With conductor and presenter Guy Noble leading the orchestra in fine style, Christmas Unwrapped was a joyous occasion, though not without incident. Primarily, it was about sharing good cheer and having a jolly time, and on this score it succeeded amply. More than that, it treated the audience to a wonderfully unusual Christmas-themed program.

A couple of moments deviated alarmingly from the script – but we’ll get to that.

Few family films are as utterly charming as Dianne Jackson’s animation The Snowman, and of the three elements that make it so very memorable, we had two. One is of course the story itself, based on Raymond Briggs’s classic picture book of the same name, and the other is Howard Blake’s lovely music.

It was a clever idea, indeed, to overlay the one with the other. Having guided the orchestra through Malcolm Arnold’s fantasy overture The Holly and the Ivy plus an assortment of other Christmas goodies, Noble stepped down from the podium to read The Snowman’s story – about how a young boy makes a snowman that comes to life and takes him on a ride to meet Santa Claus.

Meanwhile, David Sharp – normally one of the ASO’s cellists – took directorial duties in Blake’s vivaciously affectionate, multi-coloured score. Beginning with the familiar solo piano, played most wonderfully and pliantly by Michael Ierace, it was a joy to hear.

At times, voice and orchestra competed for attention, but other than that it worked a charm. All one missed was the animated artwork that made Jackson’s film a classic.

Faultless: Phillip Cheng sings ‘Walking in the Air’ with the ASO. Photo: Ben Macmahon

Halfway through, in walked a boy dressed in a snow jacket and scarf to sing “Walking in the Air”, the song that made The Snowman so beloved and propelled Aled Jones to fame in 1985. Well, what a marvel this young singer turned out to be: Phillip Cheng, from St Peter’s Cathedral Choir, was so pure and spot-on that he stole every heart in the Festival Theatre.

All one can do is heap praise on him, because his faultless singing was the undoubted highlight of the evening. It was as good as one could have imagined.

But this is to take nothing away from the real star of the show, Desiree Frahn. In Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night” and “Edelweiss”, from The Sound of Music, she lavished the audience with her exceedingly attractive, chocolatey soprano. It was enough to melt the heart.

Alas, food poisoning experienced by one of the cellists was enough to turn the stomach.

No sooner had the Graduate Singers and Elder Conservatorium Chorale joined for “Ding Dong! Merrily on High”, than Sharon Grigoryan, the ASO’s associate principal cellist, slowly placed her cello to one side, momentarily coughed, and promptly vomited all over the floor. She was clearly seriously ill and made her exit, with the concert then stopping while stage hands came in with mop and bucket to do the clean-up.

Always to be relied upon to add humour when needed, Noble quipped, “Poor Sharon, but I didn’t think the performance was going that badly”, earning an immediate chorus of laughter.

Returning for the second half for Morton Gould’s “Serenade of Carols” was not such a good idea, as Grigoryan, though looking refreshed, had to hurry off again soon after. All thoughts were with her, but a few more amusing asides from Noble again helped save the day. The show must go on.

Choral singers added to the joy of Christmas Unwrapped. Photo: Ben Macmahon

Forming a massive choir behind the orchestra, the “Grads” (as the Graduate Singers are affectionately known) and Elder Conservatorium Chorale were another highlight. Under conductor Karl Geiger, they were divine in Judith Weir’s “My Guardian Angel” and Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque”. What a luxuriance of top choirs we have in Adelaide.

The funniest moment of any ASO concert came at the end in an irreverent Aussie take on “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Transformed into “A Kookaburra in a Gumtree”, it featured the Malls Balls, a six-pack of a familiar local brand of beer, and references to a well-known property developer,as part of its hilarious Christmas countdown.

Congratulations ASO, Guy Noble and guests for this wonderful festive celebration.

The ASO presented Christmas Unwrapped at the Festival Theatre as its final performance of 2023.


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