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


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 world’s most famous venues is something to tell your grandchildren about on a winter’s 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,’ saysAntonia. ‘I haven’t discussed it with the director yet but Carmen isn’t 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.

What’s 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.

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‘Most people have the image of opera singers being divas, but I’m a Lancashire lass and nothing like that. In fact, there are very few that are – people just wouldn’t employ you.’

Antonia went to Heywood Grammar School but a career in music was barely considered. ‘As far as I can remember, there wasn’t 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 didn’t start singing properly until I was 23,’ she says. ‘I had been a Jehovah’s Witness and I don’t 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 didn’t know what I was letting myself in for,’ she laughs. ‘Onstage, it might seem like a very glamorous way of life, but it’s verydifferent behind the scenes. I love it but it’s 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 WelshNational Opera and English National Opera but she has never been tempted to follow the likes of Russell Watson or Catherine Jenkins into show business.

‘I’m 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. That’s what I want to do.

‘It’s a job where you need to be fit and healthy, have early nights but not be paranoid because someone you know has a cold. It’s 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 won’t 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.

‘I’m looking forward to it so much. My dad would have been so proud. I’m not so sure about my sons – their opinion of opera is that it’s 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 he’s playing in his workshop at home and I’m rehearsing a part in the house we must be the neighbours from hell!’Antonia will be alternating the title role in Bizet’s tragic story of love and jealousy with Cristina Nassif during 14 performances in the round betweenFebruary 21 and March 3.