Like British singer Susan Boyle, who wowed listeners with her beautiful voice a couple of years ago, Maya Wirz has become a singing sensation in Switzerland.
Until recently, singing has taken a backseat in the life of the bus driver from canton Aargau. swissinfo.ch spoke to the singer who was crowned winner of “Die grössten Schweizer Talente” – the equivalent of “Britain’s Got Talent” in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
About 1,000 acts applied for the chance to appear on the televised talent show, with just two dozen chosen to compete. Week by week, 49-year-old Wirz worked her way to the grand finale on Sunday evening.
She clinched her win with a moving rendition of “Time To Say Goodbye” – but it seems that the classically trained opera singer will be saying far more hellos in the near future.
“You were a hurricane! Maya, we love you!” exclaimed jury member and Swiss pop star DJ BoBo as soon as Wirz had finished her performance. Christa Rigozzi, fellow jury member and Miss Switzerland 2006, also compared Wirz to a natural phenomenon.
“We had as many singers sign up for this show as there are mountains in Switzerland. But your voice is as big as the Matterhorn!” Rigozzi said. In addition to the title, Wirz received a cash prize of SFr100,000 ($111,000).
swissinfo.ch: What is your singing background?
Maya Wirz: At 16 I started taking singing lessons, but I got my real start at 19. Back then, women were encouraged to wait until their voices changed before beginning intensive training as classical singers.
First I trained with a Hungarian voice teacher in Basel for six years. Then I went on to study opera, where I learned a mix of singing and acting skills.
swissinfo.ch: So where did that take you?
M.W.: I had some small roles and continued to take voice lessons, which were quite expensive. I went to numerous auditions, but of course there were always about 50 other girls competing for one role. So I was never able to make a living as a singer.
However, in the 1990s, I got lucky with a two-year engagement in the choir of “Phantom of the Opera” in Basel. Yet I continued to work as a bus driver because I didn’t know what the future would bring. I also got my licence to drive a truck during that time. I’ve been working as a bus driver for 13 years now, and singing has been my hobby.
swissinfo.ch: After Phantom was over, you became depressed and didn’t sing for eight years. What was it that made you start again?
M.W.: In 2005 my father died. Beforehand he told me that he didn’t want me to give up on singing – and that I should try again. He said I had a wonderful voice and such good training. So I began taking lessons again and I joined a singing club, where I relearned how to perform on stage before an audience. Now I sing at weddings and other events, as well as at nursing homes – all sorts of places, really.
No matter how big or small the audience is, it’s always a challenge to perform. But that’s the goal of any singer – to sing for an audience. And then I signed up for this nationwide contest.
swissinfo.ch: Many have called you the Swiss Susan Boyle, the singer who won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. What do you think of her?
M.W.: I first saw a clip of her singing on YouTube. She’s an ambassador for every singer, and her message is, “Never give up; keep on going – no matter how old you are, how fat, how skinny, whatever – someday it’ll pay off.” Her success has been really amazing and I’m so happy for her. It would be super to meet her, or even to sing a duet together.
swissinfo.ch: So what’s next for you? What would you like to do now?
M.W.: In addition to recording a CD, I hope to perform at some big events including concerts and other shows, such as “Art on Ice” or something like that. [In the meantime, Sony has offered Wirz a contract to record an album.]
swissinfo.ch: And what about your job as a bus driver? Your boss has been very supportive, hasn’t he?
M.W.: My boss is my biggest fan! I do plan to keep working. Of course, I certainly won’t quit singing – even if I only end up doing small shows. As long as I can sing and I still enjoy it, then I’ll continue. I want to take care of my instrument as long as I can.
If anybody had predicted this six months ago, I would have said they were crazy. But Sunday was the day and it’s unbelievable!
Switzerland’s big opera houses include the Grand Théatre de Génève, the Lausanne Opera, the Opernhaus Zurich, the Luzerner Theater, the Theater Basel and the Stadttheater Bern.
In recent years unusual outside productions of opera have become more common, including a television production of Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème in September 2009 in a suburb of the Swiss capital, Bern, and this year’s Aida on the Rhine from Basel.
In 2008 Swiss television produced Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata in Zurich's main railway station. Apart from being shown on three Swiss television channels, the performance was also live on the Arte culture broadcaster in French and German.