When you think of Christmas in the context of classical music, there are a few masterpieces that immediately spring to mind. The wonderful ballet The Nutcracker by the Russian Romantic composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky invariably sits around the top of that list. A day before this Christmas Eve, St Paul’s Within the Walls Church in the heart of Rome hosts a splendid concert performance of Tchaikovsky’s masterful score, with some danced sequences featuring the original choreography by Minea De Mattia. Thus, The Nutcracker takes new life in this magical venue and radiates Christmas joy and good cheer as fantastical melodies and classical numbers fill the church.
Tchaikovsky composed The Nutcracker under the urging of Russian master choreographer Marius Petipa. They settled on an adaptation of the fantastical tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. A. Hoffmann, the German master of strange and magical stories. It was to be Tchaikovsky’s third and last ballet, and the premiere on 18 December 1892 (together with the composer’s opera Iolanta) at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg was met with mixed reviews. The concert suite based on the ballet, however, became an instant favourite. After successful revivals in the 1960s, The Nutcracker has become a longstanding Christmas classic, as this year’s concert performance in Rome will surely confirm.
At St Paul’s Within the Walls Church on Via Nazionale, Tchaikovsky’s inventive and memorable score feels right at home immersed into the beautiful wall mosaics and festive atmosphere of the venue. In the capable hands of Orchestra Sinfonica Città di Roma, the unbridled joy and magical quality of the Russian composer’s melodies truly shine, and De Mattia’s inspired new choreography adds a distinct touch to some of the standout numbers. This holiday season in Rome, The Nutcracker gets a splendid musical treatment in a truly special place.