Apollo's Fire Leads This Week's Arts Picks


Apollo's Fire rights one of Messiah's wrongs Handel's Messiah has suffered a double whammy of perversion, first by being linked to Christmas instead of Easter, which fits the oratorio better, and second by the "bigger is better" performance standard. As Apollo's Fire music director Jeannette Sorrell notes, the piece was performed with a chorus of no less than 2,765 and an orchestra of 460, way back in 1859, well before televised, stadium-sized, sing-along events. We wouldn't be writing about it now if they were bucking the seasonal trend, but Sorrell and her baroque-instrument ensemble will perform it on a scale more like that of its 1742 debut at the Music Hall in Dublin (which, incidentally, took place in April). Sorrell reassembles her 2006 cast of solo voices - soprano Amanda Forsythe, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Shammash, tenor Ian Honeyman and baritone Jeffrey Strauss - and a sensibly sized choir of about two dozen voices for a series of performances that will be recorded for a live CD. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 9, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church (1361 West Market Street, Akron); 7:30 p.m. Thursday, December 11, at Trinity Cathedral (2230 Euclid Ave., Cleveland); 8 p.m. Friday, December 12 and Saturday, December 13, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church (2747 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland Heights); and 4 p.m. Sunday, December 14, at Rocky River United Methodist (19414 Detroit Rd., Rocky River). Tickets: $10-$60. Call 216.320.0012 or go to apollosfire.org.


The gondolas of Venice are black, thanks to a 16th century decree by the Doge that only gondolas carrying important people could be colorful. So when Richard Wagner died in Venice in 1883, his body was moved by a black gondola, not as an expression of mourning, but because that was the only way. Nonetheless, when that composer's father-in-law, the pianist Franz Liszt, composed a tribute called La lugubre gondola (The Black Gondola), that default color served the mood well. The Cleveland Orchestra has a lot of piano music on the program this week, but will take up the Liszt piece not with the solo instrument, but in a transcription for orchestra by John Adams. Jayce Ogren conducts. The rest of the program is dominated by the piano and Maestra Mitsuko Uchida, who will perform as soloist and conduct from the bench as the Orchestra performs Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491, and his Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488. Both will be recorded live for future release on the Decca label. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Severance Hall, 11001 Euclid Ave. Tickets: $24 to $87. Call 216.231.111 or go to clevelandorchestra.com.


It's Christmas Eve, 1941, just weeks after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the musical Sanders family is getting together at their North Carolina church for one last performance before son Dennis ships out with the Marines. Actors Summit's premiere of The Sanders Family Christmas bring a new (if traditional) holiday show to Northeast Ohio. With its stories alternating with country-gospel songs, it's not unlike Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. The cast and orchestra are one and the same, with each member taking up an instrument. MaryJo Alexander directs. It opens tonight with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through December 21. Actors Summit is at 86 Owen Brown St., Hudson. Tickets: $7 to $28. Call 330.342.0800 or go to actorssummit.org.


Langston Hughes initially christened his song-play Black Nativity with a different title, Wasn't It a Mighty Day? It fit the gospel mood of the piece, but doesn't capture the idea of an African-American re-telling of the Christmas story as effectively. The re-naming cost the 1961 Broadway production some original cast members - including Alvin Ailey, who was concerned that the word "black" would be divisive - but it didn't diminish the work's musical or staying power. The show by Karamu's most famous alumnus comes to life again in the Jelliffe Theater at 8 tonight. This year's production is directed and choreographed by Terence M. Greene, a former member of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and performance instructor at the Cleveland School of the Arts. Amber Ivy reprises the role of Mary and Nehemiah Spencer dances the role of Joseph. Student dancers and graduates of the School of the Arts perform as angels, shepherds and ushers. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. on Sundays, through December 28. Tickets: $25 to $30. Karamu is at 2355 E. 89th St. Call 216.795.7077 or go to karamu.com.


You can party, shop locally and support an artist all at the same time if you know where to go. And this weekend, the place to go is Zygote Press Gallery (1410 E. 30th St.), which opens its annual Off The Wall holiday show and sale with a reception from 6 to 9 tonight. You can count on finding every kind of print, plus blank books, cool stuff to stick on your refrigerator and more. Featured artists include Jen Craun, Susan Vincent, Phyllis Kohring Fannin, Anne Kibbe, Michael Loderstedt, Liz Maugans, Bellamy Printz, Denise Stewart, Carol Mitchell, Lisa Schonberg, Shelly DiCello, Glenn Ratusnik, Bruce Edwards and Karen Beckwith, among others. Preview hours, if the party doesn't fit your schedule, are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and you can also shop from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Call 216.621.2900 or go to zygotepress.com.


Verb Ballets executive director Dr. Margaret Carlson promises that the premiere of Pamela Pribisco's choreography for Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, which is part of the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra's Christmas program this week, will be a traditional treat. "A lot of people like to do contemporized versions of these things or make it look like it's happening on the street," she says. "[Pribisco's] is going to be very traditional. Not a pointe ballet, but the steps are balletic, the opposite of performance art and postmodern dance." In its concert form and recordings, Peter and the Wolf has introduced millions to the instruments of the orchestra, with its animal-morphization of sounds: a flute plays the bird, the oboe the duck, the clarinet the cat and so on. Carlson says the company is looking forward to this performance because these days it's rare for them to have the opportunity to perform with a full symphony orchestra. The ballet company commissioned Pribisco to set it in motion and will take the show on the road in January (to Florida first, then in a residency at Ohio Northern University, followed by a performance presented by the Chagrin Falls Arts Council). WCLV radio personality John Simna will narrate. The show is part of the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra's Christmas concert program at 3 p.m. Sunday at Tri-C Western Campus Theater (11000 W. Pleasant Valley Rd., Parma) and in a performance without the dancers in a standard concert format at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 13, at Zion United Church of Christ (2716 W. 14th St., Cleveland). The rest of the program is a classical Christmas feast featuring Arcangelo Corelli's "Christmas" concerto, Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve Suite, Strauss's "Blue Danube Waltz" and a bunch of seasonal music by Leroy Anderson. Dr. Victor Liva conducts. Tickets: $12-$15. Call 216.556.1800 or go to clevephil.org.


It's not exactly rare that the constantly touring music and shtick factory known as the Canadian Brass comes through town, but it's worth checking out every time. Co-founders Gene Watts and Chuck Daellenbach have built a brand around their goofy hijinks, which at this time of year often involve Santa hats. But all that would be pretty thin without their luxuriously fat and precise sound - which is manifested on some 60 recordings, mostly in baroque works. This time, though, the program is a mix of holiday and traditional favorites. They give one show only, at 6 tonight at PlayhouseSquare's Palace Theatre. Tickets: $10 to $45. Call 216.241.6000 or go to playhousesquare.org.


Performance poets Kisha Foster and Rafeeq Washington read in the Poetry Back in the Woods series at Shaker Heights Public Library's Bertram Woods Branch. Foster was a member of the 2003 Classic Cleveland Poetry Slam team. She was also a member of the all-female poetic group E.V.E. (Eccentric Visions of Evolution). Washington is a member of electro-art duo BLKTYGR, and the curator and producing director of the electronic music label Cleveland Tapes. They read at 7 p.m. The Bertram Woods Branch is at 20600 Fayette Rd., Shaker Heights. Call 216.991.2421 or go to shpl.lib.oh.us.