range back, but not enough: "Finally I went to yet another, as my last chance. If I didn't get the whole voice back, I would stop singing for ever."
After four years, she did. "I acquired the sort of technique which means that if you have a cold or too many things on your mind - or if you have a woman's monthly period - you can still sing well. Hormonal change affects your voice. My best period for singing was when I was pregnant - then the problems stopped. I'd never sung so well in my life."
As what is known in the trade as a lirico-spinto soprano, she was spotted first by Pavarotti, then by Claudio Abbado, and was soon launched on her stellar career. She used to record for Erato, but is quite unfazed by its demise. "I don't want to be governed by money and, anyway, live performance is what turns me on. I was born in the theatre, and I will die in the theatre."
Meanwhile, she's shining at the Wigmore Hall.
6 October (020-7935 2141; www.wigmore-hall.org.uk)Reuse content