Carmen Opera Hong Kong Grand Theatre Hong Kong Cultural Centre Reviewed: May 18 From the moment the curtain rose on Ezio Frigerio's stunning, sun-drenched set, it was clear that Opera Hong Kong's production of Carmen was going to be a classy affair. Part of Le French May, this intelligent production (originally staged at the Theatre du Capitole in Toulouse) emphasises the dark side of Georges Bizet's masterpiece. This is only Opera Hong Kong's third fully staged production, and the progress achieved is impressive. The chorus (under Jimmy Chan) has improved dramatically, particularly on the female side - the Act One chorus of the cigarette girls (La Fumee) was particularly well sung. In the title role, Annie Vavrille gave a powerhouse performance, but in the first two acts failed to convey that Carmen is a free spirit, rather than a whore, and that her passion for Don Jose is genuine, if short-lived. The two great Act One arias seemed to sit uncomfortably low in Vavrille's voice. However, she developed vocally and dramatically during the course of the evening. Lea Woods Friedman was a heartfelt Micaela, singing with clarity and brightness of tone. Liao Changyong captured Escamillo's insouciant swagger, and made the most of the irresistible Toreador en Garde. It was a pleasure to see such strong vocal and dramatic performances from local singers, including an outstanding Zuniga from Apollo Wong. But the performance of the night came from company founder and artistic director Warren Mok Wah-lun. Although his voice sounded strained at first in the lower register, the upper register soon opened, achieving some glorious notes in La Fleur que Tu M'Avais Jetee. Above all, Mok's acting was superb. The Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra gave a fine account under the capable baton of Yu Long (below). The production was a major success, and augurs well for the future of the company, and opera in Hong Kong.