Jacksonville Symphony to present ‘First Coast Nutcracker’ and Handel’s ‘Messiah’ this weekend


The Jacksonville Symphony is presenting “The First Coast Nutcracker” Dec. 15-17, and will have its annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” Dec. 16-17.

The Symphony’s “First Coast Nutcracker” performance has been captivating the Jacksonville area for more than 40 years. This weekend’s showing at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts is the only performance of “The Nutcracker” in the area with a live symphony orchestra. In total, there are 350 different costumes seen throughout the performance, including some new ones this year. Also making its first appearance is a magical, growing tree that will appear on stage. With world class artists and a 15-foot Nutcracker tree in the lobby, this event presents entertainment in and out of the theater.

Once again, the ballet will be choreographed by Rhonda Stampalia, who has been the artistic director/choreographer for the “First Coast Nutcracker” since 1998. Jacksonville Symphony assistant conductor Deanna Tham will lead the performance.

Yumelia Garcia will return as lead dancer for “The First Coast Nutcracker.” Garcia was born in Caracas, Venezuela, where she received her professional training at the Escuela de Ballet Gustavo Franklin. Upon graduation at the top of her class, she was invited to join the National Ballet of Caracas at the age of 15 and was promoted to soloist one year later. Garcia began her U.S. career with Heinz Pohl at Ohio Ballet and soon after, she joined Milwaukee Ballet rising to principal dancer.

After retiring from Joffrey Ballet in 2014, Yumelia Garcia continues her close collaboration with the Jacksonville Symphony this holiday season as the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker,” after performances in “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella” during Jacksonville’s 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

Mauro Villanueva will join the ballet as lead male dancer. Villanueva grew up in San Antonio, and began his dance training at 6 years old with Shawn Knife. At age 9, he joined the University of Incarnate Word Ballet School directed by buddy and Susan Trevino, co-founders of The Joffrey Workshop Texas. In 1998, he attended a summer course and consequently studied for two years at the Nutmeg Conservatory in Connecticut. In August of 2000, Villanueva joined the Joffrey Ballet as an apprentice and two years later received a full company contract.

Additional lead dancers include James Boyd, Brian Palmer, Benjahmin Svyatoslavich and Carlos Garland.

The performances of The First Coast Nutcracker will be 8 p.m. on Friday Dec. 15, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17.

The same weekend, the Jacksonville Symphony will also be presenting its annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” part of the Jacksonville Symphony Special Presentations. The concerts will feature four guest artists and the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus.

Jacksonville Symphony associate conductor Nathan Aspinall will lead both performances of “Messiah.” Recent performances of Aspinall’s have included Handel’s “Messiah,” Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” and a special event concert with organist Cameron Carpenter. The Jacksonville Symphony Chorus, under the direction of Donald McCullough, is an all-volunteer group of individuals who have a love of singing choral music. The 100 members must audition to participate. This season, the chorus will participate in several performances including Faure’s “Requiem,” “Holiday Pops” and the final Masterworks performance, “Twilight of the Gods.”

The four guest artists joining the Symphony for the performance will be American soprano Emily Birsan, a critically acclaimed recitalist, American mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider, tenor Jason Ferrante and operatic baritone Craig Irvin.

The Symphony’s performances of Handel’s “Messiah” are at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17 at the Jacoby Symphony Hall in the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.

For tickets or more information about “The First Coast Nutcracker” or Handel’s “Messiah,” visit JaxSymphony.org

Symphony’s Youth Orchestras to hold holiday concert Dec. 18

The Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras (JSYO) will perform their annual holiday concert a 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18 at Jacoby Symphony Hall in the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.

The JSYO is under the direction of principal conductor and Symphony assistant conductor Deanna Tham. Hailing from Saratoga, California, Tham has conducted and guest conducted all over the United States, most recently working with renowned conductors Marin Alsop and James Ross at the Cabrillo Contemporary Music Festival. Before joining the Jacksonville Symphony, Tham was the music director of the 350-piece Louisville Youth Orchestra.

The JSYO assistant conductors are Helen Morin, who will conduct both Encore Strings and Premier Strings; Rose Francis, who will head up Foundation Strings at the Florida State College of Jacksonville’s South Campus; violinist Naira Cola, who will serve as the conductor of the Clay County Foundation Strings; David Song, who will conduct the Jump Start Strings ensemble at the Florida State College of Jacksonville’s South Campus; and John Wieland, principal bass for the Jacksonville Symphony, who is in charge of Woodland Acres Jump Start Strings and Foundation Strings.

Throughout the evening, the five ensembles will play a selection of holiday favorites from “Carol of the Bells” to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The Philharmonic will end the evening with A Christmas Festival and selections from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

 During the evening, the JSYO will be selling T-shirts, jackets and other items. Profits from these sales will go toward supporting the JSYO.