Bolton woman Antonia Sotgiu takes the stage in Carmen at the Royal Albert Hall

PUBLISHED: 12:26 30 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:40 20 February 2013

Antonia with husband Roy and sons Dino and Gabriel

Antonia with husband Roy and sons Dino and Gabriel

We meet a working mum from Bolton who is preparing to perform in front of 5,000 paying customers. Roger Borrell reports

Taking the title role in Carmen in front of 5,000 opera-lovers at one of the worlds most famous venues is something to tell your grandchildren about on a winters evening. But imagine if you were a Bolton lass and the director allowed you to sing the part in your home town accent.

A step too far? We will find out when Antonia Sotgiu takes the stage at the Royal Albert Hall this month in what will probably be the stand-out performance of her award-winning career.

Carmen is usually sung in French, but this production is in English, says
Antonia. I havent discussed it with the director yet but Carmen isnt a posh lady so he could decide to let me sing it in my Bolton accent. You never know!

Despite the exotic name her late father was Italian and her mother is Irish by birth Antonia is Bolton, born and bred and proud of her Lancashire roots.

Whats more, she still lives at Harwood with her husband Roy Clark and their sons Gabriel and Dino.

I work away a lot and I do miss Lancashire, she says. I miss the down-to-earth approach of the people and the friendliness. London can be a bit soulless.

Most people have the image of opera singers being divas, but Im a Lancashire lass and nothing like that. In fact, there are very few that are people just wouldnt employ you.

Antonia went to Heywood Grammar School but a career in music was barely considered. As far as I can remember, there wasnt even a choir at school.

I sang a bit after a few drinks and I had quite an operatic voice. My mum had some Maria Callas records that I liked listening to, but I didnt start singing properly until I was 23, she says. I had been a Jehovahs Witness and I dont think it was encouraged.

Then she heard Coppull-born Amanda Roocroft sing and decided she wanted to follow in her footsteps. Antonia had gone to the Royal Northern College of Music with the intention of studying piano but ended up singing. I didnt know what I was letting myself in for, she laughs. On
stage, it might seem like a very glamorous way of life, but its very
different behind the scenes. I love it but its hard work and I still feel like every job could be my last. It can be a precarious way of earning a living.

Antonia is now 44 and has sung major parts with Opera North, the Welsh
National Opera and English National Opera but she has never been tempted to follow the likes of Russell Watson or Catherine Jenkins into show business.

Im a mezzo-soprano and that can help with parts as you get older. They describe them as slags and bags! she says. But I enjoy the process of being in an opera, the costumes and the acting. Thats what I want to do.

Its a job where you need to be fit and healthy, have early nights but not be paranoid because someone you know has a cold. Its not a job that is always conductive to family life, but the boys are used to it.

Is she daunted by appearing in the lead at the Royal Albert Hall? I wont be shaking like I used to when I had to sing in front of a class full of fellow students, but I think you need to have a few nerves to perform well.

Im looking forward to it so much. My dad would have been so proud. Im not so sure about my sons their opinion of opera is that its very loud and goes on for a long time.

And husband Roy, who runs a French polishing business from home? Roy gigs in a rock band so when hes playing in his workshop at home and Im rehearsing a part in the house we must be the neighbours from hell!
Antonia will be alternating the title role in Bizets tragic story of love and jealousy with Cristina Nassif during 14 performances in the round between
February 21 and March 3.

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