ALEXANDER Sefton couldn't contain his feelings the first time he stepped on the Sydney Opera House stage.
"It's easily the most iconic opera house in the world," Sefton said.
"The first time I was rehearsing on there I couldn't stop smiling. It was not a very happy scene that I was singing, but I had to keep breaking character because it's just surreal.
"I've spent so long being in the audience and watching shows there, to suddenly be standing in the centre of the stage and they put the lights on and you're singing out into it is something else.
"Having my own dressing room for the first time with my name on the door and having people 'Mr Sefton to the stage' all that stuff, it's not going to get old for a while."
Wallsend resident Sefton, 34, is appearing in Opera Australia's Great Opera Hits production, a 90 minute selection of famous masterpieces, described as the best of opera without the boring bits.
"This is a big breakthrough for me, which is really exciting," he said.
Sefton opens the show with TheToreador Song from Carmen and also sings the Pearl Fishers' Duet and Nemico Della Patria.
"In any art form you have ebbs and flows and ups and downs... and big amazing moments, but this is just big amazing moments from start to finish really."
Just two years ago Sefton was working in a kitchen, after giving up on singing.
"When I got here all the staff have basically said 'You just have a big voice and you were never going to be ready to have a professional career until your mid 30s'," he said.
"The more dramatic voices tend to mature later, so I keep being told I'll hit my stride in my mid 40s and peak around 50s, which is different to a lot of career paths."
Sefton grew up with a love of both music and theatre.
A teacher introduced him while he was in high school to opera singing, around 2004.
"It's just so powerful and such an amazing combination of the two things that I really loved," he said.
"There's nothing quite like it, it's a full body experience, the actual singing of it. It's this combination of so much of the human experience and art, that it's this full body, very physical thing.
"Combining this physical hard work with this real emotional expression and then coming together with dozens and dozens of other people, other singers, and musicians and the stage crew and the creative crew and putting this thing together just to tell this story, there's something transcendental about it. It's very cathartic and universal."
After finishing school at Merewether High he studied a Bachelor of Music and a Graduate Diploma in Music at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, from 2009 to 2012.
He contacted Opera Australia when he heard a friend had turned down a role in their touring schools program and stayed for two years, performing 160 shows in seven months.
He then joined the University of Newcastle's Conservatorium of Music as a teacher in the community music program and then the tertiary program.
He appeared about three years ago in an Opera Australia chorus and was asked at the start of 2020 to join the chorus for its La Traviata on Sydney Harbour, which was cancelled due to COVID-19.
He decided to do a stage audition for the company last July and secured a place in its Young Artist Program, which includes a salary and extra coaching.
"It's always something you dream about getting when you're developing," he said.
"It's an opportunity to get used to being on the stage without the pressure of doing a full opera, but you get to practice being in that space and singing with the audience there and the pressure of being somewhere so iconic."
As well as appearing in Great Opera Hits on February 3, 7 and 19, Sefton is an understudy in Puccini's Tosca at the Sydney Opera House from February 22 and will appear in La Traviata on the harbour - this time in the role of Baron Douphol - from March 26.
"It's my first big actual role so I couldn't be more excited, really."