It’s a voice that stopped subway riders — and everyone else on the internet — in their tracks.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Police Department posted a video to social media of an unidentified woman singing a Puccini aria in a metro station in the central part of the city. In the video, the woman is seen pulling a cart full of items and carrying a large collection of bags. Her jaw-dropping performance is fit enough to be delivered in front of a paying audience, not a lonely subway station.
“Four million people call LA home. 4 million stories. 4 million voices,” the LAPD wrote in the caption of the video posted to their Twitter and Instagram accounts. “Sometimes you just have to stop and listen to one, to hear something beautiful.”
The video quickly went viral and garnered more than 800,000 views since it was posted last week. But the identity of the woman remained a mystery for many.
It turns out that she is Emily Zamourka, who grew up in Russia before moving to the United States, according to the Los Angeles Times. But the 52-year-old told the newspaper that she has experienced health complications and financial problems in recent years and is now homeless and relying on the $400 a month she gets from the government.
Zamourka told the Times that she arrived in America when she was just 24. She settled down in Missouri and worked at a nursing home and restaurant, though she learned how to play violin and piano as a child.
#update Tonight hear from the subway soprano captured on camera in a #viralvideo by an #LAPD officer.— Leanne Suter (@abc7leanne) September 30, 2019
Her story, her song and her struggle at 11pm @ABC7 #subwaysinger #thatvoice pic.twitter.com/EHhklIEgTt
“I didn’t want to be dependent on anybody,” Zamourka told the Times. “I was having fun. I was learning English.”
But she experienced pancreas and liver problems in 2005 after moving to Washington and soon sought treatment at a hospital in Los Angeles. Once she recovered, she taught music and played violin in public for tips, but her instrument was stolen three years ago.
“That’s when I became homeless,” Zamourka told KABC. “When I could not actually pay any of my bills and could not pay anymore of my rent.”
“I am sleeping actually on the cardboard right now, in the parking lot,” she added. “I am sleeping where I can sleep … I have people that feel sorry for me, but I don’t want to be a burden to anybody.”
After the LAPD’s video went viral, Branimir Kvartuc — a spokesman for Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino — approached Zamourka and offered a job singing at the opening of an Italian Resturant on nearby San Pedro. A GoFundMe page has also been set up for Zamourka, and has raised more than $39,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.
“My dreams are always there, of course,” Zamourka told The Times. “Maybe it’ll come true this time.”