Music: CARRERAS

Hampton Court Palace

The vowels were elongated, the jaw dropped, the sound rich - and that was just the audience. With the tickets hiked to between pounds 75 and pounds 85 for an evening in the Tudor splendour of Hampton Court this was hardly a surprise. It was Glyndebourne, complete with a 75-minute picnic interval, without that bothersome drive to Sussex. Sunshine blazed down upon the sauntering crowd, swifts wheeled lazily overhead and atop one of the ornate chimneys, the blackbird who has been making a nightly guest appearance was warming up. The setting was perfect.

There was dutiful applause for David Gimenez and the English Chamber Orchestra's performance of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet overture, during which the blackbird obbligato mingled intriguingly with the opening woodwind theme. It was sent packing with the final impressive timpani roll, made even more thunderous by the bass-favoured amplification. Not that anyone cared. They were waiting for Carreras, who began with "L'esule", the first of four Verdi orchestral songs. After a helicopter almost ruined the second one, Carreras made a wisecrack about the world's favourite airline and the audience relaxed visibly. The applause was polite if a shade unenthusiastic, but then the same might be said for the performance. Here was a man holding something in reserve.

We all trooped through the Anne Boleyn Gateway into the formal gardens for the serious business of the evening, the interval. Entire meals appeared beneath the spreading yew trees. Clearly hungry for the Best Picnic award, one group desported themselves on a green tartan blanket bedecked with groaning faux-silver platters, catering courtesy of Harrods. Adding to the sybaritic pleasure was the 20-piece red-suited Runnymede Brass Band galumphing their way through such songs as Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Love Changes Everything".

The second half took place after dusk under powerful stage lighting, much to the consternation of a trumpeter who had obviously run out of much-needed insect repellent. After two spirited orchestral pieces from La vida breve, Carreras completed his brief programme with Manuel de Falla's set of seven Spanish songs. Too often lost to the "can belto" school of high-octane singing alongside the larger voices of Pavarotti and Domingo, it is easy to forget that Carreras is famous for his arrestingly sweet lyric tone. His performance of the De Falla was detailed and beautifully characterised, but again it confused most of his audience who wanted the greatest hits. They got them with five encores. After two popular Italian songs he launched into "With a Song in My Heart", once the theme of Two- Way Family Favourites, and if there had been a roof, it would gone skywards. With the audience with him at last, his singing took off. After all, pouring out your heart to a live audience is what singing is all about, isn't it?

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