The Citizens Bank Opera House was sparkling with Christmas-time magic Friday night, with tall Christmas trees, red walls and an intricately designed golden ceiling. The opening night of artistic director Mikko Nissinen’s “The Nutcracker” was packed with audience members ready to begin the holiday season the day after Thanksgiving.
Many Boston Ballet attendees fit right in with the opera house’s aesthetic in their elegant evening wear. The bustling front room quickly emptied as people took their seats for the 7:30 p.m. show.
Traditionally an annual event, last year’s performances were streamed via various television stations. Back live this year, the dancers were all smiles as they acknowledged the orchestral pit, conducted by Mischa Santora.
The main roles were Clara, performed by soloist Chisako Oga, joined by principal dancers Paul Craig as Drosselmeier, Viktorina Kapitonova as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Paulo Arrais as the Nutcracker Prince.
The holiday magic continued as the lights dimmed and the ballet began. The Party Scene in Act I was playful — students of the Boston Ballet School frolicked on stage, and the children in the ballet opened Christmas gifts and played with toys.
The real fun came when soloist Lawrence Rines and second soloist Soo-bin Lee took the stage in the evening show as the Harlequin and Ballerina Dolls, respectively. The dancers came out of gift boxes and played their roles as dolls perfectly. Nissinen’s choreography was elegant but stiff.
The next gift box contained a surprise for the on-stage children and audience themselves — a bottom-heavy teddy bear pranced across the stage. The iconic Boston bear was surreal and dreamlike. The magic of it set the informal tone for the audience, who laughed in surprise.
Peter Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is a timeless classic, and Boston Ballet’s adaptation and choreography added to the quaint, child-like splendor of the music.
The Battle Scene and Snow Scene before the intermission were huge productions, starting with a tense fight between the Mouse King, danced by Graham Johns, and the Nutcracker Prince and his soldiers.
Snow Queen and King then took the stage for a beautiful duet between principals Lia Cirio and Patrick Yocum. Snow fell as they danced, and the scene was beautifully lit.
After intermission, the Kingdom of the Sweets opened the second act, and five dances representing different nationalities wowed the audience, eliciting cheers before the dancers even began bowing.
Dancers portraying Spanish chocolate, Arabian coffee, French marzipan, Chinese tea and Russian troika all represented their country’s sweets through the music and costumes. Clara and the Nutcracker Prince watched as they each performed for them and the audience.
The Spanish dresses were red and bold, and the Arabian dancers intensely performed to slow music with a woody oboe solo. The French Marzipan stuck to a very classical style of dancing, fittingly sweet like marzipan. The Chinese Tea duet incorporated a red streamer. But the jumping Russian Troika was the fan-favorite — the trio smiled during a buoyant number.
The Grand Pas de Deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince was a captivating final scene, and the audience was on their feet for the final bows.
The elegance of ballet and the pure cheer of Christmas intertwined in this year’s “The Nutcracker,” making it impossible not to come away with a smile.