He's cheeky, Russell Watson, and sharp, asking us to flap our programmes to keep him cool and having lights raised to see how many people are in the house.

He needn't have worried. Wednesday night's capacity audience shriek, sigh and ululate as The Voice gives them exactly what they came for.

In truth, The Voice seems a little frayed in its upper reaches. While pleasant and even sexy in intimate Italiano introductions, when Watson lunges into belt mode, amplified, who needs metal-cutters?

The core problem is lacklustre material. The earnestness of a song like I Believe ("One day I'll hear the laugh of children in a world where war has been banned") is chucklesome, and next are his Vatican hits Panis Angelicus and Ave Maria.

When he announces the Schubert, gasps of anticipatory thrills surround me. I save my gasping for Watson's tight vocal manoeuvring. This man is no Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau or Aaron Neville.

There are no surprises. Nessun Dorma is the only nod to opera, Dean Martin, Mario Lanza, Queen and Elvis Presley all receive tributes, and a concoction from The Gladiator goes overboard with lighting effects, but mercifully is a fraction of the length of the film that inspired it.

Perhaps it's his background as a welder, but Watson is a cautious performer, with a certain stiffness that only retreats when he chats us up. He does a desultory shuffle to a samba-styled Volare but, locked behind the mike-stand, the man doesn't know what to do with his hands, spending too much time looking as if he is stroking one, then two imaginary cats.

It is not all Watson. A vocal quartet proves that throwing together four singers does not make a Manhattan Transfer, especially in a sorry, soggy Misty. A valiant bunch of strings from the Auckland Philharmonia swoon to order, and there is a moment to savour when Mike Moran twists Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata into a Cole Porter groove and back again.


Who: Russell Watson
Where: Auckland Town Hall