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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.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Year in Reviews: Opera 2013

Superconductor recalls the best opera performances of 2013.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A bird in a gilded cage: Christine Goerke in Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Met.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
As the year is ending we are finally getting to our end-of-2013 wrapup. This was supposed be to be a Top Ten list but I think it's going to be a lucky thirteen--it was a pretty good year for opera!

Here are the best opera performances (and operas in concert) that I saw this year in chronological order. All links lead to the full reviews.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Concert Review: Racing Into the Light

James Levine conducts Mahler's Symphony No. 7.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
James Levine, triumphant, rolls onto the stage of Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera/The MET Orchestra.
The symphonies of Gustav Mahler are marathon works, an important test for any conductor eager to show his command of complex orchestration and vast marching forces of sound. On Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine gave his first Mahler performance since his two-year absence from conducting duties. The program: the orchestral Songs of a Wayfarer and the Symphony No. 7, the most mysterious and misunderstood work of the composer's catalogue.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Throwing of the Holiday Eggs

Superconductor lists The Worst of 2013.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This year's gala for The Human Fund has been cancelled due to flying eggs.
Photoshop by the author.
This is the first installment in the blog's year-end wrap-up designed to keep you all entertained and well-read as you're stuffing yourselves at your Yuletide parties. As we do every year at Festivus, it's time to air the grievances. Superconductor lists the crappiest things to happen in the year of 2013. From the unnecessary death of the New York City Opera to the orphan status of one of New York's most important orchestras, it's all here. There's probably more to add to this list, but that thought is just too depressing.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Opera Review: She's Not Dead...Yet

Robert Wilson presents The Life and Death of Marina Abramović.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Marina Abramović sits. Antony sings (eventually) in The Life and Death of Marina Abramović.
Photo by Lucie Jansch for DeSingel © 2013 Robert Wilson/Watermill Institute.
The director Robert Wilson is known for his signature style: dark costumes, white Kabuki makeup and stylized movements in front of moving bars of light. Last night at the Park Avenue Armory, Mr. Wilson's style was placed in service of another uncompromising figure: performance artist Marina Abramović. Tuesday night was the second of a series of New York performances of The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, the collaboration between these two artists which premiered in Manchester in 2011.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Opera Review: The Magic Piccolo

The Met presents its "family-friendly" Flute.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Twitter feed: Ashley Emerson (left) and Nathan Gunn as Papagena and Papageno in The Magic Flute.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
With its mix of popular Viennese music hall song, classical-style arias and spoken dialogue, Mozart's Die Zauberflöte has suffered cuts and alterations ever since the original Papageno (Emanuel Schickenader) pranced upon the stage of the Theater auf der Wieden in 1791. On Monday night, the Metropolitan Opera opened its one-act, 95-minute Flute as this year's holiday offering, geared towards exposing New York's next generation to the magic of Mozart's final opera.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Opera Review: Re-light My Fire

The American Symphony Orchestra presents Feuersnot.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
It's either a virgin...or this as Feuersnot by Richard Strauss gets a rare hearing.
The early operas of Richard Strauss (that is, the two he wrote before the whirlwind success de scandale of Salome) are incorrectly dismissed as juvenalia. Take Feuersnot the one-act comedy that the composer wrote (right after Ein Heldenleben) as a riposte to his home city of Munich and its notably conservative musical establishment. On Sunday afternoon, New Yorkers were able to judge Feuersnot for themselves, as the opera received a much-neeeded airing from Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Concert Review: The Hero of the Audience

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducts the New York Philharmonic.
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.
Photo by Chris Lee © Chris Lee Photography.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The return of Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos to the podium at Avery Fisher Hall is an annual tradition at the New York Philharmonic. The Spanish conductor always offers unique interpretations of the repertory in a firmly conservative style, beloved by the orchestra's subscriber base. This week's concert program featuring the music of Beethoven and Richard Strauss was also part of the season-long valediction for concertmaster Glenn Dicterow, who is wrapping up his three decades in the position. Friday's afternoon audience, more conservative than most, were thrilled at the prospect of two works written in firm tonal language.

Mr. Fruhbeck elected to open the concert with Beethoven's Eighth Symphony, the shortest and most quicksilver of the composer's nine. From the downward slash of the opening chords, this was an unabashedly Romantic performance. Mr. Frühbeck chose a slightly larger orchestra, giving the dance rhythms an unusually thick texture. This was most apparent in the Allegretto. First violinist (Sheryl Staples) set the metronome pace at quick but moderate, not the pell-mell playing that has become popular among more modern Beethovenians. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Opera Review: When Mother Came Home

The Mother of Us All at Manhattan School of Music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
History lesson: Noragh Devlin as Susan B. Anthony in the MSM production of The Mother of Us All.
Photo by Carol Rosegg © 2013 Manhattan School of Music.
Ever since Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea, the portrayal of historic figures has been central to the genre of opera. And no other opera packs in more history than The Mother Of Us All, the second collaboration between composer Virgil Thomson and the poet Gertrude Stein. That opera, which premiered in 1947 at Columbia University returned to Morningside Heights on Wednesday night. This new production at the Manhattan School of Music told the story effectively, but felt a bit fusty, like a school trip to a long-lost wing of the Smithsonian Institution.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Concert Review: The Forgotten Legend

The Orchestra of St. Luke's celebrates André Mathieu.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The young master: André Mathieu at the Steinway.
Child prodigies populate the history of classical music. From the early works of Mozart to the precocious teenage operas of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the names are legendary, and have become part of the genre's mythology. On Tuesday night, the Orchestra of St. Luke's and pianist Alain Lefèvre shed light on another prodigy: the Canadian composer André Mathieu. The occasion: a concert at Carnegie Hall, under the baton of Buffalo Philharmonic music director JoAnn Falletta.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Opera Review: The Real Housewives of Windsor

The Met unveils Robert Carsen's Falstaff.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Hampered: Falstaff (Ambrogio Maestri, center) seeks an exit in Act II of Verdi's comedy.
Helping him are Meg Page (Jennifer Jonson Cano, l.) and Mistress Quickly (Stephanie Blythe.)
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
Falstaff is unique. Verdi's last opera (and his lone successful comedy) arrived when the composer was 79 and still in full command of his powers. Yet despite its tunefulness, the score lacks the "big numbers" of Rigoletto, Aida and Otello, choosing to present the comedy as a complex dialogue between singers and orchestra. As a result, Falstaff, though a respected opera is considered an opera for connoisseurs, and appears only occasionally on the operatic stage.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Concert Review: They Don't Need No Podium

The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Members of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra onstage at Carnegie Hall.
Image © 2013 the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is one of this city's most enduring classical music institutions: a democratically organized collective of players who play four shows a year at Carnegie Hall. There is no music director. There isn't even a concertmaster. The players rotate the first chair of the violin section, the player whose bow movements provides the beat for most performances. And yet, despite their recorded legacy and reputation, this writer had never seen the ensemble play.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Concert Review: Substitutions of Distinction

Michael Tilson-Thomas conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Michael Tilson Thomas. Photograph by Eric Thayer © National Public Radio.
A late change in concert program may not bode well for the success of the evening. But in the case of  Friday night's Carnegie Hall concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra, it proved an advantage. Earlier this week, it was announced that due to the illness of the ensemble's music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Michael Tilson Thomas would step in to lead the orchestra in its first New York appearance of the 2013 season. Additionally, the Brahms' Second Piano Concerto would be replaced with the same composer's First. (The change in program was at the request of soloist Hélene Grimaud, who did not want to tackle the massive Second with a conductor with whom she had no opportunity to rehearse.)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Obituary: Marion Lignana Rosenberg (1962-2013)


A valued voice is silenced too soon.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Marion Lignana Rosenberg. Photo by Meaghan Donahue.
The entire New York classical music community is mourning the loss of Marion Lignana Rosenberg, who passed away over Thanksgiving weekend while in Albany visiting friends for the holiday. It was reported that the cause of death was a pulmonary embolism. She was 51.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Opera Review: Meet the New Aristocrats

The Met's second cast takes over Eugene Onegin.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Marina Poplavskaya takes over in the Met's new production of Eugene Onegin.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
It is sometimes instructive to see the second cast. That maxim applies to the mid-season return of Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw's new Eugene Onegin at the Metropolitan Opera. The revival opened last week. On Monday night, the cast: baritone Peter Mattei (Onegin) soprano Marina Poplavskaya (Tatiana) and tenor Rolando Villazón (Lenski) gave their third performance together. They brought fresh energy and perspective to this production, which opened the Met's season in September of this year.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The (Carnegie) Halls of Medicine

Michael Tilson Thomas to step in with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This is in no way an endorsement of any expectorant.
Image of Michael Tilson Thomas from the conductor's official website.
Ricola cough drops and Swiss background from the official Ricola website.
Photoshop by the author.
In a late-breaking story, the Philadelphia Orchestra's Friday night Carnegie Hall concert has had a change of conductor and program. Yannick Nézet-Séguin has a sinus infection and will not conduct this week.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Domino Theory

A Reflection on World AIDS Day.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

(Ed. Note: The inspiration for this article was Fred Cohn's excellent The Ballad of NYCO first published in Opera News in 2007.)

Today is World AIDS Day, and Superconductor woud like to take a moment to reflect on the death of Christopher Keene, and its ultimate effect: the 2013 demise of the New York City Opera.

For six years, Mr. Keene was at the helm of New York City Opera, steering that company into the 1990s with productions of classic operas and rarities like Zimmerman's Die Soldaten, Schoenberg's Moses und Aron and Hindemith's Mathis der Maler. Following in the footsteps of the last general manager Beverly Sills, Mr. Keene was tabbed as the man who would ensure a long future for Lincoln Center's 'other' opera company into the next century on beyond.

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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.