Carmen at the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

Poet and author Benjamin Zephaniah

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What a combination – a multi-national cast including a Romanian, a Welshman, a Swede and an American in principal roles... and 25 pupils of Portsmouth secondary schools making up the chorus.

Some of the recruits from St Edmund’s and Charter Academy had never even heard of opera before beginning rehearsals, and professional company Co-Opera Co had never previously worked with a chorus. So this was a big adventure all round - and how well it worked.

The staging was basic and much of the acting was of the semaphore variety common in opera, but Bizet’s orchestration was potently represented by the vastly-reduced ensemble conducted with infectious spirit by Mexican Carlos del Cueto and the young professionals’ singing was passionate.

Adriana Festeu was properly feisty as gipsy girl Carmen – not only looking the part and moving with allure but spanning the wide vocal range with authority.

Alex Vearey-Roberts captured the ardour of Don Jose despite showing occasional vocal strain, Hakan Vramsmo had both physical and vocal swagger as Escamillo, and Katherine Blumenthal was peerlessly moving as Micaela.