Carmen at the O2

With three successful Albert Hall runs, this production of Carmen by David Freeman and Raymond Gubbay has already more than proved its worth in making fully staged opera available to the audiences other companies cannot reach. At around four times the Albert Hall's capacity, the O2 presents challenges of a quite different scale. Freeman has risen to the occasion by stretching his swirling catwalk stage into a full "s" shape and beefing up the crowd scenes. Gubbay's own occasion-rising took the form of booking recently metamorphosed opera star Darius Campbell to appear as Escamillo, albeit only for the Sunday matinee. I couldn't attend the matinee, sadly.

Even so, there is much to recommend here. The crowd scenes – particularly the act IV fiesta, with acrobats and dancers, fire jugglers and even a fire eater – offer genuine theatrical magic, while touches such as the use of real (herbal) cigarettes and some excellent chair-hurling between the quarrelsome lovers show Freeman exploiting the venue's positive attributes. The sound is sensitively done, too, and some cool-headed conducting from Gareth Hancock meant the synching worked as well as could be hoped. The soloists, though, are mixed. Cristina Nassif's Carmen looks the part more than sounds it, and John Hudson (Don José) strains as if no one had told him about the microphone. But Kevin Greenlaw turns in a fine Escamillo, and Elizabeth Atherton's Micaëla is exemplary in communicating delicacy of tone and sweetness of character to 12,000 people of varied attentiveness.

It's not everyone's cup of tea, but since you can eat and drink what you like in your seat, that doesn't matter. As Escamillo plunged his sword into the bull, and José his knife into Carmen, I dipped a final chip into my neighbour's ketchup. It wasn't particularly moving, but it was great fun.

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