Portugal Colonial - Pirozzi's journey from wedding singer to opera star

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Pirozzi's journey from wedding singer to opera star
Pirozzi's journey from wedding singer to opera star

Pirozzi's journey from wedding singer to opera star

Anna Pirozzi was more into Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston growing up -- it never even crossed her mind that she might one day be singing in the world's most illustrious opera halls.

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"Everyone told me: "You have a beautiful voice, why don't you study singing?' But no one listened to classical or opera in my family," the Italian soprano, 47, told AFP.

Until she was 25, Pirozzi had never even heard an opera, making a living singing in cafes, karaoke bars and wedding venues.

Today, she is sought by the top opera companies around the world.

Not that the journey has been easy: Pirozzi has become a powerful voice not only on stage, but also against the "fatphobia" that women face in the opera world.

She has heard it all, from being told she was "too old" for a part when she was 31, to hearing that directors felt she "doesn't have the right body for the role".

"We're less afraid of speaking about it these days, but we have to continue. Especially since this problem only affects women in opera. Men can be however they want."

Pirozzi is not alone in denouncing the problem.

Despite the cliches about fat ladies singing, modern directors often want more athletic singers.

US-Cuban soprano star Lisette Oropesa is among those who have spoken out about the way women are pressured into losing weight.

In 2003 London's Royal Opera House sparked an outcry by sacking Deborah Voigt, one of the world's best-known sopranos, because she couldn't fit in her dress -- leading her to seek gastric bypass surgery.

- For the love of Callas -

Pirozzi has also had to struggle against her lack of early classical schooling.

It was only when she decided to learn to read music in her mid-20s that a teacher recognised her talent -- when she sang the only piece of classical music she knew: "Ave Maria" by Schubert, which she had picked up for her wedding gigs.

It was from listening to US-Greek legend Maria Callas that she fell in love with opera and gradually started working her way up through small theatres in Italy.

Like Callas, Pirozzi is a "dramatic coloratura soprano" -- a category for singers with a great range that allows them to sing both powerful and softer parts.

But unlike Callas, who famously shed 36 of her 91 kilos in the 1950s, Pirozzi is no longer interested in how others see her.

"I no longer do diets," she said.

"I said stop to all that. If you want to come and hear my voice, you are welcome."