December classical music picks: ‘Nutcracker,’ Adler Fellows, ‘Twelfth Night’

Holiday entertainment now more than ever is not ‘just a show’

Holiday entertainment now more than ever is not “just a show.” It’s livelihood and even life itself for performers and organizations after the worst of the pandemic.

Financially and artistically for working artists and institutions, the most significant event in December is San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” revived after two years of a painful, budget-busting hiatus.

Major American ballet companies generate about 40% of their annual ticket revenues from “Nutcracker” holiday blitzes. A rough calculation for San Francisco shows that it’s also true for the company that started it all in North America in 1944.

The 22 S.F. Ballet “Nutcracker” performances before Christmas and seven after can yield about 87,000 seats for the season. Assuming — based on experience — full houses at most shows, with the $19 to $425 price range (most around $200), S.F. Ballet is looking at a significant gain to its income that could amount to more than a third of its annual budget.

“Nutcracker” is also significant for serving as the introduction not just to dance but to the performing arts in general for thousands of children, who often never forget the experience.

The City’s “Nutcracker” is a historical phenom: In 1944, near the end of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt won reelection over Thomas E. Dewey, becoming the only U.S. president elected to a fourth term. Willam Christensen choreographed the 1892 Petipa-Ivanov ballet to Tchaikovsky’s most popular music for an audience including GIs in the War Memorial.

The current production by Helgi Tomasson, Dec. 10-30, placing the action in San Francisco, was introduced long ago, but it’s still charming audiences. Michael Yeargan’s scenery, set during the 1915 World’s Fair, and sumptuous costumes elicit oohs and aahs, especially in the battle between mice and toy soldiers, the growing Christmas tree and the huge blizzard virtually hiding the dancing snowflakes.

“Nutcracker” is one of many entertainment revivals coming this December, including:

• San Francisco Opera’s senior training program, the Adler Fellowship, which will have its annual “The Future Is Now,” on Dec. 12, in the Opera House, featuring young singers on their way to major careers around the world. Leading the concert is S.F. Opera Music Director Eun Sun Kim.

• The Peninsula’s globetrotting Ragazzi Boys Chorus comes to Old First Church on Dec. 12 with the holiday choral program “Mysteries and Miracles,” conducted by Ragazzi Artistic Director Kent Jue.

• A new musical version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” is now at SF Playhouse, running through Jan. 15. Conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub, who also produced music and lyrics; directed by Susi Damilano.

• San Francisco Opera Chorus’ Dec. 11 and 12 concerts in the Opera Center’s Atrium Theater will be led by Chorus Director Ian Robertson, who retires at the end of this year, capping a career of 35 seasons, 375 productions and over 2,000 performances.

• The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus returns to live performances with holiday concerts, Dec. 10-11 in the Sydney Goldstein Theater, and Dec. 24 in the Castro Theatre. The 250-member chorus will perform seasonal songs and “sketches new and old,” with the participation of cellist Andrés Vera, soloist Marcus J. Paige; and nine-year-old drummer Enrique Carreon.

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