Mark Pappenheim on music

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Life hasn't been easy for James Bhemgee (right). A Cape coloured, fostered to a family from one of South Africa's poorest townships, James is also partially deaf, stammers and can barely read or write. Yet six years ago, aged 23, this Cape Town council dustman found his voice, and it was a natural tenor of true operatic potential.

So naturally he set about showing it off, not just singing away in the showers at work, but in the streets as well, particularly when sweeping up the white man's trash in the smarter neighbourhoods. His publicity drive soon paid off. He was overheard one day by a music-loving widow, who invited him in, asked him to sing, and ended up paying for his first six months' singing lessons, before persuading Young and Rubicam, the advertising agency, to sponsor his further studies.

In March, Bhemgee made his first trip abroad, flying into London to audition at the Royal College of Music, where James Lockhart, director of the opera school, declared he had 'a top C that Domingo would be proud of' and promptly offered him a place from this September. All he needs now is the money to pay his way.

As a first step, the Italian tenor, Giuseppe Sabbatini, is giving a benefit concert in his aid this Saturday. A late-starter himself, having worked as an orchestral bass player until only nine years ago, Sabbatini is now a regular visitor to the Royal Opera House. Currently rehearsing for a new production of Massenet's Manon, opening on 2 July, he will be performing songs and arias by Mozart, Donizetti, Gounod, Cilea and others.

7.30pm 4 Jun, St John's Smith Sq, SW1 (071-222 1061) pounds 8-pounds 18

(Photograph omitted)

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