A Christmas Eve Nutcracker

25 Dec

KateMcKinney graciously arranged for a Christmas Eve pass to the 4 p.m. Nutcracker, a first for me. It was interesting to witness the easy response to the dancing, the parade of children, adults with plastic containers of white or red wine fairly frequent as seats in the center orchestra were being negotiated.

The speaker urging caution regarding cell phones and tape recorders mentioned there would be special treat from Santa. Sure enough, he paraded down San Francisco Opera House’s middle aisle, arms outstretched and in frisky mode, climbed over the orchestra railing, proceeded to lead the orchestra in Petyr Ilyich’s introduction and in several moments not only waved his hands, but provided us with several pirouettes – I venture triple or quadruple. Santa then ceded the podium to Ming Luke for the balance of the performance, disappearing into the basement entrance to the orchestra pit. Years ago I remember another such appearance.  I suspect SFB’s veteran artistic director indulges in the holiday spirit when conditions, like the Eve, are available. With the holiday wrapping paper offered at the exit, it is one of those touches Tomasson arranges magesterially.

Ricardo Bustamonte was the holiday eve Drosselmeyer, thriving with a touch of Latin flair, extra touches in his shop, particular gallantry to the women at the Stahlbaum home where Madison Keesler and Steven Morse were particularly animated hostess and host with Jim Sohm and Kristi Di Camanata perennial sunny, slightly doddering grandparents. Oh, the days of extended families living under one roof.

Clearly, towards the end of a run, not only are there opportunities for corps members and apprentices to display their chops, but the entire company to essay their dramatic and dancing skills. Benjamin Freemantle seemed the exceptionally rubbery yellow Harlequin and Lauren Parrott’s China Doll variation has gained in quality while her technical gifts have been consistent. Hansuke Yamamoto was crisp and to the point as the Nutcracker loomed large from the box. [Apparently in my first review of the holiday production I mistakenly placed him at the Harlequin. I only wish I could see him partnering in one of the production’s major pas de deux.]

Mention should be made of Matoi Kawamoto’s Clara whose naturalness in the role provided touches of detail and responsivness I don’t remember seeing in others cast. And Sean Bennett as the Mouse King demonstrated a fierce foot-grinding demolition of the Nutcracker along with the understandable mean, moustache stroking bravado.

Joseph Walsh might be considered the Duke of Sussex of the pack; authoritative, courteous but friendly, technique minus strain, supportive, splendid in Act II.

Elizabeth Powell and Lonnie Weeks presided over the snow blitz, Powell even sending one set of fistfuls into the air. Well matched, smiling and entirely into the music. I wish the male monarch had more to do, and both be permitted to bow.

Misa Kuranaga presided over her creature kingdom at the Sugar Plum Fairy, minus a baton with the confection at the end. Small, but clearly grand, it was wonderful to see her on the Opera House stage as an SFB principal after her Boston sojourn. I saw her earn the Gold for senior women at Jackson. Her responses to the Nutcracker’s story and her warmth towards Clara were palpable.

The Spanish quintet was dispatched with energy and dash.

Ami Yuki was quite the houri in the Arabian supported by two somber attendants, Nathaniel Remez and Joseph Warton, who carefully kept her airborne until she decided it was time to return to incredible confinement.

Calvin Conley was muscular and energy with the trail of red little demons behind him, and Diego Cruz continued his bearish charm, limp kneed with Madame Du Cirque and the harlequin gowned buffoons.

Frances Chung joined Joseph Walsh as the transformed Clara in a crisp, rhythmic and pleasing grand pas de deux. Chung, returning from maternity leave, has lost nothing of her accuracy, warmth and directness, while Walsh reinforced his easy, seemingly relaxed bravura execution.

Throughout the audience response with quick, warm and full of Christmas Eve good cheer.  In the basement, if you wanted it, there was a genuine sleigh to provide a seasonal remembrance on a cell phone, along with holiday wrapping paper at the exit.

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