Previews: Don Pasquale, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

Suddenly it's raining Donizettis, and productions of Don Pasquale in particular. Last month at Garsington, we got it transposed to turn-of-the-century Paris, with Norina as a charismatic café portraitist. Tonight, Jonathan Miller's production comes back into the Covent Garden repertoire; here, the 18th-century characters inhabit a vast doll's house, with Norina sleeping illicitly with her lover Ernesto in an up- stairs bedroom.

If this proves as joyful a riot as it did on its first outing, that will be thanks to the young Polish soprano who now incarnates the merry widow. This isn't Aleksandra Kurzak's Royal Opera debut - she made a shining appearance there last year in Mozart's Mitridate, Re di Ponto - but it is her big coming-out.

With a string of competition wins behind her, Kurzak radiates the confidence that induced Placido Domingo to single her out at Operalia. But as she canters through her history to date, you see whence that confidence comes. "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," Kurzak says.

She spent her childhood preparing to become a professional violinist, regarding singing as being just too easy. When, at 19, she suddenly decided to trade on her vocal gifts, she got hold of a load of Leontyne Price records and sang along with those. And for her first professional engagement, she sang Susanna opposite her mother's incarnation of the Contessa. "That was a beautiful moment for me, particularly as we look very alike, and have a similar colour to our voices." Whenever Kurzak does a new role, she goes back to Poland for intensive coaching from her mother.

Is she happiest, then, 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."

From tonight (020-7304 4000;