Elena Prokina was born in Odessa, where she began to study singing and acting at the Children's Art Studio at the Odessa State Conservatoire. She moved to St.Petersburg (then Leningrad) where she concluded her education at the Leningrad State Conservatoire. As a postgraduate student in 1988, Elena Prokina was invited to join the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Opera Company, where she made her debut in many leading parts, including Violetta in La traviata, Desdemona in Otello, Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, Natasha in War and Peace, Marguerite in Faust and Pauline in The Gambler, until she left the Kirov Opera in 1992.
In 1991, Elena Prokina won the First prize at the Maria Caniglia International Vocal Competition (Sulmona, Italy). She was nominated for the Grammy Classical Award for performing the leading role of Natasha Rostova in Sergei Prokofiev's War and Peace, recorded by Philips, and awarded by Evening Standard Classical Music and Opera Award as the Outstanding Opera Performance. She rapidly became noted for her intensely committed portrayals of vulnerable heroines, roles in which she could use not only her vocal skills but also her abilities as an actress.
Elena Prokina has taken part in the Edinburgh, Glyndebourne and Aldeburgh Festivals in the United Kingdom and the Bregenz Opera festival in Austria, as well as having appeared in opera houses such as the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and in San Carlos, Lisbon, Monte Carlo, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sydney and Zurich. She has taken part in productions by Temur Chkeidze, John Cox, Peter Hall, Harry Kupfer, Trevor Nunn, and Graham Vick, and has worked with conductors such as Claudio Abbado in Boccanegra with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Riccardo Muti as Blanche in Dialogue des Carmelites at La Scala, Vladimir Ashkenazy, James Conlon, Sir Edward Downes, Lawrence Foster, Bernard Haitink, Mikhail Pletnev, Sir Simon Rattle in Jenufa with the Berlin Philharmonic, Mstislav Rostropovich, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Yuri Temirkanov, Nello Santi, Vladimir Ashkenazy and many others.