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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 31, 2013

Concert Review: Beethoven Takes Over

Opening night of Mostly Mozart, 2013.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet ponders the future of commuter rail.
Photo by Guy Vivien © 2011 Verbier Festival
Attending the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra's first subscription concert of the 2013 summer season, one would think that this venerable arts festival's main focus this year was on the works of Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven was everywhere on this program, with three major works by the thunderer from Bonn bracketing two smaller arias by Salzburg's favorite composer. This focus on Beethoven will continue throughout this year's Festival, as major artists engage with five of the symphonies over the course of the next month.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Recordings Review: The Best of Both Worlds

Marek Janowski's new Tannhäuser splits the difference. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Venus (center) and Tannhäuser in Lawrence Koe's 1896 painting Venus and Tännhäuser.
Image © 1896 Lawrence Koe.
Like its protagonist, Tannhäuser, the fifth opera by Richard Wagner (and the second to be considered "mature") is cursed with a double existence. Conductors can choose between the composer's original intentions ("Dresden") or the luscious orchestrations and rich "mature" Wagner of the "Paris" version created for a disastrous "second premiere" at the Paris Opéra in 1861. It is a difficult choice, as the later revisions give the story a very different tone and inflection.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Recordings Review: Moon Child

Cecilia Bartoli sings Norma.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The right hand of doom: Cecilia Bartoli as Norma.
Photo by Uli Weber © 2013 Decca Classics/UMG.
When an opera singer reaches a certain level of success, they are free to take on "dream" projects, singing roles that are perceived as being outside their regular repertory. Luciano Pavarotti dabbled in popular Italian song and made records with U2. Plácido Domingo is currently steeping himself in Verdi's baritone roles, and has even preserved his Simon Boccanegra for posterity. Last year, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli unveiled her interpretation of Bellini's Norma a work associated in the 20th century with superstar singers of the soprano register.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Opera Review: This House Aches

Bard SummerScape presents Taneyev's Oresteia.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from The Remorse of Orestes by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1862.)
Image from Project Gutenberg, used under license through Wikimedia Commons.
A summer visit to the Fisher Center, that Frank Gehry-designed theater plunked down in the rolling greens of Bard College means that the average opera-lover is going to hear something that they've never heard before. On Friday night, Bard President (and Bard SummerScape music director) Leon Botstein offered up the United States stage premiere of Oresteia, by forgotten Russian composer Sergei Taneyev. Dr. Botstein conducted the American Symphony Orchestra, who played this sumptuous music at their usual high standard of execution.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Recording Review: The Living Colossus

Otto Klemperer conducts Don Giovanni.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Old school Otto Klemperer made batons and bow ties look cool.
Photo © EMI Classics.
This classic 1966 recording of Mozart's Don Giovanni has recently returned to the catalogue as a budget stand-alone or as part of the EMI Otto Klemperer Edition, a series of budget boxed sets reissuing classic recordings by this brilliant (and today, somewhat forgotten) conductor. Klemperer's measured, meticulous approach to Mozart may seem dated (and tortoise-slow) compared to today's "historically informed" conductors. This performance delivers precise, powerful conducting, perfectly suited to the light and shade of this opera, and the slow tempi add greater weight to the big moments.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

DVD Review: Bigger Than Infinity

Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Mahler Eighth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Gustavo Dudamel. 
Even when it is measured against Mahler's other nine enormous symphonies, the Symphony No. 8 in E is ambitious. Working in a white-hot creative fever in the summer of 1906, the composer discarded traditional symphonic form for a two-part structure. Part I is a gigantic setting of the medieval hymn "Veni, creator spiritus!" a massive opening shout that can deafen an audience and overload even the most durable speakers. Mahler follows this peroration with a Part II that is twice as long: a setting of the impenetrable (and very mystic) final scene from Part II of Goethe's Faust.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Ring Goes West

First images of the new Bayreuth Ring revealed.
The New York Stock Exchange features in Götterdämmerung, possibly
standing in for Valhalla. Photo by Enrico Nawath © 2013 Bayreuth Festival.
The Bayreuth Festival has let slip stage images from the new production of Wagner's Ring, directed by German conceptual artist Frank Castorf.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Swinging Door Nixes Tanglewood Trip

Conductor Andris Nelsons cancels BSO commitment due to severe concussion.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Newly minted BSO music director Andris Nelsons was whacked in the head by a door
and will not conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Saturday at Tanglewood.
Strange news coming out of the Boston Symphony Orchestra press office today. According to a pair of statements issued this afternoon, the orchestra's new music director Andris Nelsons will not be leading the Verdi Requiem at Tanglewood on Saturday night, due to a swnging door.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Opera Review: Twisting, Turning Through the Never

Lincoln Center Festival presents Michaels Reise um die Erde.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Archangel Michael (trumpeter Marco Blaauw) solos over New York in Michaels Reise um die Erde.
Image © 2013 La Fura dels Baus.
It was Saturday night, and  Avery Fisher Hall was in darkness, apart from a black-light glow illuminating a curtain concealing the massive stage. This was the setting for the North American premiere of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Michaels Reise um die Erde ("Michael's Journey Around the World.") This was the third and final performance of the work (itself a component of Stockhausen's week-long mega-opera Licht) at this year's Lincoln Center Festival. The music was by Ensemble musikFabrik, and the staging by Carlus Padrissa from Catalan theater group La Fura dels Baus.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Met Turns Up the Heat


Summer programming from The Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Thousands watch Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna in Carmen.
Image © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera is currently in the middle of its summer recital series, with three concerts around New York City next week. Upcoming concerts include appearances in the Bronx's Crotona Park (Tues, July 23)  Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island (July 25), Manhattan's Jackie Robinson Park (July 30) and Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens on Aug. 1.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Concert Review: The Sweltering Sky

The New York Philharmonic plays Central Park.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Fireworks over Central Park. From nyphil.tumblr.com.
The annual New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Park series is one of the orchestra's best marketing tools, a chance for New Yorkers to hear the city's oldest orchestra in a very public setting. This year, Alan Gilbert led the band in five such concerts, spreading the gospel of serious music to each of the five boroughs.

On Monday night, the Great Lawn of Central Park was covered with blankets, although this reporter was allowed in the up-close seats and experience the music directly from the stage. This program featured Dvorak's Cello Concerto with Philharmonic principal cellist Carter Brey and Tchaikovsky's muscular Fifth Symphony, an audience favorite. The weather was sweltering heat, an oppressive muggy pall that made water bottles and flapping programs a necessary evil for the assembled crowd. Mr. Gilbert conducted in shirt sleeves.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Opera Review: The Muse Always Wins

Prelude to Performance offers Les Contes d'Hoffmann.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The German poet, playwright and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann, protagonist
of Jacques Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann.
On Saturday night, the difficulties of Jacques Offenbach's final, unfinished opera Les Contes d'Hoffmann were met admirably by Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance program. This is the opera education program's ninth season of operation for Ms. Arroyo's program. The PTP shows at Hunter College's Kaye Playhouse are an important proving ground for new vocal talent, a chance to let the stars of tomorrow make themselves heard.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Plácido Domingo Released from Hospital

72-year-old singer had pulmonary embolism.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He'll be back on stage in no time.
Photo of Placido Domingo originally published on Facebook.
According to a photograph published on Plácido Domingo's Facebook page, the legendary tenor, conductor and general manager of the Los Angeles Opera has been released from a Madrid hospital.

The 72-year-old Spanish singer was hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism earlier this week, a condition in which a loose blood clot can travel dangerously close to the heart. He was forced to cancel a set of appearances in the Daniel Catán opera Il Postino, but is expected to resume his busy schedule forthwith.

Mr. Domingo's summer plans include a set of performances as Giacomo in Verdi's rarely performed early opera Giovanna d'Arco. ("Joan of Arc") at this summer's Salzburg Festival. We here at Superconductor wish Mr. Domingo continued health and recovery from his illness.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Plácido Domingo Hospitalized

Tenor diagnosed with pulmonary embolism.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Plácido Domingo in the title role of Rigoletto in Mantua.Film still © 2011 Emerging Pictures.
According to a story on Norman Lebrecht's classical music blog Slipped Disc, 72-year old tenor-turned-baritone Plácido Domingo is in a Madrid hospital with a pulmonary embolism.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Prisoner of Sixth Avenue

Or... My worst Fourth of July. (1991)
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The year was 1991. I had finished a desultory freshman year at Fordham University. Being a young college student (OK, I was 18 and a year ahead) I had to get myself a summer job.

The month before, I had started applying to record stores. Most of these were part of a large, uncaring chain run by a larger, uncaring holding company. Back then, these stores were everywhere in Manhattan. HMV. Tower. Coconuts. Sam Goody. Most were bloated, badly run supermarkets, each of which was filled with a vast selection of recorded music that most of the staff didn't care about.

But what did I know? I was 18. After several failed applications, I found out that the brand-new Sam Goody in Greenwich Village was hiring for its classical department.

"Classical?" I thought. "I can do that."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Paging Doctor Mozart

Taking the Salzburg cure...in Brooklyn.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Will Dr. Mozart please report to the white courtesy harpsichord?
I own a ridiculous amount of Mozart.

People who read this blog may know of my obsessions with Mahler, Wagner, Bruckner and Richard Strauss, the heavyweight champions of the symphonic and German opera canons. But the fact is, I have more Mozart in my CD collection than any other composer.

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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.