Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ soars through the holidays

by Michael Caruso
Posted 12/21/23

Philadelphia Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” continues to soar in the historic Academy of Music through Dec. 30.

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Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ soars through the holidays


Philadelphia Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” continues to soar in the historic Academy of Music through Dec. 30. With music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreography by George Balanchine, the presentation remains the region’s first choice for holiday celebrations.

When Barbara Weisberger founded the then Pennsylvania Ballet at the instigation of her mentor, the legendary George Balanchine, the most valuable gift he gave her (after his personal inspiration) was the privilege of dancing his ballets, most particularly “The Nutcracker.” It’s the biggest moneymaker of every ballet company in America.

 The proof of that maxim was evident Sunday, Dec. 10, at the matinee performance. I experienced - along with 2,800 other ballet lovers who basked in the splendor of the Academy’s Victorian architecture - a spectacular production that thrilled the ear and dazzled the eye.

Artistic director Angel Corella delivered a production beautifully designed by Peter Horne, costumed by Judanna Lynn, lighted by Les Dickert and conducted by Beatrice Jona Affron. 

As is often the case in long-running ballet mountings, Sunday’s cast experienced several changes. In place of the originally announced members, Sydney Dolan danced the commanding role of the Sugarplum Fairy and Sterling Baca was her Cavalier. Jacqueline Callahan remained as the pivotal Dewdrop.

 Callahan took on the narrative role of ushering the children, Marie and the Little Prince, into the Land of the Sweets with flawless point work and an elegant, lyrical line. Dolan conjured up images of sweets without limits through concisely conceived phrasing and lighter-than-air dancing on point. Baca was matchless in power and sensitive support as the Cavalier. He not so much danced the role as inhabited the character from the music and then expressed it through the dance.

The entire bevy of soloists and corps masterfully rendered Balanchine’s neoclassical choreography and Affron conducted the Ballet orchestra superbly.

 For ticket information visit or call 215-551-7000.

‘The Hill’ was Alive

Chestnut Hill was alive with the sound of music Saturday, Dec. 9. At 2 and 5 p.m., the Mendelssohn Chorus of Philadelphia performed its annual “Feast of Carols” concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It was packed for both performances. Then, at 7:30 p.m., Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, celebrated “Christmas in Southern Germany,” again before a packed house at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

Artistic director Dominick DiOrio led the symphonic-size Mendelssohn Chorus in a broadly varied program of Christmas music that spanned the centuries and covered a generous bounty of emotions. From the newly composed (by DiOrio, himself) “Four Postcard Carols” to traditional carols reaching back into history and more contemporary scores, he and his choristers proffered powerful renditions of the delicate adoration of the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem two millennia ago.

Most impressive was the large choir’s soft singing. It’s not all that difficult to produce loud singing from a big chorus. It is quite difficult, indeed, to elicit singing of the softest dynamic level while still maintaining flawless tuning, immaculate balance and seamless blend.

 In his work at the podium – as well as that of several assistants – DiOrio was graciously aided by the playing of the Timberdale Brass, pianist Ting Ting Wong, and organist Andrew Kotylo, the organist and choir director at St. Paul’s Church.


Piffaro’s “Christmas in Southern Germany” was equally delightful and superbly performed. Artistic director Priscilla Herreid led the core members of the band and a bevy of guest artists that included soprano Clara Rottsolk in rousing renditions of Christmas selections, both sacred and secular. Piffaro’s patented style of tart timbres and biting rhythms were on dazzling display Saturday evening.

 Hidden Treasures

Every so often, fate gives me the opportunity to hear music I’ve never heard before in a space in which I’ve never been. That’s precisely what took place Sunday afternoon. A vocal quartet led by Chestnut Hiller Donald Meineke performed a program entitled “One Faith – Many Voices” at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, located at 24th & Poplar Streets in the Spring Garden section of Philadelphia.

Meineke, a tenor who serves as both the artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia and the organist and choir director at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square, was joined by soprano Clara Swartzentruber, alto Robin Bier and bass Charles Moore.

 Together, they sang an hour’s worth of unaccompanied choral music drawn from the traditions of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches. The music, with texts in various languages, covered the journey of prophecy and fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah.

 Both the repertoire and the interpretations it received was exemplary, made all the more potent and moving by the exquisite acoustics of St. Nicholas Church.

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