“I thought, what a stupid girl! I can’t understand her, why does she do these things?” bemoans the Russian soprano Irina Lungu. The girl in question is Gilda, one of Verdi’s famously wronged heroines, and a role that’s fast becoming one of Lungu’s signature roles. It’s also the role with which she’ll make her Opera Australia debut this month, opposite the Rigoletto of Dalibor Jenis.

Irina Lungu. Photo © Victor Santiago

At 37, Lungu is slowly but surely becoming a well known and sought after quantity in Europe. With a conservative estimate of approximately 30 roles in her diverse repertoire, the soprano’s rock solid bel cantotraining, glamorous sound, and keen dramatic instincts make her an undeniable talent. Born in Moldova and raised in Russia, Lungu began studying music at six, but it wasn’t until she turned 18 that she decided to focus purely on the voice.

“Until 18, I had never even been to the opera,” she says. “And my first time was just awful. It was a production of La Traviataand I fell asleep in the second act. Disastrous. It was opera performed at not a very high level and...