André Rieu, Metro Radio Arena

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WHETHER you’re a Punch and Judy puppeteer or an opera impresario, the key to success is showmanship.

And André Rieu, whatever else has been said about him, certainly has that.

The Dutch violinist, composer and conductor has been making classic music and opera accessible for 25 years with his globe-trotting Johan Strauss Orchestra.

From the their grand entrance to the performance’s last gasp, Rieu’s ensemble gave their all for the audience’s enjoyment.

That’s the key word. Enjoyment. Rieu has not carved his career out of critical acclaim, and his shows are just that – shows. Not occasions to sit in whimsical contemplation, but concerts with numbers to clap along to – or even dance to.

And many did, waltzing in the aisles to Strauss’s Blue Danube – one of many crowd-pleasers which were mixed in with more off-piste pieces to first draw in the audience, then widen its experience.

Nessun Dorma, La Habenera from Carmen and even the theme from The Third Man, played on the zither, were among the favourites played by the orchestra and an impressive array of guests.

A trio of tenors, a group of Russian musicians he met performing in the streets of his native Maastricht, a Dutch church bell ringer and two dazzlingly powerful female singers were among the guest stars which studded the show.

While stuffy critics – as Rieu views them – would be less than impressed with snow and balloons falling from the ceiling, or a singer performing dressed as a clockwork doll, the audience was surprised again and again by the special touches dotted through the show.

You really didn’t know what was coming next, from the orchestra marching in through the audience from the back of the arena to the tune of 76 Trombones, to a full-scale pipe band parading down the aisles during the encores.

It’s not often a night of classical music and opera can be described as “fun”, no matter how ardent a fan you are, but the thousands packed into the arena on Saturday certainly seemed to think so.