Preview: Maskarade, Royal Opera House, London

A girl who just wanted to sing
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The Independent Culture

How did her ambition germinate? "With a session round the classroom table in Warwickshire, when each pupil had to declare their plans: some were going to be nurses or firemen, and I instantly said an opera singer. I loved the strength of the human voice, the power of it. I didn't want to be Maria Callas, I just wanted to sing."

Getting into the Royal Academy - and falling into the hands of the inspiring tutor Joy Mammen - set the seal on it all. And when she landed a contract to sing at the Komische Oper in Berlin - triumphing in the same auditions as her future husband, the Icelandic tenor Finnur Bjarnason - she was firmly on the road.

But after three years of that security, she's now relishing her freedom. 'The truth is I don't like having to be on call. It's a terrible admission, but if I want to have a celebration, say, and I'm halfway through my second bottle of wine, I don't want to be told a soprano's ill and I've got to come in to work. My standards are so high that I would be mortified to sing drunk."

She has so far specialised in the baroque, and her ambitions are still sharply focused: she doesn't have what she calls "the great arc" that Puccini's music calls for. "Trying for it, and failing, leaves me completely dissatisfied with myself. But there are an awful lot of things I can do - so I'm not searching for things I can't."

Monday, 7.30pm (020 7304 4000, www.royaloperahouse.org)

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