Operatic tenor, Dr Sam Elmi, would give away all the years of hard work qualifying to practice medicine in Australia, for a career on the stage.
He admits that he practices medicine so he can support his great love - singing.
But don't think that makes him any less dedicated to his day job - he loves his patients at the Morpeth medical centre he works at, and they love him.
"They're all bringing me cakes," he laughs.
Sam immigrated to Australia from Iran in 2016, fleeing Iran because of it's oppressive and "bullying" government.
A fully qualified doctor in Iran, Sam has had to study and pass 19 exams to become qualified to practice in Australia. He started taking the exams while he was in Iran, and also later in Turkey. He was not able to start working in Australia until 2018, and finally became fully qualified in February this year. It has been a long and arduous road.
I'm so lucky. The way we are living in Australia, I'm so lucky. Even though in Australia you may not have that big, for example, Paris Opera or Metropolitan Opera, opera is still going on and we can sing.Dr Sam Elmi
And all the while, Sam, now living in Newcastle, continues to study with his vocal coaches in Sydney and Newcastle, Deborah Humble and Sharolyn Kimmorley AM, both of them stars in their own right and considered two of the finest vocal coaches in Australia.
Sam has only been singing classically for around 10 years. Before that, he was a rock and pop singer in Iran. He played classical and flamenco guitar from the age of 14.
He stunned audiences at the Taree and District Eisteddfod, one of the largest regional eisteddfods in NSW, with his performances, particularly of the Handel aria Ombra mai fu, and Onegin's aria from the Tchaikovsky opera, Eugene Onegin, sung in Russian. It was for those performances he won the Open Vocal Championship. He was invited back to Taree to sing for the Grand Concert on June 5.
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Sam was voted as a winner in the Jury's Choice division of the Sydney Eisteddfod Crowd Favourite Performance competition in 2020, just prior to the advent of the pandemic.
He has performed on the international stage, attending the London Bel Canto Festival to sing the role of Anichino in Beatrice di Tenda by Bellini with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
He also sang with DocsVox - NSW Doctors Choir as a soloist for the Requiem in D minor by Fauré in 2020.
Sam says he considers himself a semi professional. He is a member of Opera Hunter and performed with them in Pirates of Penzance as Frederic in 2019. He will be performing the lead male road of Alfredo in this season's production of the popular Verdi opera, La Traviata.
"Alfredo is my dream role," Sam says. "It's fantastic for my voice."
"It's a very important role to have my debut with."
Sam aims to sing the role of Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca sometime in the next 10 years, as well as Rudolfo in another Puccini opera, La Boheme, but concedes he needs more experience before that happens.
"It's not my time yet," he says.
Ultimately, Sam plans to apply to Opera Australia.
"I'm practicing, I'm preparing my repertoire, I have a German, French, Italian and Russian repertoire now. So I think Opera Australia would be happy," he says.
"I'm doing my best to get somewhere. But I know if I don't get to Opera Australia or other places, I'll still be happy because I'm trying to learn proper technique. I enjoy singing."
Sam doesn't just enjoy singing, It is his passion. And he loves performing opera in particular, which he says is an artform in itself.
You should not forget the joy of singing, the joy of the journey.Dr Sam Elmi
"You have to act, you have to sing, you have to know the languages, you have to know the history, you have to know the people who have been singing it - different people do it different ways. And then you find your way how you can narrate that fantastic repertoire that masters, great people, wrote. So then you have to follow with some kind of interpretation but without losing the original work.
"You should not forget the joy of singing, the joy of the journey.
"No matter when you have started, you are lucky to enjoy that talent, and sing, and transfer that joy to other people. I enjoy seeing people in the audience that are crying with me.
"Every time I'm singing dramatic repertoire, I'm drained, because it's hard. Emotionally you are just under so much pressure, every time you have to go through the damage that character goes through. Because you have to act really well if you want to do well. That's opera, they expect you to do that. You're not yourself anymore - so you have to suffer!" he laughs.
Opera Hunter's production of La Traviata is on at the Lake Macquarie Performing Arts Centre from July 21 to August 1, 2021. For more information visit www.operahunter.org.au.
Sam is also having a concert at St James Church in Morpeth, to which his patients are specially invited, on Saturday, June 19 from 12.30. Entry is by donation at the door.
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