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The Perfect Gift

Gift-wrapped culture
It's time to leave the crowded malls behind. Why not give your loved ones a night at the opera or a day at the art museum? REBECCA CALDWELL presents a Christmas gift guide with a difference

By REBECCA CALDWELL, Special to The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, December 13, 2000

The Perfect Gift
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  • Fashion List
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  • TORONTO -- The upcoming orgy of holiday gift-giving can fill you with terror -- it's better to give than to receive, but just what the heck do you give? This season's oh-so-trendy gadget may be unused, or worse, uncool by March, and unless it's got the cachet of cashmere, does anyone really need another sweater? One way around the perils of presents is to consider gifts of a more elegant nature: Give something cultural.

    Canada's theatre companies, art galleries, symphonies and the like are getting into the holiday spirit by offering gift packages with a little more punch than your standard gift certificates. As John Trivisonno of L'Opéra de Montréal points out, giving holiday subscriptions is a great idea for novice culture vultures.

    "It's hard to tell someone who's never been to the opera before to go see one performance and then they'll know if they like it or not," he said. "Depending on the style of the era it was composed in, you really have to try a few before you know what you'll enjoy."

    The other advantage of this kind of gift, of course, is that culture always fits.

    "It's a great gift idea, much more than just your usual black socks or a necktie," Trivisonno adds. "It's an experience that can stay with you for much longer."

    The following is our cross-country cultural gift-giving guide: Halifax's premiere theatre company, The Neptune Theatre, has a Take 5 deal that won't give you any chance for a rest: $99 gets you five passes to the remaining shows of Neptune's season, nearly half off single ticket prices. Catch productions Art, Homeward Bound, Jesus Christ Superstar, High Life, The Compleat Wrks of Wlm Shkspr (Abridged). 902-429-7300.

    The Nova Scotia Museum offers a deal on their year-long pass that gets you free access into 25 of their sister institutions around the province. Just in time for the holiday season, you can buy 2001 passes now (family of two adults and their children, $60; single adult, $30) and get an extra four months for free. 1-800-632-1114.

    Nautical nuts take note: The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was voted best indoor site by Attractions Canada in 1999, and one look at their stirring exhibit on the 1917 Halifax Explosion tells you why. Or just keep making the pilgrimage to their long-running Titanic show. For the month of December, they're discounting their Winter Pass to $6 (a mere $15 for a Family Pass), good for unlimited admission until the end of March 2001. 902-424-7490.


    Operaholics will delight in a holiday-edition minisubscription for three of L'Opera de Montréal's five remaining shows, including the modern Lucia di Lammermoor and Mefistofele, alongside Aida for those traditionalists. From $66.30. 514-985-2258.

    A lot of symphonies offer gift certificates or year-round subscriptions (think Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver), but the Montreal Symphony Orchestra actually rewards you for thinking of others. Buy a $100 gift certificate and get two free tickets to their first show of the new year -- an evening of Paganinian Pyrotechnics with violinist Leonidas Kavakos. Or if you really want to impress, you can give those tickets as gifts, too. 514-842-9951.


    The mammoth National Arts Centre has something for everyone as the nation's greats touch down on their stages. Ballet lovers will love passes to Ballet British Columbia's The Fairie Queen, The National Ballet of Canada's Don Quixote and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Butterfly ($144.45). Their French-language theatre package includes tickets to L'Ecole des femmes, Robert Lalonde's Monsieur Bovary and Marivaux's L'Heureux Stratagème ($90). Or check out CanStage's Larry's Party; The Beauty Queen of Leenane at Vancouver's The Playhouse; or a NAC production of All's Well that Ends Well ($114.40). Purchase in person at the box office or order by fax at 613-947-7112.


    Providing Toronto with cutting-edge theatre for 30 years, The Tarragon Theatre offers a great ticket pass on the remaining season. For between $66 and $100, you can check out their three main stage shows, Midnight Sun, An Acre of Time and the musical Anything That Moves, plus either Earshot or I, Claudia in the Extra Space stage. 416-531-1827.

    CanStage offers a pick-three package of tickets which can be redeemed for three of their upcoming shows including Larry's Party, starring Brent Carver, Happy, Wit, Closer and Ann-Marie MacDonald returning to star in her celebrated play, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet). Prices range from $72 to $144 depending on what night of the week you're planning your outing. 416-368-3110.

    The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has minted a gift-giving idea with SymphoMoney, gift certificates which can be exchanged for the best available seats for the remainder of their concert season. Purchase a minimum of five tickets for $125. 416-598-3375.

    Want a little more colour than the seasonal red, green and white? Don't miss Matisse at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The AGO offers a price break on their group-ticketing scheme, letting you purchase 10 tickets (instead of the usual 20) to their Matisse show, on until Jan. 16, for $100. Even better, you don't have to go as a group, but can add a bit of class to those stocking stuffers. Perfect for your college-aged kids who may want a break from the usual mall madness. 416-979-6648. And it just wouldn't be Christmas without The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky's old chestnut gets cracked every year and in almost every major Canadian city -- the Montreal Ballet and Symphony Nova Scotia are also hosting performances. The National Ballet of Canada seduces audiences with its 1995 revisioning of the classic tale; a holiday-discounted family pass of four tickets to the show, running until Dec. 30, ranges from $114 to $154. 416-345-9595.


    Some theatre companies offer mere discounts, but the Stratford Festival is offering lifestyle this holiday. Choose from one of three packages with either libertinism, leisure or loved ones in mind. At $244, The Epicurean includes dinner for two at The Church Restaurant in Stratford and two top-priced tickets to the 2001 season. The Enthusiast deal gets you a round of golf at the Stratford Country Club with cart rental and two theatre tickets for $227, while the Entourage will see you and your brood having dinner at Kelsey's Bar and Grill, two regular priced tickets and two family youth experience tickets and a gift certificate at the Festival Store to purchase that Shakespearean cookbook you've been eyeing. 1-800-567-1600.


    There'll be no heartbreak in the house when you give a copy of The Sayings of Bernard Shaw along with gift certificates to the upcoming Shaw Festival season. From $62.95. 1-800-511-7429.


    Catch the festive production of A Christmas Carol at Theatre Calgary with a family four-pack of tickets and save roughly a third off the regular price ($82.50 to $114). And if you have a Scrooge-like change of heart and want to subscribe to the rest of the season of shows including Camelot, J. B. Priestley's Dangerous Corner and Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosenweig, they'll deduct the cost of your tickets for A Christmas Carol. 403-294-7447.


    Edmonton's powerhouse of theatre, The Citadel, has a trio of gift ideas. Buy either a four or six-pack of tickets to any plays in the rest of the upcoming season including The Number 14, Margaret Edson's Wit, Camelot, Romeo & Juliet and Yasmina Reza's Art ($99 and $179). Or send two people out on the town with dinner and a pair of tickets to the show of their choice ($109). 780-425-1820.


    Vancouver's The Playhouse theatre company has an unheralded promotion: Their holiday 3-play package will get you tickets to Wit, George Bernard Shaw's Candidaand The Beauty Queen of Leenane for about 10 per cent off regular ticket prices. (From $66). 604-873-3311.

    Take advantage of The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's gift certificates, or their phenomenal Symphony Sampler package, where $99 gets you four tickets to any shows in the rest of their season. 604-876-3434.

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