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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Concert Review: The Royal Tasting Table

Mozart opera served tapas-style in The Illuminated Heart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Burning down the house: Christine Goerke (center) sings Elettra in The Illuminated Heart
as Louis Langrée conducts. Photo © Richard Termine for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
For an arts organization trying to interest new listeners in opera, the hardest thing to do is to convert skeptics to the power and beauty of this 500-year-old art form. Presumably, that was the intent behind The Illuminated Heart, a glitzy 75-minute arrangement of Mozart arias and ensembles that kicked off the 50th anniversary celebration of Mostly Mozart at Lincoln Center. Exactly the length of an old-fashioned CD, this program reminded one of those Mozart compilations that flooded record shops in 1985 following Amadeus' eight Oscar wins.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Opera Review: Her Daddy Said: "A Whore"

Bard SummerScape plucks Mascagni's rare Iris.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pimp daddy: Kyoto (Douglas Williams) menaces Iris (Talise Trevigne) in Mascagni's opera.
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2016 Bard SummerScape.
Composer Pietro Mascagni once famously said that of all his operas he regretted writing Cavalleria Rusticana first. This month, his Iris is the centerpiece of the annual Bard SummerScape festival,  held at the shiny Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center (on the verdant grounds of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson New York.) At Sunday's matinee performance, conductor, artistic director and Bard president Leon Botstein made a forceful case for Iris as a lost Mascagni masterwork.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Superconductor Audio Guide: Götterdämmerung

The Ring comes full circle.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Act II Scene II of Götterdämmerung as staged by the Mariinsky Theater.
That's Hagen standing on top of the Gibichung Hall. Photo by V. Baranovsky.

Twenty-two years after starting work on  his mammoth four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, Richard Wagner wound up right back where he started with Götterdämmerung. The last opera of the cycle tells the story he wanted to tell in the first place: the death of the hero Siegfried and the redemption of the world by the heroine Brunnhilde. Except now the ending was different.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Opera Review: Three Aces and a Pair

Apotheosis Opera takes on The Girl of the Golden West
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This Minnie ain't no mouse: Stacy Stofferahn confronts "Dick Johnson" (Nicholas Simpson)
in Act II of Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West. Photo by Matthew Kipnis for Apotheosis Opera.
If the triptych of great tragic operas by Giacomo Puccini can be compared to the iconic tragedies of Shakespeare, then the later works of his catalogue are equivalent to the "problem plays," works that for whatever reason do not hold the stage with the same frequency as La Bohéme, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. On Friday night, the young ad hoc company Apotheosis Opera took on one of those works: La Fanciulla del West. This is Apotheosis' second production in its young history, and Fanciulla (English title: The Girl of the Golden West) is Puccini's most difficult show to mount.

This performance, held in the richly painted Teatro del Museo del Barrio at the upper end of Fifth Avenue's Museum Mile, was a huge challenge for any opera company, let alone one made of young singers and musicians committing themselves on their nights off. On Friday night, artists displayed pluck and commitment in the face of adversary, showing not only commitment and enthusiasm but the understanding of this work that comes from hard work and long rehearsal. Much of that credit goes to conductor Matthew Jenkins Jaroszewicz, who decided to follow last year's ambitious Tannhäuser with this even more difficult show.

Set in a California mining town at the height of the gold rush, The Girl presents formidable issues in terms of libretto and staging, not to mention the steep requirements Puccini asked from his leading lady. As Minnie, Stacy Stofferahn commanded the stage from the moment she strode into the Polka Saloon to restore order armed with a shotgun and a Bible. But her best weapons were a Nordic charm and a potent soprano voice. Over three grueling acts, she showed that she had enough aces hidden in her boots to win each of the opera's three acts.

Minnie must ride smoothly through the narrow canyons of the passagio, turning on a dime from a sweet, innocent Sunday school to a mountain lioness determined to defend her lover in the second act. Ms. Stofferahn managed these conflicts adroitly, letting out a great cry of "He is mine!" over the bellowing roar of the huge orchestra at the act's climax. She was even better in the third act, as she faced down a lynch mob of miners determined to string her lover up for his past crimes, and got them all to reflect on the futility of violence and the value of forgiveness.

When this opera premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910, the tenor was Enrico Caruso.  Nicholas Simpson (last year's Tannhäuser) is no Caruso, but he sang with fervor and a Siegfried-like sangfroid. Tall, imposing and as bald as his animated television counterpart, Mr. Simpson drew a laugh with his entry line "So who wants to curl my hair back?" He packed a bright, clarion tenor and carried off his role with enthusiasm, despite pitch problems that appeared when he leapt up the scale into the uppermost range of his instrument. A flawed but enjoyable performance.

Jack Rance is the town sheriff whose blind love for Minnie recalls the Baron Scarpia's cruel streak. John Dominick III sang this difficult role with power and presence, with a plummy, bass-baritone that was occasionally drowned by the waves of sound billowing from the pit.. The other miners in the town (there is no chorus, Puccini instead created fifteen highly indivudual parts) came across as a real community, bonding over crooked card games and reluctantly dancing with each other in Minnie's absence. In the third act, when searching for Johnson, the miners invaded the house, creating spatial effects that were much more effective than singing offstage.

In this witty, spare production by Lucca Damilano, the complex social interactions of the first act were more than just a time-killer. Played against a simple set with a Star Trek-like suggestion of doors and windows, the onstage action was a fascinating look into the miners' lonely little world. Indeed, this production's greatest service may be that it presented Fanciulla in a fresh light. With a smart, accurate English translation (by Kelley Rourke, solving many of the libretto's awkward American-isms, Apotheosis showed that you don't have to visit the Met to see Puccini's West.


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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.