Culturally, the American Christmas season is an amalgam of extremes, especially in the musical realm, where Handel's Messiah and wonderful melodies like Felix Mendelssohn's "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and Adolphe Adam's "Cantique de Noel" (Oh Holy Night) are forced to co-exist with jolly snowmen, red-nosed reindeer and mommies caught kissing Santa.
But Annapolitans who take their culture straight are in luck this Christmas season as the capital city's performing arts organizations are doing their heroic best to neutralize those vapid, Muzak-ridden noises so hopelessly devoid of the spiritual intensity the weeks of Advent are supposed to evoke.
The Annapolis Opera will present its annual "Mozart by Candlelight" concert at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in the lovely setting of First Presbyterian Church at Duke of Gloucester and Conduit streets in the Annapolis Historic District.
This concert, which has become a holiday tradition, will spotlight arias from such Mozart masterpieces as The Marriage of Figaro, The Abduction from the Seraglio, Cosi fan Tutte, Idomeneo and The Magic Flute sung by sopranos Hilary Ryon and Ah Hong, mezzo Yvette Smith and bass Peter Campbell. Ronald Gretz, the company's conductor, will accompany the singers from the keyboard.
Ryon is a recent graduate of Baltimore's Peabody Institute who has appeared with Washington's Summer Opera and the Austrian American Mozart Academy in Salzburg, Austria, which is Wolfgang Amadeus' hometown.
Making her Annapolis Opera debut will be Hong of the Towson University voice faculty, who has performed numerous operatic roles here and in Britain.
Also singing will be Smith, an apprentice artist with the Sarasota Opera and a member of the University of Maryland Opera Studio, and Campbell, who was so impressive as the Mikado in the local company's production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic a couple of seasons back.
Attendees may meet the performers at a dessert reception after the concert. Tickets are $35 ($32.50 for members of the opera) and may be ordered by calling 410-267-8135.
Also adding touches of class to Annapolis' Christmas celebration is the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, which presents its holiday concert at 8 p.m. Dec. 17 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St. in Annapolis.
Sarah Ioannides, formerly an assistant conductor of the world-class Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, will lead the orchestra in arrangements of holiday favorites, including the "Waltz of the Flowers" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet and Leontovich's lovely "Carol of the Bells."
She will be joined by the Boston Brass, a quintet of versatile musicians whose concerts bristle with energy, virtuosic talent and good cheer.
Concert tickets are $30, $35 and $40; $10 tickets for full-time students ages 8 to 25 are available in certain seating sections. No one younger than 8 will be admitted. Call 410-263-0907 for reservations.
The ASO has teamed up with Toys for Tots to collect new, unwrapped toys for children in the community. Anyone dropping a toy off at the orchestra's box office in Maryland Hall will receive a $5 ticket order discount.