Taking our cue from CAST, we're going to favor the challenging over the easy in making our recommendations. Cases in point: Opera Carolina and Charlotte Symphony, among other notables:
• Opera Carolina has mounted Bizet's Carmen no fewer than eight times before since 1948, and the Met has televised their new production of the sizzling classic twice this year at the Regal Stonecrest Cineplex. So even without Denyce Graves, withdrawn because of illness, the saucy temptress is self-recommending (March 13-20). Venture instead into the saturnine world of Otello, a towering Verdi masterwork based on the Shakespearean tragedy, not seen in Charlotte since 1978 (May 6 and 8, Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.).
• Christof Perick makes a predictably glorious exit as Symphony music director with Beethoven's Ninth (April 22-24), a piece the orchestra conquered long ago during the otherwise dreary Leo Driehuys days. Better to gauge the ensemble's strides forward during the Perick regime when they present their Russian Spectacular program (March 26-27, Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.). They'll begin at a recklessly swift gallop with Mikhail Glinka's "Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla" and finish with Tchaikovsky's warm-hearted "PathÈtique" Symphony.
• Appearances by U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan (April 16 -- morning), Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor (April 12), and Empire Brass (April 16 -- evening) will highlight Sensoria, Central Piedmont Community College's re-branded Spring Arts Festival. But the CPCC Theatre production of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson (April 9-18) anchors the festival, featuring blue-chippers Karen Abercrombie, Jonavan Adams, Gerard Hazelton, and Ericka Ross. The Observer will likely cleave to its purblind stance of denying CP coverage, but don't you make the same mistake.
• If you haven't made it over to the new Knight Theater for appearances by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and our own N.C. Dance Theatre, it's probably a waste of breath recommending Parsons Dance and their four-day run (March 25-28). But if you have already seen how well Charlotte's hottest new venue showcases America's finest dance troupes, you'll definitely want to complete the set. I'm covering Parsons for Dance International, published in Vancouver, so there's nothing obscure or provincial about this company.
• OK, let's give in a little bit to the obvious for our final picks. After all, the Broadway Lights Series is coming to a magnificent climax this spring and the N.C. Blumenthal PAC deserves kudos for their 2009-10 lineup. Nothing at all difficult in recommending Jersey Boys in its extended run at Belk Theater (March 31-April 18) or Wicked in its more extended run at Ovens Auditorium (May 19-June 13).
More Spring Guide stuff: