i Father Christmas, annual giftgiver

Not a regular in the public eye this one.

Alexander Pushkin, By Robert Chandler

Hesperus's "Brief Lives" series of short biographies offers a sound and accessible alternative to the blockbuster literary life.

Ballet and Opera - The odd couple

To many ballet fans, opera is all about melodrama and inappropriate vocalising. Yet, to opera aficionados, ballet can seem limited and dull. But, Jessica Duchen says, they do work together – and two companies aim to prove it

Opera sheds new light on Tchaikovsky's gay lifestyle

Tchaikovsky is thought of as a gloomy fatalist, but a rarely staged humorous opera and a book about his gay lifestyle will make us think again

Life in the fast lane: Steven McRae

Steven McRae grew up in the world of motor racing but now he is one of the Royal Ballet's brightest stars

'Every sperm is sacred': Terry Jones' favourite Monty Python sketches

40 years of Monty Python

Michael Church: This plan misses so many key points about education

So, Ed Balls is rethinking his plans to turn 11 million Britons into paedophile suspects: not much of a surprise, given the near-universal derision that greeted it. The plan may need "adjustments", he says, which we can take as code for a total retreat: yet another crack-brained New Labour notion is about to bite the dust – and so it should. The Vetting and Barring Scheme requires everyone having regular contact with children, in any context outside a family one, to be approved by the Government after registering on a state-run database.

Tchaikovsky, By Roland John

Why the Russian maestro Tchaikovsky attributed his remarkable musical voice to his proclivities

Prom 31: National Youth Orchestra/Petrenko, Royal Albert Hall, London

So disarmingly boyish-looking is the talented Vasily Petrenko that he might easily have been mistaken for one of the National Youth Orchestra's own stepping out to the podium to conduct them. But appearances, as we know, can be deceptive and the most striking aspects of this annual Prom jamboree was Petrenko's maturity in seeking out and refining the precious quietudes in three flashy blockbusting showpieces. Getting an orchestra this big (pretty much double everything) to sound shapely and diaphanous is quite an achievement.

Prom 31: National Youth Orchestra / Petrenko, Royal Albert Hall, London

So disarmingly boyish looking is the talented Vasily Petrenko that he might easily have been mistaken for one of the National Youth Orchestra’s own stepping out to the podium to conduct them.

Superstars of dance: The Mariinsky Ballet

The Mariinsky, formerly known as the Kirov, returns to Britain next week. The company that set the standard for classical ballet promises to live up to its glamorous history with a starry new line-up

Sir Edward Downes: Conductor celebrated as one of the finest Verdi interpreters of his generation

Edward Downes spent more than 50 years of his life at Covent Garden Opera House, as prompter, répétiteur, translater and, of course, conductor. He spent four years as the music director of Australian Opera, but returned at least once a season to Covent Garden where, in 1992, he was appointed assistant music director and principal conductor of the Royal Opera. He had been knighted the year before. He was one of the finest Verdi conductors of his generation, and in 1995 he launched an ambitious plan to perform all Verdi's operas at Covent Garden by 2001, the centenary of his death, a plan which unfortunately foundered from lack of funds. Downes's other great strengths were in Russian opera, especially Prokofiev and Shostakovich, though he did not neglect Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky, and in 20th-century opera: he conducted several premieres and British premieres.

Dorian Gray, Sadler's Wells, London

Matthew Bourne's take on Oscar Wilde's story has strong performances but is hollow at the core

Album: Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 5 / Hamlet – Nelsons / CBSO (Orfeo)

The symphonic debut of a new conductor and orchestra partnership is always an event. Long associated with contemporary music, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra tears into the first of a cycle of Tchaikovsky's symphonies for the German label Orfeo under its young Latvian music director Andris Nelsons.

Album: Brahms/Korngold, Violin Concertos – Znaider/Gergiev/ Wiener Phil, (RCA)

Brahms tasteful, Korngold vulgar, right? Not in this recording. Soloist Nikolaj Znaider's meticulously judged vibrato glows through the poignant Romance of Korngold's Violin Concerto while Valéry Gergiev works his quivering magic with the Wiener Philharmoniker.

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Day In a Page

Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – MS Swiss Corona - seven nights from £999pp
Lake Maggiore, Orta and the Matterhorn – seven nights from £899pp
Sicily – seven nights from £939pp
Pompeii, Capri and the Bay of Naples - seven nights from £799pp
Istanbul Ephesus & Troy – six nights from £859pp
Mary Rose – two nights from £319pp
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism