At Londonist Towers, our fondness for Wilton’s – the last surviving ‘grand musical hall’ in the country – knows few bounds.  We love its raffish ‘beautiful state of disrepair’ auditorium, its varied repertoire and its super nice cheap bar.

The shabby chic auditorium is so adaptable and for this week’s performances of Carmen it could so easily have been a flamenco dancehall in early nineteenth century Seville.

It finds an ideal partner in soprano Kate Flowers’ dedicated Co-Opera Company.  Based in an unpromising industrial estate in Sydenham, like Wiltons it’s unsupported by any public funding but manages to offer intensive vocal training and workshops to promising singers through an inventive sponsporship scheme which anyone can join.

The singing is mostly excellent and the acoustic makes it all so clear and understandable – even for a Swedish Escamillo and Rumanian Carmen who emphasise the international scope of the company.  Some of the voices take time to warm up, but the ensemble pieces are as pleasurable as the arias with Tom Lowe, Catherine Rooney, Felicity Buckland and particularlyAlex Duliba enriching their quartet of supporting roles with bravura performances, and Ian Beadle brilliantly and confidently doubling Zuniga and Morales.

This is a very ‘polite’ production: Carmen done by the West Wittering Young Conservatives, perhaps. Adriana Festeu looks and sounds more Samantha Cameron than a cigarette-factory spitfire, and despite his lovely and strongly sustained lyric tenor, Michael Scott is too scarily Boris Johnson to convince as headstrong soldier Don Jose.

It’s delightful to hear the voices supported by an excellent sixteen-piece orchestra but the acting lets the side down under William Relton’s awkward direction. It’s quite an achievement to mount Carmen with a cast of just nine, and they all work extremely hard, but  when you think how much more was delivered in the same space by the Union’s Iolanthe, it might do this company a service if they could hook up with some of London’s more imaginative fringe theatre directors to put a spark into the staging and characterisations.

Carmen has finished at Wilton’s but will tour for the rest of the year in repertoire with The Magic Flute, including dates at the Ashcroft Theatre Croydon on 22 and 23 September, and 9 November atHarrow Arts Centre.  Details and tickets from Co-Opera company website.

Author received complimentary tickets and programme from the company.

Londonist Originally published on Londonist