One of Australia’s most eminent tenors, Rosario La Spina, still calls Redcliffe home.
Rosario La Spina is probably the only opera singer in the world who owes his career to a power tool.
The Australian-born international tenor was trained at the young singers’ academy at La Scala, Milan and has taken leading roles in the Italian and French repertoire around the world – Europe, North America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
La Spina is also a major recording artist for Universal/ABC Classics.
But at 21 years-old, he was working as a bricklayer when an angle grinder shattered his bicep leaving a 12cm gash.
As he lay in hospital he realised he wanted to change his life.
“I wasn’t particularly happy and I wasn’t particularly good at bricklaying,” says La Spina, who grew up in Wavell Heights as the son of Sicilian immigrants.
“My sister Anna had been driving me mad for years telling me I should take singing lessons. She is a professional pop singer and when I came out of hospital, I went with her to a class.”
Within two years he was accepted at the Queensland Conservatorium.
“I was used to being shouted at as a bricklayer and suddenly I was in an environment where everyone was so nice and polite,” he says.
As a teenager he had worked for three years on the Channel 7 programmes The Hi Hello Show and The Myer Variety Show. He left school after year 12 and travelled to England with a singer/songwriter to make his fortune.
“We wanted to record as a pop duo but after four months I came home. Dad gave me the ‘what do you want to do with your life?’ talk and I took on an apprenticeship with him as a bricklayer.”
La Spina stopped singing. “My voice changed, I couldn’t reach high notes. And I honestly thought I had become rubbish at singing.”
Starting his career at 23 isn’t a disadvantage.
“It hasn’t affected my voice or my potential. If anything having life experience is a benefit.”
A regular with Opera Australia, La Spina has travelled the world including to La Scala in Milan where he met his wife, Serbian mezzo soprano Milijana Nikolic.
Yet Brisbane is where his heart is. “I love living in Australia especially now we have a son [Enrico, 18 months].
“Maybe being here has stopped me getting a few gigs but I lived away for ten years and I missed home.
“Fortunately I’ve been busy enough in Australia and for the last 18 months Milijana and I have worked a lot together. As a tenor, the next ten years will hopefully be my prime.”
His Brisbane base means he can stay in touch with those he credits for his success, his singing teacher Joseph Ward OBE and pianist John Woods.
“Brisbane has a vibrant classical scene,” believes La Spina. “If any of the greats come to Sydney or Melbourne, they also come here.”
In March La Spina performed professionally for the first time in Brisbane with Queensland Opera.
“The thing I most enjoy is sleeping in my own bed. That’s a luxury when you’re performing.
“A three-hour opera is as tiring as any exercise, you drop a few litres in fluid.
“The emotions of playing violent roles and also the nerves of performing in front of thousands can consume you. I try to completely forget opera when I come off stage.”
La Spina winds down in Redcliffe by visiting his favourite cafe for apple pie on the seafront, watching television, even having a bash at DIY.
Although many might avoid using power tools after the horrific accident that changed his life, La Spina currently has a large cut on his finger.
“I almost cut it off trying to grind off some rust at the front of our house. You’d think I’d be more careful these days, wouldn’t you?”