Nutcracker, 1944

As we celebrate another incredible Nutcracker opening night, here’s a look back at the first ever opening night of at the War Memorial Opera House, 75 years ago.


Jocelyn Vollmar and and members of San Francisco Ballet performing in Willam Christensen’s “Nutcracker,” 1944. (© San Francisco Ballet. Photo courtesy SFMPD.)

“Willam Christensen adopted some of the familiar choreography and adapted some of it, and created new dance patterns for many of the scenes,” said Marjory M. Fisher in The San Francisco News. “The result was a colorful and entertaining Christmas ballet story replete with Christmas tree, candy canes and ice cream cones, toys and fairies—and the whole was engagingly done by soloists and ensemble.”

“For the second time this week, the Opera House last night was filled to overflowing with children and adults assembled to see the antics of the ‘Nutcracker’ in the famous ballet suite, arranged by Willam Christensen,” wrote Marie Hicks Davidson.

Willam Christensen’s Nutcracker, 1944. (© San Francisco Ballet. Photo courtesy SFMPD.)

“Director Willam Christensen and his young troupe not only maintained the standard of artistic achievement set in the past by them,” wrote The Previewer in the Oakland Post-Enquirer, “but added greatly to their fine record through last night’s colorful and talented presentation.”

The children who rushed to see Nutcracker in Sacramento “applauded reminiscently the antics of the mischievous boy at the Christmas party, they groaned in chorus at the sudden turning off of the house lights, they laughed at the animated mechanical toys and the embattled mice and gingerbread men, and in general they had a wonderful time for themselves,” said Mila Landis in the Sacramento Bee.

Celina Cummings as the Rose from Waltz of the Flowers in Willam Christensen’s “Nutcracker,” 1944. (© San Francisco Ballet. Photo courtesy SFMPD.)

“There were so many fine dancers on the stage last night that only a few can be mentioned here,” wrote Merril Osenbaugh in The Sacramento Union. “Especially outstanding, however, were Onna White, Celena Cummings, Jocelyn Wollmar, Gisella Caccialanza, Russell Hartley, Earl Riggins and Christensen himself, as principal soloists.”

Header Image: Sally Whalen, Celina Cummings, Onna White, and other San Francisco Ballet dancers in W. Christensen’s “Nutcracker”, 1944. (© Joaquin Felsch. Courtesy of SFMPD.)

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