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Charlotte Symphony works unfamiliar holiday ‘Magic’

By Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

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  • ‘The Magic Of Christmas’

    Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s holiday show includes solo and choral singing, aerial dance, a trapeze, a pipe band....

    WHEN: 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

    WHERE: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

    RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes.

    TICKETS: $26.50-82.50.

    DETAILS: 704-372-1000 or

Think of “The Magic of Christmas” as an aural tapas bar. It offers a few sugary things, some nourishing morsels, high-calorie comfort food and items that look weird but go down easily once you get used to them.

Conductor Albert-George Schram, who provided endearingly silly patter between pieces on Thursday, propelled the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and Oratorio Singers of Charlotte through a program that was exotic and familiar in equal parts.

When aerialist Caroline Calouche swathed herself in silk and performed above the stage to “Silent Night,” the babe and his manger seemed far away. That was also true of Ulia O’Hara’s trapeze solo to a langorous “Angels We Have Heard On High.” (Calouche’s troupe is everywhere this season, from Carolina Voices’ “Singing Christmas Tree” Dec. 14-15 at Ovens Auditorium to a “Nutcracker” adaptation called “Clara’s Trip” Dec. 20-21 at Booth Playhouse.)

Yet when the well-drilled Charlotte Children’s Choir rapped out “Little Drummer Boy,” or the Oratorio Singers rang out in the “Hallelujah” chorus from “Messiah,” the evening acquired the traditional chestnuts-by-the-fireplace glow. The two fine bagpipers and drummer from the Loch Norman Pipe Band Trio somehow projected an air that seemed old and new at once.

Classic numbers sounded fresh. The title character in a wonky “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” seemed to have acquired his tint by hanging around a spiked punch bowl with Dean Martin. The persistent snare in “Drummer Boy” emerged as first cousin to the beat in Ravel’s “Bolero.”

Yet the most fun came from things I didn’t know.

Gary Fry’s “Sing We Joyous” dressed “Joy to the World” in the garb of Africa, Spain and the Celtic isles, with the Children’s Choir singing cleanly in Swahili. The CSO’s Aubrey Foard had a comically attractive spree in “Wassail, Wassail All Over the Tuba.”

The exuberant orchestra overran soloists from time to time. Frank Portone’s powerful tenor could usually rise above the blast in “God Bless Us Everyone,” but some of Emily Chatham’s characterful narration in “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” got lost.

Schram included three audience singalongs that the timid crowd failed to embrace, plus one semi-classical piece: the overture to Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus.” You’re likelier to hear that at a New Year’s Day concert in Schram’s native Europe, but hey – a holiday party is a holiday party.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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