In the opera Boris Godunov, Varlaam, disguised as a monk, sings a drunken song about Ivan the Terrible’s siege of Kazan. The capital of Tatarstan was birthplace to one of the great Russian basses, Feodor Chaliapin (himself a great Boris and Varlaam) and a monument to him stands in the city. Whether a statue to Kazan-born Aida Garifullina will be erected, only time will tell, but the soprano is being touted as ‘the next big thing’ in the opera world.

Aida Garifullina © Askonas Holt
Aida Garifullina
© Askonas Holt

Operatic twitchers are drawn irresistibly to Rosenblatt Recitals, tempted by the opportunity to spot exciting up-and-coming singers. In the case of Garifullina, Decca already has a foot firmly planted in the door, signing the Russian soprano earlier this year. Winner of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition in 2013, she made her Wiener Staatsoper debut just last month as Musetta in La bohème. Therefore, the anticipatory buzz in Wigmore Hall was even greater than usual for her solo recital, which was not quite a London debut (a charity concert during the 2012 Olympics), but was close. Comparisons with Anna Netrebko are inevitable. Garifullina also emerged at the Mariinsky and shares much of Netrebko’s early repertoire: Susanna, Adina, Gilda and – notably – Natasha in War and Peace. She also shares dazzling good looks.

For such a young singer (barely 27), Garifullina displayed remarkable composure. There is an impressive, calm confidence in her stage manner – which included a brief audience address – and she clearly adored Iain Burnside’s contributions at the piano. She also has that happy knack of seeming to make eye contact with everyone in the hall. But what of the voice?

I could happily have listened to her Russian repertoire all evening. In the aria from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden, Garifullina immediately demonstrated that she is no soubrette canary. She possesses a bright, full sound from which she can draw a fine diminuendo, while in Rimsky’s The Nightingale enslaved by the rose, dusky lower notes were evident. The Queen of Shemakha’s ravishing ‘Hymn to the Sun’ from Le coq d’or was exquisitely seductive, Garifullina relishing the sinuous chromatic runs, though not always cleanly executed. Yet there was also that wistful Russian melancholy to the voice, perfect for the pair of Rachmaninov songs with which she opened the second half. There was radiant stillness in Siren (Lilacs), while Zdes’ khorosho! (How peaceful is it here!) found her golden-toned soprano gleaming in the upper lines. Burnside, too, was in his element here, particularly in the beautiful postlude to the latter song.

But the modern opera singer needs several strings to the bow and Garifullina’s forays into French, Czech and Italian repertoire met with more variable success. Best was Juliette’s “Je veux vivre”, capturing the breathless excitement of teenage love and creating a real stir in the hall. Musetta’s “Quando m’en vo’” was suitably flirtatious, as was Delibes Les filles de Cadix. “Casta Diva” opened with delicate light and softness. The cabaletta, however, showed up a tendency for her tone to harshen (and sharpen) at the top when at full throttle, although she attacked the ‘money notes’ with brio. There were also, in Dvořák’s Songs my Mother taught me, hints of portamento swooping at the ends of phrases. These are minor quibbles, which can doubtless be ironed out.

Garifullina is clearly still ‘work in progress’, but is hugely promising. As long as she is not pushed too far too soon, she could develop into a superstar in the operatic firmament. “Celeste Aida” indeed.