Comeback queen Elizabeth Llewellyn is on key

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The Independent Culture

Last year the British Black Classical Foundation launched its first Voice of Black Opera competition. Winning this wasn't the reason why Elizabeth Llewellyn is now making her debut as Mimì in Jonathan Miller's production of La Bohème, but it certainly bolstered this articulate young soprano's reputation as a force to reckon with.

Her route to stardom has been tortuous. Born to Jamaican parents in London, she became a talented teenage pianist and was embarking on a keyboard career when her head teacher offered to pay for some voice lessons instead.

She went to train at the Royal Northern College of Music, but was struck by a mystery ailment, which forced her to abort her planned singing career.

Philosophically, she decided to forget it, and for 10 years became a high-powered office worker, until a Guildhall répétiteur who heard her sing in an amateur group suggested she owed it to herself to try again. "I said I'd give myself a year, and abandon it if nothing worked," she says. But, with training in Wales and Italy, it did. Glyndebourne took a shine to her, and now ENO has too.

Is being black an issue, in planning an operatic career? "Personally, I've never found it one, but I'd be naive to think it never could be – not everywhere is as multicultural as London. But there are obviously roles I would never sing, like Desdemona in Othello. Vocally that role would suit me perfectly, but story-wise there could be problems." Or white up?

'La Bohème' opens at ENO on 18 October

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