‘Tis the Season for Holiday Performances

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, turkey with all the fixings and wishing for a white Christmas: every family has its holiday traditions. At Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT), holiday traditions span both dance and opera, with The Nutcracker, Too Hot to Handel and A Winter Fantasy. This year, MOT will add to its holiday roster a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors, an inspiring opera offering a different perspective on the Nativity story that will be performed in select locations throughout Metro Detroit.

MOT’s holiday season opens Thanksgiving weekend with BalletMet’s The Nutcracker for three performances Nov. 24-25. The ballet follows Clara, a young girl who dances through a fantasy land of sweets and fairies with her nutcracker prince. With its familiar music and fairytale setting, The Nutcracker is the most performed ballet in the United States and has been an annual MOT tradition since 2002.

The traditional production features colorful Victorian costumes, dazzling sets, more than 122 characters on stage and Tchaikovsky’s classic score performed live by the MOT Orchestra. The event will also feature the return of a series of complementary family activities, including live reindeer, photos with Santa and the Nutcracker, holiday-themed crafts and treats before the show. Children will also be able to meet the characters on stage during the Sugar Plum Parade following the performance.

New this year – the ballet company includes Shelby Township native Sophie Miklosovic. The production will also feature a toy drive with COTS (Coalition On Temporary Shelter) to collect 300 toys for homeless children this season. Patrons are encouraged to bring an unwrapped gift for children ages 2-12 to any of the performances.

The Nutcracker weekend at the Detroit Opera House is a magical time of year at MOT,” said Dance Coordinator Kim Smith. “With the theater decorated in Christmas trees and lights, in addition to family-friendly performances and activities, it is the perfect way to begin the holiday season.”

MOT’s holiday series continues Dec. 1 with the 17th annual performance of Too Hot to Handel, a jazz gospel rendition of Handel’s Messiah. A uniquely Detroit tradition, the concert features Rackham Choir and members of the MOT Orchestra performing with renowned soloists Rod Dixon, Alfreda Burke and Karen Marie Richardson alongside an all-star ensemble of Detroit jazz legends Marion Hayden, Alvin Waddles, and Dave Taylor.

Too Hot to Handel brings together Detroit’s greatest classical and jazz musicians and powerhouse singers to inspire new audiences every year,” said Rackham Choir Artistic Director Suzanne Mallare Acton. “It’s truly a community celebration, and it remains one of the most uplifting holiday events in Detroit.”

Acton also leads another MOT tradition: A Winter Fantasy, performed Dec. 2 by the Michigan Opera Theatre Children’s Chorus. Founded in 2007, the MOTCC, with children ranging from 8-16 years old, performs opera as well as music from different cultures and traditions. A Winter Fantasy will feature holiday music as well as a silent auction, showcasing some of the region’s best young talent.

Though the Detroit Opera House is the traditional venue for MOT’s holiday series, it isn’t the only place where the company will be performing. MOT will present Amahl and the Night Visitors at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial Dec. 9, at Detroit’s Most Holy Redeemer Church Dec. 15 and at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts Dec. 22. The performance is part of MOT’s commitment to making opera more accessible throughout the region.

The production tells the story of a miraculous encounter between Amahl, a poor boy with a lame leg, and the Three Kings, on their journey to bestow gifts to the newly-born Christ child.

Amahl and the Night Visitors is a beautiful and ideal opera for children, because the entire work is seen through the eyes of a child,” said MOT Director of External Affairs, Arthur White. “All the beauty, magic and wonder are revealed in this story of faith and love.”

The work was originally commissioned as a way to bring opera to mass audiences. Specifically, the first production of the opera was aired on television by NBC on Dec. 24, 1951 and viewed by an estimated five million people—the largest audience to ever see a televised opera. The production was an instant hit, and became an annual tradition performed by the NBC Opera Theatre from 1951 until 1966. This new production of Menotti’s popular family opera brings the tradition of holiday operas back to Detroit audiences.

Music, performance and art have always been part of holiday traditions, an expression of the joy, forgiveness and love felt throughout the season. It is a time to enjoy favorite annual experiences while also embracing new ones. With a program spanning dance, opera, jazz, gospel and more, MOT’s holiday series offers a variety of experiences, both old and new, to celebrate the season.

~ By Jocelyn Aptowitz and Erica Hobbs