The Messiah – Georg Friedrich Handel
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Enjoy Handel’s best-known work in the stunning surroundings of St Martin-in-the-Fields, performed by The Sixteen, under the expert direction of Harry Christophers.
The Sixteen is a UK-based ensemble, hallmarked by its tonal richness, expressive intensity and compelling collective artistry. Its choir and period-instrument orchestra stand today among the world’s greatest interpreters of Renaissance, Baroque and modern choral music, acclaimed worldwide for performances delivered with precision, power and passion.
You will receive your access details as soon as you have purchased your ticket, along with full details of how to watch the concert. Watch as often as you like until Dec 19-Apr 30. £10
A Christmas Rose - Amanda McBroom and Michele Brourman
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It is typical of the great cabaret performers, Amanda McBroom and Michele Brourman, to give us a Christmas concert without the dreadful dreariness of the standard Christmas song repertoire. Instead, they have written their own (except for two which are McBroom with Ann Hampton Callaway and another which is McBroom with Tom Snow).
Here are brand new Christmas songs by the McBroom/Brourman team, surely soon to be classics, some new political observations about life, the holidays, and Covid, (which Amanda describes as “the three gifts from really twisted Magi”), one great mash up of Irving Berlin and Leonard Cohen, and, no McBroom concert could finish without her biggest hit, The Rose, of course.
This performance was livestreamed from Feinstein’s at Vitello’s in Studio City, Los Angeles, and is only available until Jan 4. Hurry.
$20 +$4 handling charge
Constellations – Donmar Warehouse
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This was a fascinating theatrical experiment this year that paid off. Nick Payne’s Constellations, a hit play in the West End in 2012, was revived this year with not one, but four different casts. Plays with only two in the cast are known in the theatre as ‘two-handers’ but the twist here was that there were actually four ‘two-handers’, each limited to a run of a few weeks. The four casts were awesome - Sheila Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah, Peter Capaldi and Zoë Wanamaker, Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey, and Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd. Many of us chose to see more than one cast in succession and now we have the opportunity to see all four, online.
The play is written so that the dialogue, often repeated, sometimes ends up in a different place. There is some complicated explanation for this, tied up with physics, but you don’t have to understand it to love the play.
A quantum physicist and a beekeeper meet at a barbeque. They hit it off, or perhaps they don’t. They go home together, or maybe they go their separate ways. In the multiverse, with every possible future ahead of them, a love of honey could make all the difference.
Each of the four shows can be rented for £7.50 to rent and gives audiences access to watch the show for 24 hours after purchase; or you can buy all 4 casts for £20, with extended viewing time.
Until Jan 31
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King – Ballett Zurich
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You didn’t think you were going to get through Christmas without a Nutcracker ballet, did you? This, however, is a rather different, expressionistic, Nutcracker or, to give it its full name, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, from the Zurich Opera House. One of the most popular works of the ballet repertoire. Nutcracker, both the popular version and this new one, is based on a novella by E.T.A. Hoffmann, one of the most famous writers of German Romanticism. In Hoffmann’s 1816 original dark romantic fantasy, the story jumps back and forth from a dream to reality, as it does here. When Alexandre Dumas and Marius Petipa adapted it as a ballet libretto in 1892, it lost much of its mystery and became the dancing snowflakes, pink tutus, and waltz of the flowers that we know today.
In The Nutcracker and the Mouse King choreographer Christian Spuck has distanced himself from the Dumas/Petipas version and put the literary origin at the heart of his ballet, emphasizing the fantastical nature of the original story.
In Rufus Didwiszus’ stage setting, the workshop of the godfather Drosselmeier turns into an old revue-theater, where the characters of the ballet come to life. Spucks’ choreography plays with the richness of characters in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s narrative cosmos, the absurdity and overwrought humour that inhabit them while at the same time looking down into the dark abyss of Romanticism.
Most of the excellent cast will be new to you. It is led by William Moore (The Nutcracker), Dominik Slavkovsky (Herr Drosselmeyer) Cohen Aitchison-Dugas (Mouse King), Mélissa Ligurgo (Mouse Queen),Michelle Willems (Marie), and Giulia Tonelli (Princess Pirlipat).
This is decidedly not The Nutcracker as you know it, although the music remains recognisably Tchaikowsky’s, played beautifully by the OpernZurich Orchestra conducted by Paul Connelly. $19.99
Rembrandt - National Gallery 10-minute Talk
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Bart Cornelis, the National Gallery's Curator of Dutch and Flemish paintings, 1600-1800, discusses Rembrandt's 'A Woman Bathing in a Stream'. I love that Cornelis seems slightly embarrassed, not by the painting, but by the subject of the painting. Cornelis is a world expert on Rembrandt and has no reason to be embarrassed by the almost naked woman in this painting and in the source material about the nymph Callisto, and I’m sure he’s not, but he looks embarrassed and I find that rather endearing.
I learn so much from these short videos. This one, about Rembrandt, reveals how he painted this staggering work, even his brushstrokes. Thank you, Bart, I didn’t know any of that before.
La Traviata – Royal Opera
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This is Richard Eyre’s lavish Royal Opera production of Verdi’s La Traviata starring Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho as Violetta Valéry, with American tenor Charles Castronovo as her lover Alfredo.
La Traviata is one of the world’s most popular and successful operas even though its opening night in Venice in 1853 was deemed a failure by Verdi. The chances are, though, that its lack of success with the knowledgeable La Fenice audience was due more to the casting of Violetta with an overweight 38-year old singer who was judged "too old and too fat” to play a young woman dying of consumption. They didn’t much like the baritone, either.
The baritone in this production is a somewhat underpowered and unprepossessing Placido Domingo, singing out of his customary tenor range.
South Pacific - Chichester Festival Theatre
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Chichester had a big hit in the summer with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s much-loved, Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, South Pacific. The cast is led by Gina Beck as Nellie, Julian Ovenden as Emile, Joanna Ampil as Bloody Mary, Keir Charles as Luther Billis and Rob Houchen as Cable. Nobody else I spoke to minded that Gina Beck, the actor playing Nellie, a naive young US Navy nurse, was clearly pregnant at the time so, I guess, I shouldn’t mind either.
South Pacific boasts one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most memorable scores, featuring songs such as Some Enchanted Evening, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair and Bali Ha’i.
Streaming on New Year’s Eve from 5pm for 24 hours. £15
Peggy For You - Hampstead Theatre
Margaret Ramsay, always known as Peggy, died in 1991. She was Britain's most celebrated playwrights’ agent for more than thirty years and a truly original character - intimidating, contradictory, irritating and inspiring. Alan Plater’s Peggy for You gives a witty account of an imaginary day in the life of Ramsay at her prime.
As it happens, in this incestuous show business world, I knew both Peggy Ramsay and Alan Plater, not well, but well enough to know that Tamsin Greig is giving a dazzling performance as Peggy in Plater’s terrific play.
Maureen Lipman was the originator of the role in 1999 and I thought then that she couldn’t be bettered. I was right. Greig is giving a different slant to one of the most revered and difficult women in show business, equally observed, not better, but equally brilliant in illuminating the characteristics of this rather lonely woman who raised most of the greatest playwrights of our time from obscurity.
She was an overwhelming presence, feared and admired, but a unique personality who understood plays as no other agent ever had. If you were a playwright, established or neophyte, you dreamed of being represented by Peggy Ramsay, and her client list included Ionesco, Joe Orton, Robert Bolt, David Mercer, Iris Murdoch, John Mortimer, James Saunders, Peter Nichols, Charles Wood, Ann Jellicoe, Edward Bond, Christopher Hampton, David Hare, Alan Ayckbourn, Caryl Churchill, Howard Brenton, Willy Russell and Alan Plater himself.
She treated them all alike, with apparently even-handed indifference, with endearments, with a school-matron-like iron fist, and with no tolerance at all for skiving or excuses. At the beginning of the play, she has just spent all night getting a client out of jail. They were naughty children but they were her naughty children.
As we left the theatre, a friend asked me if I thought Peggy adored playwrights. No, I said, she adored plays.
Ruth Leon is a writer and critic specialising in music and theatre.