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Australian opera singer, Stephen Smith, was in foster care as a child.

Stephen hardly knew his mother, a Samoan immigrant. But he was well looked after by his foster parents. At the age of ten, Stephen was moved from his foster home in Melbourne to live with his father in Western Victoria.

Stephen’s father was fifty-seven when he was born, and the generation gap was a source of conflict. As Stephen explains, “He was always good to me, but you know, as a teenager who’s pushing boundaries I didn’t appreciate that” (ABC 7:30). Stephen dropped out of school and left home at age fifteen.

I left home and lived with my foster brother in Melbourne. He ended up in jail and so I ran out of places to stay. I was soon on the street, sleeping in train stations and doorways. While on the streets, I met some young refugees who loved rhythm and blues and hip hop. That’s where my love of music was born (Domain). 

Stephen began taking music lessons at age seventeen while working as a fruitier at David Jones. 

One of the girls I used to work with, her name was Leanne, she told me that I had a beautiful voice and suggested I get lessons and I was quite open to it and she sent me along to her teacher (ABC 7:30).

Stephen began working the night shift at the Footscray Markets to pay for singing lessons. He was then accepted into the Victorian College of the Arts and earned a Bachelor of Music degree.

Stephen, a tenor singer, made his professional debut performing the role of Rodolfo in the Eastern Metropolitan Opera’s production of La bohème. He then performed numerous roles with Melbourne Opera, and was awarded the Dame Joan Hammond Opera Award in 2004.

In 2005, Stephen was awarded the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Award to complete further vocal studies in Italy with the Teatro Communale. He joined Opera Australia in 2006, touring nationally and internationally. Some of his opera career highlights include being part of the World Premiere production of Bliss in Sydney, Melbourne, and at the Edinburgh Festival, and appearing as soloist with the Sydney Symphony and the Tianjin Symphony Orchestra in China.

Stephen now works as a leading real estate agent in Melbourne. He has also worked with the CREATE Foundation to support young people as they transition from care. Stephen has been married twice and has four children.


“How Stephen sang himself to life.” Conversations, ABC Radio National, 30 October 2023. 

Lacey, Stephen. “Meet Stephen Smith from Marshall White, Perhaps Melbourne’s Most Musical Estate Agent.” Domain, 8 June 2018. 

Northover, Kylie. “Tenor sings his way out of mean streets.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 December, 2011. 

O’Brien, Kerry. “Rough road to fame for opera star.” ABC 7:30, 7 Dec 2009.

“Stephen Smith, tenor.” Opera Australia.,Opera’s%20production%20of%20La%20boh%C3%A8me.

Image available here.