Carmina Burana

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Brighton Festival Chorus, Walter Haupt, O2 Arena

These days it is mostly heard in concert performance, but Carl Orff's celebrated arrangement of 12th-century Latin secular poems was originally meant to be staged, together with "magic images" that would convey the striking mish-mash of pagan and Christian symbolism that so occupied the medieval mind. With its mix of magnificence and farce, grotesquerie and romance, the work was intended to have the widest possible appeal. It's fitting, then, that Franz Abraham's colourful production, first staged for Orff's centenary in 1995, should kick off the O2's Monumental Classics season.

Carmina Burana O2, London Abraham's staging is centred around a monument in the form of an enormous scaffold that houses the wheel of fortune: "monstrous and empty", as the text of the work's best-known chorus, O Fortuna, has it. Flanked by the hooded and robed choir, the tower plays host to clockwork fantasies, farcical balcony scenes, erotic shadow-plays and scenes of pageantry along distinctly Aztec lines. Before it, on the open stage, an angel and a devil totter about on stilts while all manner of jesters, minstrels, princesses and knights-errant parade in a chaotic tapestry of mime and dance.

As a celebration of life, the staging certainly did justice to Orff's vision. Yet for all its fizz, the whole affair failed to arrest. This was in large part due to the sound mix, which would have let down a five-piece rock band, let alone the Royal Philharmonic at full stretch. In a venue so geared to mass spectacle, the live theatre seemed disconnected and starved of presence. For all their energy and skill, the soloists and choir tried in vain to fill the auditorium's indifferent spaces while the maniacal silhouette of conductor Walter Haupt raged, ineffectually, against the dazzling lights.

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