OPERA singer Antonia Sotgiu will be leaving her Bolton home next month for the bright lights of London and a leading role in one of the world’s most famous operas.

It is a dream come true for 44-year-old Mrs Sotgiu, who is relishing the opportunity to appear as the lead tragic figure of Carmen at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall.

Mrs Sotgiu, a freelance opera singer, lives in Harwood with her husband, 48-year-old Roy Clark and two sons, 14-year-old Gabriel and Dino, aged 10.

But her life as a glamorous singer is not the one she could have envisaged when she first started out in the world of work.

The former Hayward Grammar School pupil left her studies aged 16 and went into the family business — an Italian restaurant in Westhoughton.

She later decided to study A-levels, and it was not until she was 23 that Mrs Sotgiu applied to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. “I had never been in a choir, or had singing lessons, but I decided to give it a go,” said Mrs Sotgiu who was encouraged to apply by her grandmother, a music teacher.

She had grown up listening to her mother’s Maria Callas records — the American-born Greek soprano and renowned opera singer — and played the piano, but never imagined standing on a stage singing opera, let alone on one of the most famous stages of all.

Mrs Sotgiu’s talent was spotted and she spent six years at the Northern College honing her talent.

She also studied at the National Opera Studio in London.

She said: “I think my voice was quite operatic, naturally, but I did feel nervous when I first started; I wasn’t from a traditional background of singing.

“I was nervous and shaking like a leaf. A lot of it was about confidence and my lack of it at that time,” said Mrs Sotgiu who explained that she was married when she applied for the Northern College of Music and a little older than most of her counterparts.

“But I don’t think it is quite the same as, say, a pop singer. An opera voice often develops later in life.”

Antonia’s Irish-born mother, Margaret, still lives in Bolton but her father, Salvatore, died four years ago.

She said: “He would have been very proud of me. He was Italian so loved opera and would have been there cheering me on.”

Her career takes her away from home but husband Roy, a French polisher, is always on hand to help out with the boys.

Rehearsals start soon for Carmen and that will mean Antonia being away from her family once again.

“I do miss them but they will come and watch me when I do Carmen,” she said. Mrs Sotgiu will be singing her Carmen role in English but has no problem when it comes to singing in Italian thanks to her family’s roots and her knowledge of the language.

She completed three summers at Glyndebourne in Sussex, performed with the Welsh National Opera in Cardiff, Opera North, Opera Holland Park in London and has performed with many other companies.

● Carmen runs from Thursday, February 21, to Sunday, March 3, at The Royal Albert Hall.