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Sarah Brightman returned to the UK for her first performance in nearly 15 years. It had been more than two decades since she headlined the Albert Hall, and you could tell she was excited to return.

The audience really fed on that. They cheered and screamed and applauded and professed their love for the singer at every opportunity. Her superfans could be seen singing along to her hits and dancing in their seats.

Brightman opened her concert saying she wanted to create a beautiful evening. And that's exactly what she did. Her voice is stunning: pure and powerful, and apparently completely effortless. The rich sounds of the band and orchestra together created drama; they lifted Brightman, and both groups' sounds held their own without being overpowering.

The staging was also dramatic, taking full advantage of how impressive the Royal Albert Hall's iconic organ looks lit up in red. Pipes scattered around the stage created the impression the performers were inside the organ, which had extended down into the stage. When the tops of these pipes were lit, they looked like tall candles. It was a real feast for the eyes.

The lighting was fun and very effective, with a large glitter ball, and projections on the ceiling and the organ. It created an immersive experience.

In terms of sound, Brightman's voice felt over-amplified at times, which took away somewhat from its gentle tone. It also sounded like effects were being used - echoes, for example - which felt unnecessary.

The production was also a little overzealous with the smoke machine. The front three rows really seemed to struggle as they were engulfed, and there were giggles around the stalls watching the poor spectators fanning themselves and hiding behind scarves. Brightman herself almost disappeared into the smoke at one point too.

However, a highlight of the evening was Brightman's costumes. Although it slowed the concert down to have her going on- and offstage so often, it was worth it for the nine masterpieces she came back wearing - from "Tudor chic" to black velvet with roses, or silver sequins and feathers. The third dress showed off spectacular glittery platform heels. Then a flowing white gown followed black sparkles. That was just the first act.

The pick of the outfits in the second half was a raspberry-pink, jewelled dress with a full skirt. Brightman came out wearing it for the title number from The Phantom of the Opera.

It was at this point she seemed to ease into the spotlight. Beforehand, movements around the stage and gestures seemed a little over-choreographed and uncomfortable. But "Phantom" is her song and she owned it. It was thoroughly deserving of the fifth standing ovation of the evening (there were nine in total). The suspense, building up to the final note, was tangible. There was never any doubt she would reach it, but the audience couldn't wait to hear it. It did not disappoint.

"Pie Jesu", sung with Narcis, was also a great pleasure: their voices blended well, and the soaring melody was well complemented by the Hall's acoustics. The guest performers were all given warm welcomes. Narcis, singing in London for the first time, seemed nervous as a soloist, but he has a great presence and held his own singing with Brightman.

Yoshiki seemed a little overwhelmed by the audience, but they were clearly enthusiastic about his being there. Vincent Niclo made for a charming duet partner - his version of the Phantom kept the spotlight on Brightman without feeling half-hearted.

Unfortunately, the choir was rather lacklustre. They made a great sound, but their stage presence added nothing to the impact of the rest of the performance. This wasn't helped by them seemingly reading the music off screens below them, moving their focus down.

The main song people wanted to hear was "Time to Say Goodbye", and it was a great choice of arrangement. It began with Brightman alone, singing and playing the piano, then the orchestra joined in, followed by the band. It gave the piece a wonderful climax and subtly moved through different ways of interpreting the song.

It was as though Brightman had never been away. She had a great rapport with the home crowd, and they were thrilled to have her back. There was a great range of songs and just the right amount of talking in between, telling stories and chatting about the music. Overall, it was a well thought-out performance that was loved by a sold-out Albert Hall crowd.

HYMN: Sarah Brightman in Concert was performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 11 November.

From This Author - Charlotte Downes

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