Music Review: Christmas Unwrapped with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra

Christmas cheer and fine music filled the Festival Theatre over the weekend at the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra's Christmas Unwrapped.
Dr Diana Carroll

The Festival Theatre came alive on Friday and Saturday evening with all our favourite Christmas music, some wonderful singing, a couple of delightful guest appearances, and an unexpected moment or two. The stage was set with illuminated Christmas trees and giant decorations and there was even Santa playing third horn.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was joined for these two concerts by the always-charming conductor Guy Noble. He is always a great host, with his laconic sense of humour and relaxed presentation. It feels like he is just chatting with a few friends, not fronting an almost full-house on the main stage.

Starting in fine style, the program opened with a lovely rendition of The Holly and the Ivy played as an overture in an arrangement by British composer Matthew Arnold. This fantasy on well-known carols created the perfect atmosphere for the concert.

All our favourite Christmas songs and carols were here, including Ding Dong Merrily on High, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Popular local soprano Desiree Frahn, a graduate of the Elder Conservatorium and well-known to Adelaide music audiences, joined the ASO on stage for the beautiful carol O Holy Night and the Sound of Music favourite Edelweiss.

The risers at the back of the stage were filled with the members of two choirs, the Graduate Singers, known as The Grads, and the Elder Conservatorium Chorale. Their massed voices were just beautiful when heard alone – they also disguised the less-than-perfect voices of the audience during the two sing-along pieces. We may not have been completely in tune (or in time!) for O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing but we were enthusiastic!

The absolute highlight of the evening was the performance of Howard Blake’s The Snowman from the much-loved Raymond Briggs picture book and animated film. Guy Noble relinquished the baton briefly to sit front-of-stage as The Narrator whilst ASO cellist David Sharp stepped up to conduct. Young Phillip Cheng, a boy soprano with the St Peter’s Cathedral Choir, looked tiny as he came on stage. He won the hearts of everyone in the audience with his shy smile and perfectly pitched singing.

After whirling through all these Christmas favourites and more, it was time for the grand finale, a very Aussie rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas, aided by a few young volunteers from the audience. The ‘partridge in a pear tree’ was replaced by ‘a kookaburra in a gum tree’; the Mall’s Balls, smiley fritz, and Coopers Beer all got an honourable mention along with numerous other local icons.

And so to those unexpected moments. Just a few songs in, Associate Principal Cellist Sharon Grigoryan, seated in the front row of the orchestra adjacent to Guy Noble, and taking the lead in the absence of Principal Cello Simon Cobcroft, vomited on stage, unable to exit quite fast enough. Off she dashed and on came the stage-hands with mops and buckets and wet wipes.

“I didn’t think it was going that badly,” quipped Guy Noble. Sharon bravely came back on stage after interval but had to leave again after just one piece, suffering from an acute case of food poisoning. She is, we are told, feeling better and recovering at home.

Christmas Unwrapped was a truly joyous concert and a perfect treat for children and grandees. My guest, 12-year-old Blake, felt very special having a pre-concert dinner in the Star Bar and seeing the ASO on stage. Great work ASO, and a lovely end to a brilliant 2023 Season. Merry Christmas one and all!

Two performances at the Festival Theatre, Friday 15th (reviewed) and Saturday 16th

Image credit: Ben McMahon


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