They call William Thong the "Chinese Caruso".
The former Chinese High School student used to sing Chinese opera in makeshift theatres in Serangoon.
Back in 1965, Thong, then 26, was preparing to make his debut at London's Convent Garden to sing Italian opera like Italian tenor Enrico Caruso.
Next up were engagements in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City and the La Scala in Milan.
Mr Thong, who was then studying acting and opera at the National Opera College in London, said a Singapore Chinese philanthropist had financed his music studies.
In 1962, the young man's first big break came when he sang an Italian song in a theatre in Rome, where he was studying under famous tenor Luigi Infantino.
He went to the Royal Academy of Music the following year and studied under an English professor of singing, Dame Eva Turner.
Mr Thong,who also sang French operas, said he liked Italian and French operas because they were "artistic and full of depth in meaning". He said one way to enrich Singapore's culture was to encourage young people to compose operas from existing Chinese, Malay or Indian plays.