You know it must be summer when three productions of Carmen are being staged simultaneously in London. Alongside the all-singing all-dancing cast-of-thousands extravaganza at the O2 Arena, and Francesca Zambello’s livestock-filled show at the Opera House (which features a horse and some chickens together with the more conventional stars) is the more modest production at Opera Holland Park. Touted among those in the know as the ‘one to watch’, its impeccably authentic staging would be hard to beat, even without the fantastic intimacy of the Holland Park Open Air Theatre.

Making full use of the architectural backdrop of the theatre (complete even with the ramparts evoked in Carmen’s Pres des ramparts de Seville), the production sticks firmly within the traditional realist mode.

A decorative chorus of gypsies and factory workers — as well, of course, as the obligatory children’s chorus — are never far from the stage, and the men appear to be having a great time with swords, capes and other military trappings. Making his OHP debut was young conductor Matthew Willis whose precision and gleeful energy place him in the Ed Gardner model. Sweeping his orchestra along with him, he even managed to bring a hint of freshness to the overture — surely the single most overplayed work in the classical repertoire.

Sadly his singers were not always as attentive as his orchestra, with both Carmen (Hannah Pedley) and Don José (Mark Panuccio) slowing the pace frustratingly in their solo numbers. This was very much a director’s production, with the classical purity of the singing sacrificed for more vivid and immediate drama. The result — more musical theatre than opera — might offend purists, but certainly brought a rather hackneyed tale to lurid life. Pedley’s Carmen was as truculently sexy as anyone could desire, with more than a hint of menace in her eye. Drawling throatily through her numbers she quite overpowered Panuccio’s (deliberately?) ineffectual Don José. His early courtship scene with the equally vapid Micaela (Susan Young) was, however, beautifully judged, and in their mutual innocence they created one of the opera’s more emotive moments.

For those prioritising musical concerns above all things this is not the production of choice. For those seeking an atmospheric excursion to Spain, however, complete with blood, bullfighting, and a chance to stroll among the fairy-lit Holland Park of a summer’s evening — this Carmen is the clear victor.

Further performances, today, Saturday and June 15, 17, 18 and 19. Box office: 020 7361 3570 (