UNLIKE the world of ballet, and a practice lovingly lampooned by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, opera stars do not invent for themselves exotic Eastern European stage names. So the Welsh soprano who takes the lead role in Scottish Opera’s Tosca from Wednesday was always Natalya Romaniw, by virtue of her Ukrainian grandfather, who settled in the principality after arriving as a prisoner of war in the 1940s. Was she teased at school for her unusual name? “No, I was teased for my terrible acne,” she tells me.

Now in her early thirties – and with a lovely, clear complexion – Romaniw has become something of a Scottish Opera favourite in recent years. She was the rival Foreign Princess in Anthony McDonald’s beautifully-staged Rusalka from Grange Park in 2016, and then Tatyana in last year’s lavish Eugene Onegin, directed by Oliver Mears, her third appearance in that role in the UK in quick succession. Now she makes her British debut in the title role of Puccini’s Tosca, stepping into the shoes of 10 previous sopranos in the ninth revival of a production by Anthony Besch that is a seven years older than she is. We are fortunate that this lyric soprano has found a conducive home with Scotland’s national opera company, because it is clear that she chooses her roles with great care.

Her countryman Gwyn Hughes-Jones is her lover Cavaradossi. “Gwyn has sung this role so many times, over 100 at least, and he says that this staging is exactly what Puccini wrote. It will be my first Tosca with a full scale show and in the UK, and I couldn’t have wished for a better production. It makes a huge impact. I am really enjoying rehearsing it.”

The soprano has a slightly embarrassing confession, however. “I only realised the other day that I had already seen it. I am good friends with [English National Opera’s head of casting] Michelle Williams – we were at school together – and when I was a student and she was assistant company manager here, I came to visit and we saw it in Inverness in 2012. But I hadn’t made the connection because it wasn’t in Glasgow.”

Romaniw was last in Scotland during this year’s Edinburgh Festival, one of four soloists in an Usher Hall concert of Elgar’s The Kingdom with the Halle, the Festival Chorus and conductor Martyn Brabbins, and her first appearances here were also on the concert platform, as soloist for the RSNO’s Viennese Gala concerts at the start of 2015 under the baton of Jean-Claude Picard.

In Perth, according to The Herald’s Michael Tumelty, she “pretty-much tore the place apart” with a performance that embraced, literally, the conductor and the front desk of the first violins.

“I went to some wonderful places in Scotland that I’d never even heard of, where we were cramming the full symphony orchestra into small venues. I had a ball singing the Viennese songs and something from Die Fledermaus. It was fun, light and frothy, and people come to those concerts for a good time, and they want to be transported,” she remembers. Oddly, perhaps, the RSNO dates remain the only Viennese galas she has yet sung.

Romaniw’s Ukrainian grandfather died in 2010 and so missed her ascendancy to the top rank of British singers, but the year previously she had represented Wales at Cardiff Singer of the World so she hopes that his misgivings about the precarious career path he had set her on had diminished.

“He always encouraged me to sing and dance when he played the accordion in the Ukrainian club. He was a chef and a mechanic, and never really settled in one job. He was self-taught in everything and he was always a little concerned that this wasn’t a very sustainable career.

“I studied music at school, sang in the choir and was part of an amateur dramatics theatre school. Primarily I was singing musical theatre in those days, and then I started to take classical singing lessons when I was 16. My first teacher was Penny Ryan in Swansea and one of the first arias she gave me was from Tosca. I didn’t have a clue in what context it came but I just loved it. It was an opportunity to explore the whole of my voice from top to bottom.”

That range was not always something the young Natalya appreciated. “When I first started to delve into opera and the classical side of singing I thought my voice was very loud and wobbly at the top. I never classed myself as a high voice when I was younger, I was always alto or mezzo, growing up in school. I wouldn’t be put on the top because I stood out. I had the notes but I didn’t think I could blend very well for a choir. Now I know it is vibrato and it’s natural.”

She auditioned for music colleges and won a place at London’s Guildhall. “That’s where it sincerely began. I represented Wales in Cardiff Singer of the World in 2009 and won the Gold Medal in my final year, then the Kathleen Ferrier Prize in 2012 and gained places on the young artist programmes at the Met, Covent Garden and Houston.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Romaniw elected to go to Texas. “Covent Garden was always my dream, but I felt that Houston had the best benefits and the clearest vision of where my voice was headed. As a young singer it is really important to be nurtured by people who are guiding you on the right path, and they gave me a lovely contract with alternate cast Mimi in Boheme, and covering Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. It was a perfect combination of roles for a young singer in their first year. What really drew me was the teacher there, Stephen King. I’d heard a lot of his students when I was covering roles at Glyndebourne while I was a student at Guildhall and always been very intrigued by their faultless technique.

“And it was good to get away from the UK, because there was a lot of pressure on me – people expected a lot, so it was nice to have some space. These young artist programme places are hard to gain – America is not short of good singers – and they have the best people there, a really high calibre of singers, which is really beneficial for the young artists. I got to do a lot of the smaller Verdi roles, the maids basically and the High Priestess in Aida. I watched great people sing the big roles I would one day want to sing, and was performing with these seasoned stage animals.”

Romaniw’s careful preparation for the role of Tosca has included tackling the role in the small summer opera festival, Lyrique-en-Mer, on the French Atlantic holiday island Belle-Ile.

“It is run by a guy called Philip Walsh, who is a lovely conductor, and they were putting on a Tosca with a reduced orchestra in a small scale production. It was a really good opportunity to do it under no pressure, when I knew I was doing this. It was nice to feel the pace of the role.”

In her careful plotting of her career, Romaniw is bidding farewell to Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin for the time being. “Tatyana became my signature role. I did it at Garsington, then at Welsh National Opera and then here. Although I will always sing it the way that I have learned to sing it, it grew hugely from 2016 to 2018. I discovered a lot of things which I couldn’t do in the first instance.

“I really surprised myself at Garsington with The Letter Scene. It was my big debut coming back from Houston and I remember thinking that I’d never sung on my own for 13 minutes and I wondered whether I could hold the audience’s attention. But I loved the role so much that the time just whizzed by. The lines can be thought of in so many different ways; it is always up for exploration.

“Every time you do a role you find new things within the story, within the relationships between the characters. And different conductors want you to do different things so you have to be open to that. Each time you come back to it you can be more daring or playful. I hope one day it will be the same with Tosca.”

Tosca opens at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow on Wednesday October 16 and tours to Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh until November 23. scottishopera.org.uk