During last Christmas season, Lauren became quite obsessed with The Nutcracker ballet. She was taking beginning dance lessons at our local ballet studio and watched jealously as the older dancers performed. At one point I made the mistake of telling her that my little sister and I had danced in several productions of The Nutcracker years and years ago. She talked my dad into finding the old videotapes of those performances, transferring them to DVDs, and then mailing them to her. For weeks we heard Tchaikovsky's music over and over again.
Maestro Classics just released a new CD version of The Nutcracker that will make this year's Christmas Nutcracker season more enjoyable for all of us.
Even though Lauren saw one live performance of The Nutcracker last year, she still had lots and lots of questions. At one point, I could remember all of the music, what each dancer wore, and probably a few steps from each dance. After more than twenty years, though, I kept mixing up the dances. Sometimes I mixed up the Russian dancers and the Spanish chocolates. Another time I completely forgot about the Waltz of the Flowers in the second act and just told her that the Sugar Plum Fairy got to dance for a long, long time.
Even though it's a bit early for me to be thinking about Christmas and The Nutcracker, I put our new CD in the car a few weeks ago when Lauren and I were traveling to a doctor's appointment out-of-town. Lauren remembered the music from last year and started asking questions before the overture was finished. This year I told her to relax a minute and listen to the narration.
Maestro Classics produces CDs that introduce children to classical music by sharing the stories of the compositions and not just the music. Their version of The Nutcracker includes narration by the renowned storyteller Jim Weiss. Some of the other Maestro Classic CDs we've listened to included the story and the music separately. For The Nutcracker, the narration is tastefully spoken throughout the music. For instance, during the party scene in Act One, the narrator tells when Herr Drosselmeyer arrives, when his magical dolls perform, when the adults dance, and when the boys gallop around the room with their toy bugles. During Act Two, the narrator introduces each of the different types of sweets that perform for Clara and the Prince.
I was impressed with the narration because it answered all of Lauren's "what's going on now" questions without interrupting the flow of the music. It's a bit odd to be listening to a ballet without seeing the dancers, but Jim Weiss's short, but vivid descriptions made it easy for us to imagine the way the scenes would look on a stage.
I was also impressed with the slightly shortened version of the music that was included in this version of The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky's original arrangement usually lasts about an hour and a half, not including an intermission. The Maestro Classics versions was only an hour long. As far as I can tell, they didn't leave anything out; they simply shortened a few of the longer dances so that the ballet as a whole would better hold a child's attention.
In addition to the music CD, we also received a small, 24-page informative booklet with brief articles about the History of Ballet, the Harp, and Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky. It also included a word scramble activity and simple crossword puzzle. Lauren enjoyed looking at the booklet and learned a few new facts. If I decide to expand our study of The Nutcracker into a larger unit study, Maestro Classics has free downloadable curriculum guides that correspond with all of their CDs. For The Nutcracker, the curriculum guide included activities for history, geography, science, language arts, art, music, and math.
I cannot imagine a Christmas season without hearing The Nutcracker, and the version produced by Maestro Classics is by far the best production I've ever heard. A copy of this CD would make a great gift this holiday season.
The Nutcracker CD by Maestro Classics costs $16.98, and an mp3 version is available to download for $8.49. In past years, we've heard Maestro Classic's versions of Handel's Water Music, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and Peter and the Wolf. They've all been enjoyable additions to our music collection.
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