To those of us who had seen her on stage, it came as no surprise that Eri Nakamura should make it both into the song and the orchestral finals of the 2009 Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Because this petite and lustrous soprano, born in a remote Japanese village, has an unforgettable presence. Her incarnation of the Sandman in Covent Garden's Hansel und Gretel was extraordinary, and not only because, in addition to singing, she also had to fly, and to jointly inhabit her costume with an actress playing her nether parts. Her incarnation of the First Witch in Dido a few months later – again sharing a dress with a second performer – was the wackiest thing in the show.
But she's anything but wacky to talk to. You sense a steely determination, as she tells the story of her first 31 years. Yet she only started singing at 17 – until then, her ambition was to be a schoolteacher specialising in the trombone. The trigger was the earthquake in Kobe, where she was living at the time, and where the ensuing power-cuts caused a parallel shorting in her mind. "Maybe I lost my old sense of self," she says. At all events, she suddenly began to sing, "and I found I could sing the high notes in 'Queen of the Night' more easily than other people. And once I'd started singing, I couldn't stop."
She won scholarships to sing in Tokyo and Amsterdam, but her big break came when she was offered a singing scholarship at Covent Garden. Catch her there, if you can, on 5 January as Musetta in La Boheme.