The classical music season currently unfolding in New Orleans is one of the richest and most diverse in
recent memory. Helped in part by the return of many performances to the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, local
organizations have lined up impressive schedules and stellar soloists.

The re-opening of the Mahalia Jackson Theater has restored a sense of place to the New Orleans Opera and the New Orleans Ballet, both of which will present their first full seasons since Katrina in the facility. While the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra continues to use the First Baptist Church in New Orleans
as a part-time home, it too has gained more solid footing in the renovated performing arts theater.

Having launched its fall season with performances of Rachmaninoff and Schumann, the LPO has what is sure to be an audience hit on tap for Oct. 18. Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma will appear with the orchestra, performing the Cello Concerto by Schumann. Music Director and Principal Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto may be looking forward to the program more than anyone.

“Yo-Yo Ma is an incredible artist and a close friend,” Prieto says. “Anything he plays, he makes extremely special, but the Schumann Cello Concerto is a particularly beautiful piece. Few people play Schumann with as much musicality and feeling as he does.”

Prieto says beyond that concert, the season has plenty more to offer. Local audiences will enjoy the return of Principal Guest Conductor Klauspeter Siebel on Oct. 29 for a performance of Mendelssohn’s “Scottish Symphony,” featuring pianist Lera Auerbach.

Other soloists slated through January include Philippe Quint, violin; Anne-Marie McDermott, piano; Midori, violin; and Jaren Philleo, oboe. A host of other top performers will take the stage during the remainder of the season.

Prieto says audience response was strong to last season’s presentation of all nine Beethoven symphonies, and the enthusiasm appears to have carried over. “We’re seeing a big rise in the number of subscribers,” he says.

Meanwhile, a season of great opera kicks off this month with Puccini’s beloved “Tosca” (Oct. 9 and 11). New Orleans Opera Association Artistic Director Robert Lyall believes audiences will find it exciting and musically delightful. “It’s a lot of people’s favorite opera, he says.

Lyall describes “Tosca” as one of great examples of verismo, or realistic, opera as it is set in a specific time and place — Rome, in June of 1800, during the Napoleonic wars — rather than having a broader frame of reference. Powerful soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams sings the starring role in New Orleans, with tenor Antonello Palombi as Cavaradossi and a local favorite, baritone Mark Rucker, as Scarpia. Lyall terms Rucker’s chief-of-police character “one of the great villains of opera.”

November will bring to the stage “Roméo et Juliette,” an opera not performed by the organization in many years. “I have a particular fondness for it because I think the music is so beautiful,” Lyall says. He’s hoping it also will help to draw local students into the fold. The association’s outreach to middle and high schools aims to expose kids to opera on a grand scale, including a full symphony and chorus, costuming and three-dimensional sets. “Romeo and Juliette” is “a beautiful piece to introduce people to opera,” Lyall says.

The association will round out its season with Verdi’s “Messa de Requiem” and Wagner’s “Der fliegende Holländer” in 2010.

The New Orleans Ballet Association also looks to be taking full advantage of its return to the Mahalia Jackson Theater with a particularly splashy lineup. The Houston Ballet, which wowed the local audience last spring with a spectacular debut of “Marie,” returns on Oct. 24 to kick off the new season with a performance of masterworks by four pre-eminent choreographers.

The ballet will take a stylistic turn in November with a tap-dancing tribute to the late Gregory Hines and other dance legends. Broadway star Jason Samuels Smith leads the ensemble.

In January, the all-male company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo brings a comical performance by technically proficient male ballerinas in tutus, to launch the Carnival season. A month later the association brings the stunning Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to the city for the first time since 2005.