ART

"Moscow: Treasures and Traditions" is a lavish Russian buffet of an exhibit, spread over the depths of the International Gallery in the Smithsonian's S. Dillon Ripley Center.

Its elements are as different as blinis, caviar, chopped eggs, onions and capers -- some 200 icons, porcelain tea cups, embroidered costumes, folk art, avant-garde art, maps and armor, including a 16th-century helmet that obviously was the model for Hershey's chocolate kiss.

The exhibit is on display till Feb. 3.

CLASSICAL MUSIC

The theme of the week is Handel's "Messiah": four performances by the National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall; two sing-along sessions on Saturday, with the Arlington Metropolitan Chorus at First Presbyterian Church and with the Alexandria Symphony and Chorus at T.C. Williams High School; a choreographed version performed by the Asaph Ensemble, this afternoon and again tonight in the Lisner Auditorium.

Other vocal music (mostly choral and seasonal) will include: the U.S. Marine Band's free "Carols at Wolf Trap," today at the Filene Center; St. Matthew's Cathedral Hispanic Choir, today at the Martin Luther King Library; National Gallery Vocal Arts Ensemble, tonight at the National Gallery; Ena Freeman, soprano, tonight at Strathmore Hall; Washington Men's Camerata, tonight at St. Columba's Church; the Paul Hill Chorale, tonight at the Kennedy Center; George Mason University's Christmas Concert, tonight in the Harris Theater; the Morgan State University Choir, Monday night in the Baird Auditorium; the Shir Chadash Chorale, presenting "Hanukah, the Festival of Lights," Thursday night in the Kennedy Center Grand Foyer; Open House at the Corcoran Gallery Thursday night, featuring the Cardozo High School Choir, the National Cathedral School Bellringers and the Spotlight Children's Theater; the Barnes and Hampton Consort's Celtic Christmas, with readings by Robert Aubry Davis, Friday and Saturday nights in the Dumbarton Church; the Washington Waldorf Community Chorus and Orchestra, Saturday at the Waldorf School; the Arlington Symphony, featuring the Alexandria Singers and the Mormon Choir, Saturday night at Bishop O'Connell High School.

Two visiting violinists will highlight the week's chamber music: Oleh Krysa, with pianist Paul Ostrovsky, today at Catholic University's Ward Recital Hall, and Benny Kim, with cellist Arkadiusz Tesarczyk and pianists Paul Maillet, Edward Newman, Liliane Questel and Peter Takacs celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Gesse Foundation on Monday at the Kennedy Center. Also noteworthy: the Shanghai String Quartet with pianist Lilian Kallir, Tuesday night in the Terrace Theater; the Capital City Brass, today in the Baird Auditorium.

DANCE

The highly touted Doug Elkins Dance Company performs at Dance Place this afternoon. A new edition of the Kennedy Center's "Washington, Front and Center! -- A Celebration of Dance" presents works by dancer-choreographers Johne Forges (jazz tap), Nabaghana Shyam Singha (classical and folk dance of India), Assane Konte (West African dance) and Liz Lerman (modern dance) at the Center's Terrace Theater Thursday evening. The Washington Ballet's annual production of "The Nutcracker," a holiday staple here for decades, begins its run of 20 performances at Lisner Auditorium Friday through Sunday (continuing through Dec. 29). A Choreographers Showcase will be part of the program by the Dance Place Moving Company at Dance Place Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

FILM

"The Nasty Girl" is a spunky German cousin with all the resourcefulness and romp of "His Girl Friday," an energetic, black comic celebration of a gutsy gal news-gatherer and the high cost of digging for truth. Drawn from the real-life exploits of the historian Anna Rosmus, the movie engrosses us in the minutiae of a small life made grand by persistence and old-fashioned pluck.

POP MUSIC

Bobby King and Terry Evans sing sweet soul music in the tradition of Sam and Dave: Sunday at the Birchmere.

Wynton Marsalis, with his first soundtrack now under his bulging belt, is at Blues Alley Tuesday through Sunday.

Songwriter packages abound in a sparse schedule: Monday, DAR hosts John Hiatt, Lowen and Navarro and Innocence Mission (the last also at the 9:30 on Saturday); on Friday, the Birchmere hosts pen pals Christine Lavin, John Gorka, Patti Larkin and John Wilcox.

THEATER

There have been great Othellos and great Iagos, but usually not in the same production. In the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger's "Othello," running through Jan. 27, Othello -- the majestic Avery Brooks (best known as TV's Hawk) -- and Iago -- the supple, malevolent Andre Braugher (who played the young intellectual Thomas Searles in "Glory") -- are evenly matched, and their scenes together are the kind of theater you dream about without ever believing you'll see it.

Brooks and Braugher are both African American, as is Franchelle Stewart Dorn, who plays Iago's wife Emilia. With this brilliant stroke of non-traditional casting, the director Hal Scott has cut the play loose from racial melodrama and reestablished it as pure tragedy. Iago's racial hostility toward Othello, inevitable with a white actor in the role, is removed as a motive, and we get to see his villainy in its full malignant egotism. Braugher plays him as a genius of manipulation high on his own skills -- quick, watchful, psychopathically cool. As Othello, Brooks is all heat and light, a truly noble figure who makes a long, terrible fall into madness and murder.