A major new production of Carmen, from the creative team which produced the Royal Albert Hall's Tosca and Aida, will open at the venue on 21 February 2002. A limited run of 12 performances will be presented entirely in-the-round, with David Freeman directing and design from David Roger.

The same outfit also created the Albert Hall's Madam Butterfly offerings in 1998 and 2000, with Tosca presented in 1999 prior to Aida earlier this year. The Carmen role will be shared by mezzo-sopranos Imelda Drumm and Claire Bradshaw, with the part of Don Jose split between John Uhlenhopp and Antoni Garfield Henry. Dual shifts will also operate for the characters of Escamillo, Micaela, Frasquita, Mercedes and others.

George Bizet (1838-1875) composed Carmen in the old tradition of setting operas in Spain, and it opened in 1875 at the Opera Comique in Paris. A tragic masterpiece of the classical repertoire, the story evokes a gypsy girl who is arrested for attacking a fellow worker in a cigarette factory. In prison, she persuades a guard named Don Jose to free her on the promise of bestowing her love to him later. However, Carmen soon casts him aside in favour of a glamorous toreador which drives Don Jose crazy with lust and jealousy.

The score contains a number of legendary arias, such as Song of the Toreador, Seguidilla and Flower Song. The music also captures the dance rhythms of Spain's traditional styles and gypsy motifs. Despite its popularity today, the opera (based on Prosper Merimee's novel) was not initially a great success. The librettists Meilhac and Halevy added a number of new characters to the original story which was adapted to suit an audience more attuned to bourgeois melodrama.

Choreography for the Albert Hall presentation is courtesy of Robert North, currently Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet. Peter Robinson, formerly Assistant Music Director at ENO, will conduct the BBC Concert Orchestra, with Amanda Holden writing a new English translation of the lyrics. The run of successful co-productions between The Albert Hall and Raymond Gubbay productions began back in 1996 with a version of La Boheme.

- by Gareth Thompson