Label’s first mezzo-soprano signing in years ‘used to milk cows near mountains’

An opera singer who grew up milking cows and chopping wood near the Ural Mountains has become a record label’s “first mezzo-soprano signing in over 30 years”.

Aigul Akhmetshina, from the Russian village Kirgiz-Miyaki in Bashkortostan, was rejected in her early auditions due to her voice and appearance, according to Decca Records.

The villagers helped her financially and she had to take on part-time jobs before being invited to audition for the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House in London.

Then 18, she was the youngest artist ever to have enrolled in the professional development programme.

The 27-year-old has been in productions of The Barber Of Seville, West Side Story and 7 Deaths Of Maria Callas – and last year won an International Opera Award in the best female singer category.

Aigul Akhmetshina Credit. Paola Kudacki
Aigul Akhmetshina (Paola Kudacki/PA)

Decca Classics label director Dominic Fyfe said: “I first heard Aigul in a London church in the depths of winter.

“We had invited her to record the final scene from Carmen and it’s no exaggeration to say her voice could make snow melt. The electricity crackled.

“This is an exciting moment for Decca Classics – our first mezzo-soprano signing in over 30 years – and we couldn’t be happier to welcome Aigul to the label.”

Akhmetshina says her family have “beautiful classical voices”, and could have been opera singers if they trained.

She said: “My grandmother sang, my uncles sang, my grandfather played the accordion.

“My family is very simple, and my mother was raising three kids by herself. I had to start working very early and moved to the city when I was 14 to start building my own life.”

Her debut album Aigul will be released on July 26 and features a folk song from her home.

Decca co-president Tom Lewis said: “Aigul’s story is an extraordinary reminder of the transformative power of music.

“She set out from a tiny village with nothing but her talent and a formidable work ethic. And, in a very short time, that talent has taken her to the very, very top of her profession. She has a voice that will captivate the world.”

On New Year’s Eve last year, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City premiered a production of Carmen with Akhmetshina playing the title role in jeans and turquoise cowboy boots.

Akhmetshina said: “It’s (Carmen is) about a woman from a difficult past, a difficult childhood who also dreams about a happy future… I’m a fighter. I had to be, and when you have to prove that you own your place, that gives you extra strength.”

It has been directed by Carrie Cracknell, known for her work on Netflix’s Persuasion – starring Fifty Shades film series actress Dakota Johnson.

Akhmetshina will also return to the Royal Opera House, and Glyndebourne Festival, in the lead role of Carmen.

Aigul comes out on July 26.