NEW YORK -- Suddenly, it seems, Olga is everywhere.
For Olga Peretyatko, the past year has seen a dizzying series of debuts that have thrust the 33-year-old Russian soprano into sudden prominence. These have included Berlin and Milan’s La Scala (Rimsky-Korsakov’s "The Tsar’s Bride"), Verona and Zurich (Verdi’s "Rigoletto") and the summer Salzburg Festival (Mozart’s "Lucio Silla").
Now she’s in New York to face critics and audiences at the Metropolitan Opera, singing a touchstone role of the bel canto repertory, the madness-prone Elvira in Vincenzo Bellini’s "I Puritani."
That wasn’t the original plan. When she signed a Met contract in 2009, her debut was to be as the Fiakermilli, a stratospherically challenging but small role in Richard Strauss’ "Arabella."
"I was happy. Nobody knew me," Peretyatko said in an interview backstage at the Met during a break from rehearsals. "But with each year since, I became better known, and I told them I’d prefer something more interesting than these three minutes of music!"
As luck would have it, soprano Natalie Dessay withdrew from plans to sing Elvira and the Met offered the role to Peretyatko.
"I told my husband (conductor Michele Mariotti) and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m conducting that!’ " she recalled.
How does Peretyatko, who exudes robust good humor and self-confidence, approach portraying one of the most emotionally fragile heroines in all of opera?
"The role of the woman in this time (Puritan England) was just nothing," she said. "Your brothers and fathers have decided everything for you, and you should just say yes. Or say no, and kill yourself.
"Musically, Elvira has everything," she added. "From the young girl who expects to be happy, to her mad scene. And this is actually one of the rare cases in these operas where the soprano doesn’t die at the end."
The last time the Met revived "I Puritani," in 2006, it starred another dark-haired Russian beauty, Anna Netrebko, who famously improvised during her mad scene by lying on her back at the front of the stage and singing with her head and arms dangling over the orchestra pit.
Peretyatko has no intention of repeating that maneuver, but said she expects that "for sure I’ll be compared to her. Everybody will talk about it. But it’s OK, I know her. And I admire her."
Began in Marinsky chorus
Peretyatko started singing professionally in the chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, where her father is a longtime chorus member. Initially she sang alto parts and dreamed of a career as a mezzo-soprano. But over time it became clear her natural voice was much higher.
When she was 20, she said, her voice teacher told her, " ‘Yeah, you have a beautiful voice, but my child, who told you you were a mezzo?’ I was really depressed for three days. OK: Carmen, never!"
Still, for a coloratura soprano able to reach well above high C, Peretyatko boasts an unusually rich lower and middle register. She calls it "my wild card," and adds proudly: "I am a technical freak."
Already the Met has engaged her to return in future seasons for several roles, including another mad heroine, Donizetti’s "Lucia di Lammermoor," Gilda in "Rigoletto" and Violetta in Verdi’s "La Traviata."
"I Puritani," also starring American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, opens today for a run of seven performances, ending on the last night of the season, May 10.