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Miner's son invited to sing 'Otello' by Placido Domingo

Walter Storey was determined that his son, Ian, would not follow the path of previous generations of his family by working in the coal mines of Durham. But singing Otello in Los Angeles at the invitation of Placido Domingo is unlikely to have formed part of either man's wildest dreams.

Nonetheless, a glittering future in opera looks to be Ian Storey's for the taking, after a triumphant rise through the ranks of professional tenors following a tough childhood growing up in the Co Durham mining village of Chilton and previous careers as a cabinet maker and teacher in New Zealand.

The 49-year-old singer's remarkable career ascent, reached its apogee last month when he became the first British performer in decades to open the new season at La Scala in Milan home to the world's most demanding opera audience.

Although reviews of the Briton's performance as Tristan, in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in front of six prime ministers and presidents, were appreciative rather than ecstatic, such a lead role in the glitziest night of the opera calendar marked an extraordinary turnaround for the son of a coal board clerk and the grandson of a miner.

Dubbed the Billy Elliot of opera, Storey now has engagements booked at opera houses around the world until 2013, including a request from Domingo, the world's foremost tenor, to make his debut in America next month by performing Otello in Los Angeles, followed by a reprise of his role as the Flying Dutchman in Washington. This has all happened with minimal attention in Britain, where Storey's profile is only just beginning to rise despite his spending more than a decade honing his skills for Opera East, Opera North and Scottish Opera.

The father-of-one, who lives in Herefordshire, is the first to admit his story is remarkable. He said: "I was heavily involved in sport, I had an accident and joined a choir just to fill in some time. After a few months the conductor said, 'have you thought of becoming an opera singer?', so here I am."

Among his fans is Daniel Barenboim, the revered conductor, who was impressed by Storey's tenacity in practising for eight hours a day as well as putting in many hours in the gym for the physically demanding role of Turandot.

Barenboim, who led the orchestra in the La Scala production, said: "He is a real, real discovery. I think his life will change."