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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.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Opera Review: Breaking the Chains

Nabucco comes to Opera Philadelphia.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Power struggle: Abagaille (Csilla Boross) confronts Nabucco (Sebastian Catana)
in Act I of Verdi's Nabucco. Photo by Kelly & Massa Photography © 2013 Opera Philadelphia.
Since its premiere at La Scala in 1842, Verdi's third opera Nabucco has been weighed down by its most famous number: the Act III chorus "Va pensiero" sung by the imprisoned Hebrew slaves as they endure the Babylonian Captivity. The chorus, itself a rallying cry of the Italian risorgimento movement in 19th century Italy tends to outshine the actual opera--and its political and historical importance can outweigh the effectiveness of the opera itself.

Thaddeus Strassberger's handsome production, which bowed Friday night at the Academy of Music is the season opener for Opera Philadelphia--as well as that company's first Nabucco. A co-presentation with Washington National Opera and Minnesota Opera, the show solves the "Pensiero problem" by embracing the opera's off-stage history and influence. Mr. Strassberger moves the action of the piece to 1842. At stage right, two boxes of Austrian aristocrats take in what is presumably the work's premiere. Guarded by five rifle-toting soldiers, these opera-goers check their librettos, sip champagne, and act bemused at the Biblical blood-and-thunder playing out upon the stage.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Concert Review: Sailing Toward Elysium

Yannick Nézet-Séguin opens his Beethoven cycle.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin is starting his second season at the head
of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Photo by Chris Lee © 2013 The Philadelphia Orchestra.
Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin has opened his second season at the helm of this orchestra, hoping to steer the ensemble out of the troubled waters causes by the recent financial crisis and the 2011 bankruptcy proceeding that shocked the music world.

With Friday's matinée concert (the first afternoon performance of the young 2013 season) Mr. Nézet-Séguin staked his claim to one of the great works of the orchestra-choral repertory. Leading Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (yes that's the one with the "Ode to Joy") is difficult as it is. Mr. Nézet-Séguin chose to couple this epic work with two more short choral works, upping the stakes considerably.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Concert Review: The Original Gangsters

The New York Philharmonic rumbles with West Side Story.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
In residence: Yefim Bronfman (at the piano) and Alan Gilbert (with baton)
kicked off the 2013-14 New York Philharmonic subscription series on Thursday night.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2013 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic has had a lot of openings in recent weeks--from the pre-season Film Week concerts to Wednesday night's gala evening with guest artist Yo-Yo Ma. On Thursday night, New York City's oldest orchestra (this is their 172nd season) presented it first subscription concert of the 2013-14 season. Alan Gilbert conducted.

Opera Company Seeks Sugar Daddy

It may be curtains for New York City Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The City Opera may cease operations and declare bankruptcy next week.
Like Anna Nicole Smith, the subject of what may be the final opera produced by the New York City Opera this season, the once-proud oper company has found itself in dire need of a sugar daddy to save its existence.

Unfortunately, J. Howard Marshall (played by Robert Brubaker in Anna Nicole) the oil billionaire who married the Texas Playboy bunny and stripper is dead. That much is certain.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Concert Review: On Holiday in Eden

Yo-Yo Ma joins the New York Philharmonic for opening night.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alan Gilbert. Photo by Chris Lee © 2013 The New York Philharmonic.
The opening of the New York Philharmonic is usually an occasion for audience favorites--a strict adherence to the overture-concerto-symphony format that has been a winner over this venerable ensemble's 172-year history.

At Wednesday night's season premiere gala concert (which was filmed for broadcast later this year on PBS' Live From Lincoln Center music director Alan Gilbert broke that formula. This concert offered not one but two Philharmonic premieres, both featuring guest cellist Yo-Yo Ma. These were framed by popular works by Maurice Ravel, putting both works in context with the Swiss composer's Spanish-flavored works.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Opera Review: The Relief Princess

Iréne Theorin saves WNO Tristan und Isolde.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Iréne Theorin is Isolde in Washington National Opera's Tristan und Isolde.
Photo by Scott Suchman © 2013 Washington National Opera/The Kennedy Center.
For her first production as artistic director of the Washington National Opera, Francesca Zambello chose  Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. One of Wagner's most abstract and ambitious works, this tale of doomed romance  realized at the Kennedy Center in a handsome production imported from Opera Australia. This reviewer attended the Sept. 24 performance, the last of this run to feature the "first" cast.

Tristan is never "easy." Wagner, inspired by his own non-affair with one Mathilde Wesendonck gave listeners three acts of chromatic longing, topped by the swelling, surging Liebestod at the very end. Here, the Washington National Opera Orchestra played with drive and attention to detail, even choosing to use the rare "Tristan Trumpet" (as the composer suggested--it's a wooden trumpet that sounds like an English horn) in Act III. Music director Philip Aucoin directed a surging performance that moved at a steady clip but stopped to explore the languors and beauties of this lush score.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Opera Review: The Russian Hat Trick

Anna Netrebko opens the Met season (again) with Eugene Onegin.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Reunited: Onegin (Mariusz Kwiecien, left) and Tatiana (Anna Netrebko) clench in the final scene
of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
With her third consecutive starring role on the opening night of a Metropolitan Opera season, Anna Netrebko has become the face of the company in this decade. On Monday night, New Yorkers gathered at the opera house, in Lincoln Center plaza and in Times Square heard the superstar soprano sing Tatiana in the company's new production of Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin. This performance (viewed by this writer in Times Square) makes a strong case for this work as one of the greatest Russian operas ever written.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Così fan tutte

James Levine returns to conducting opera with Mozart's comedy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Three Sopranos: Isabel Leonard (left) Danielle De Niese (center) and Susanna Philips
in a scene from the Metropolitan Opera's revival of Così fan tutte. 
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
Are women really "like that?"(Maybe.)

Are men really pigs? (Probably.)

Is James Levine really back? (Definitely!)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Concert Review: Man vs. Monolith

The New York Philharmonic plays 2001: A Space Odyssey.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Here's looking at you, Earth. The Star-Child (formerly David Bowman)
from the last scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Image © 1968 MGM/Turner Films.
It's not every day that the New York Philharmonic draws thunderous applause for performing the relatively obscure works of Gyorgi Ligeti, the iconoclastic Hungarian composer who remains one of the most important musical voices of the latter half of the 20th century.

It's also not every day that Avery Fisher Hall is invaded by man-apes, monoliths and mad computers with a tendency to commit homicide in the depths of space between Mars and Jupiter. To say nothing of secretive government bureaucrats, ice-blooded astronauts and a psychedelic light show that still confuses viewers 45 minutes after its premiere.

On Friday night, Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic performed the complete score of Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. The concert, which featured a complete screening of the sci-fi epic above the Avery Fisher Hall stage was part of Film Week, a special concert series designed to drum up interest in the 2013-14 season of New York's oldest orchestra.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Opera Review: Goin' Bust

As New York City Opera teeters, Anna Nicole shines.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
J. Howard Marshall II (Robert Brubaker, in wheelchair) gives an interview
pushed by the title character (Sarah Joy Miller) in Mark Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole.
Photo by Stephanie Berger © 2013 Brooklyn Academy of Music/BAM NextWave/New York City Opera.
The impending doom hovering over the New York City Opera's plans for the rest of its 2013-2014 season did not affect the second U.S. performance of Mark Anthony Turnage's opera Anna Nicole. On Thursday night at the BAM Opera House, Mr. Turnage's opera revealed itself to be a gaudy, sleazy and fiercely funny retelling of the life of Vickie Lynn Hogan, the Texas waitress whose path of celebrity and perpetual self-reinvention ended with her death by overdose (at the age of 39) in 2007.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Superconductor Fall Preview: The Metropolitan Opera

Breaking down the 2013-14 season by degree of difficulty.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Nathan Gunn seeks advice in a scene from The Magic Flute.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera. Captions by the author.
Attending a performance--even a bad one--at the Metropolitan Opera is an amazing experience. But for a lot of first-timers, the idea of attending any opera at all is off-putting, intimidating, maybe even elitist. It takes  money to afford a night out at the Met--if the average $100 ticket prices don't get you, the tiny sandwiches ($13 last season, probably going up this year will.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Superconductor Fall Preview: The New York Philharmonic 2013-2014

New directions for New York's oldest orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Photo (by the author) of this year's New York Philharmonic 2013-2014 season announcement press packet. 
Original photograph by Chris Lee © 2013 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic's 2013-2014 season looks to continue on the path forged by Alan Gilbert in his first four years as music director. However, America's oldest orchestra will also strike out in bold directions, exploring new music, film music, and (once more) the Beethoven piano concertos.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Eugene Onegin

A troika of stars open the 2013 season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This is the preview for Eugene Onegin. The Superconductor review of opening night can be found here.
Mariusz Kwiecien and Anna Netrebko clinch in a promotional image for Eugene Onegin.
Photo © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
For the third consecutive year, the Metropolitan Opera has elected to open its season with a new production tailored to the needs of soprano Anna Netrebko. Here, the dark-eyed diva stars as Tatiana in Eugene Onegin, one of Tchaikovsky's most beloved operas. Tatiana must choose between the safety of a bourgeois marriage and a whirlwind romance with the title characte, played by bari-hunk Mariusz Kwiecien. Completing the troika of stars is tenor Piotr Beczala as Lensky, Onegin’s doomed rival.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Opera Review: Slaughter on Tenth Avenue

Opera Omnia presents The Return of Ulysses.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bad things happened when Ulysses came home in 1178 B.C.
Image from classical antiquity.
The brief silence of New York in early September as the city gears up for the coming opera and concert season was interrupted on Tuesday night, as Wesley Chinn's company Opera Omnia unveiled a new production of Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses (in an English translation) at the Baryshniknov Arts Center on the W. 37th St.

Mr. Chinn's company does not appear often (this is just the third Opera Omnia production in the last six years) but when it does, they offer a chance to hear some interesting young singers specializing in the repertory of the 17th century. Here, they took Monteverdi's late masterpiece and trimmed it to a lean two and a half hours, omitting much of the opera's sweep, mythic grandeur and humor. The plus: the production retold the story in a concise, clear way that was ideal for the newcomer.

Monday, September 9, 2013

City Opera Faces Doomsday

Company announces emergency September fund-raising drive.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The New York City Opera faces an imminent fiscal crisis.
Image of Mike Myers as Dr. Evil from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
© 1997 New Line Cinema.. Caption by the author.
The New York City Opera dropped a bombshell this morning when it announced that the company is facing the possibility of cancelling most of its 2013-14 season--and plans for 2014 as well.

In a press release received by Superconductor on Monday morning, general manager George Steel announced that the company must raise $20 million in order to continue operations following its September production of Mark Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Of that sum, $7 million is urgently needed.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Ten Signs You're a Classical Music Geek

A handy guide from your friends at Superconductor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Another sign: you know which conductor Bugs Bunny is making fun of here.
Image by Chuck Jones from Long-Haired Hare © 1948 Warner Bros. Entertainment.
Classical music geeks are an uncommon lot. Some can tell two different pianists apart just by listening or rattle off the key signatures of a composer's symphonies the way some people know football rosters.
It takes a special kind of devotion to love, really love classical music, and we thought the following list would serve as a little Valentine to the dedicated as we stand upon the brink of another concert season.

Isolde Dumps Tristan


Deborah Voight withdraws from WNO Wagner run.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
To sail no more: Deborah Voigt may have sung her last Tristan und Isolde.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera.
One week before the premiere of its new production of Tristan und Isolde, the Washington National Opera had to search for a replacement soprano.

According to a story by Anne Midgette in today's Washington Post, soprano Deborah Voigt has bowed out of the WNO's season-opening run of the Wagner opera. Ms. Midgette also reported that the soprano is considering retiring the role of Isolde (the fiery Irish princess who falls hard for a Cornish knight) from her repertory.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Short Tour of The Planets

An exploration of this English extraterrestrial masterpiece.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The rings of Saturn in ultraviolet light. Image © NASA/E. Karkoschka.
For almost a century, Gustav Holst's The Planets has proven to be among the most durable of concert favorites. This seven-part suite, inspired by the composer's interest in astrology calls for massive orchestral forces, a potent brass section, a pipe organ (for certain passages in the Mars and Saturn movements) and a conductor of considerable  ability. It is also the best-known work by Holst, the British composer with the Swedish name.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Some Words on Electronic Music

Cos sometimes it ain't all Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll, better known as Orbital.
Longtime readers of this blog may know that my interest in music extends beyond the concert stage and the opera house. And in this two week period before the launch of the 2013 season (with the first New York performances of the opera Anna Nicole) I'd like to write about some different genres far outside the "normal" parade of Mozart, Mahler and modernism that makes up the bulk of Superconductor content.

Today, let's talk about electronica.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Opera Review: March to the Scaffold

The Met's Summer HD Festival repeats La Damnation de Faust.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
 Let's make a deal: Méphistophèles (John Relyea, left) offers advice to
Marcello Giordani's Faust in Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2008 The Metropolitan Opera.
Two key initiatives from the reign of current  Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb were on display at Lincoln Center Plaza on Thursday night. The first was the company's Live in HD program. The second: the company's recent association with director Robert Lepage. The occasion: a free outdoor screening of Mr. Lepage's 2008 production of La Damnation de Faust, the director's first and most successful show for the Met stage.

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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.