The year 2012 is making a great start, with classical and dance programs galore. Here are recommended events for aficionados of great music, both traditional and contemporary.
San Francisco Ballet’s “Program 3” — featuring three pieces — opens with Bolshoi director Alexei Ratmansky’s “Carnival of the Animals,” last performed here in 2003. It is choreographed to 14 movements of Saint-Saëns’ famous score. “Francesca da Rimini” is a world premiere by Yuri Possokhov, the company’s choreographer in residence, and former principal dancer. The 13th-century heroine’s fatal romance landed her in Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” The program closes with Helgi Tomasson’s “Trio,” to music by Tchaikovsky, an elegant and varied work with three independent movements, each a “mini-ballet” in itself.
[Feb. 16-26. $20-$285. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F., (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org]
After Arthur Sullivan — the composer half of the Gilbert & Sullivan partnership — visited Italy in 1888, the duo’s next operetta, “The Gondoliers,” appeared complete with tarantella and saltarello, under the obvious influence of Bellini and Donizetti. It takes place, of course, in Venice. The Lamplighters present the very Italian musical work in the king’s English. When it premiered in London in 1889, the Queen Mother became one of its avid fans. Lamplighters Sonia Gariaeff and Elise Marie Kennedy are among the production’s notable performers.
[8 p.m. Jan. 20, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 21, 2 p.m. Jan. 22. $15-$49. Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F.; (415) 978-2787, www.tickets.ybca.org]
Soprano Dawn Upshaw is a great singer with an especially prominent presence in contemporary and American music; she performs varied programs ranging from the Renaissance to the 21st century. Winner of Grammy Awards and a MacArthur Fellowship, Upshaw has had major composers write songs for her. Her San Francisco Performances concert traverses the literature, from Bach and Purcell to Ruth Crawford Seeger, Richard Rodgers and Donnacha Dennehy. Noted pianist Stephen Prutsman is the accompanist.
[Rescheduled to 7 p.m. April 1. $38-$68. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F., (415) 392-2545, www.sfperformances.org]
One of the Merola Program’s greatest stars, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, and composer-pianist Jake Heggie help the Alexander String Quartet celebrate its 30th anniversary in concert. The quartet — Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz on violins, Paul Yarbrough on viola and Sandy Wilson on cello — has been a vital presence in The City, frequently in association with San Francisco Performances. The program includes songs by Hahn and Fauré, Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10. and the premiere of Heggie’s vocal quintet based on the life of French sculptor Camille Claudel.
[8 p.m. Feb. 4. $45-$70. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F., (415) 392-2545, www.sfperformances.org]
Ensemble Parallèle, led by Nicole Paiement, presents the world premiere of Jacques Desjardins’ chamber orchestration of John Harbison’s “The Great Gatsby.” Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, the opera was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and premiered in 1999, later produced by the Chicago Lyric Opera. Ensemble Parallèle’s presentation of the chamber orchestration marks the first time in 10 years that the opera appears onstage. It features Marco Panuccio, Jason Detwiler and Susannah Biller. Paiement again collaborates with stage director and production designer Brian Staufenbiel.
[8 p.m. Feb. 10-11; 2 p.m. Feb. 12. $35-$85. Novellus Theater, 701 Mission St., S.F., (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org]
The Michael Tilson Thomas-San Francisco Symphony American Mavericks concerts a decade ago were so successful, they are being revived during the orchestra’s centennial season. Works by Copland, Ives, Cage, Cowell and commissions by Mason Bates and John Adams are offered on five different programs. Concerts on March 15-17 featuring the two premieres also include Varèse’s “Amériques” and Feldman’s “Piano and Orchestra,” featuring Emanuel Ax. Bates will perform on electronica in his own piece, and the St. Lawrence String
[8 p.m. March 8-18. $35-$145. Davies Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F., (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org]
Ute Lemper — a singer whose career has included starring roles in “Chicago,” “The Blue Angel,” “Peter Pan,” “Cats” and “Cabaret,” along with recitals and symphony concerts — is a top star in the movement for reviving and preserving the culture of Germany’s exceptional Weimar era between the two World Wars. In concert, she mixes classical music, theater songs and pops, along with music by Weill, Piazzolla, Schulhoff and Piaf. In The City, she will be joined by the Vogler Quartet and clarinetist Stefan Malzew.
[8 p.m. March 31. $45-$70. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F., (415) 392-2545, www.sfperformances.org]