About Superconductor

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.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Concert Review: Trailing Clouds of Glory...

The Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia comes to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sorceress: Martha Argerich casts a spell.
Photo @ Warmer Brothers Classics.
Any visit to Carnegie Hall by a major international orchestra is cause for excitement. This week, the visitors are Rome’s own Orchestra of the National Academy of St. Cecilia, under the baton of Sir Antonio Pappano. The guest soloist for Friday night's concert: Martha Argerich. This legendary Argentiniean pianist is more than an audience favorite. Now 76, her skill, reculsivity and flat refusal to give solo recitals in the later part of her career has made her a modern concertizing legend. This was her first visit to the Perelman Stage in nine years.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Concert Review: The Idea of North

L’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal revient au Carnegie Hall.
Conductor Kent Nagano poses n a street in vieux Montréal.
Photo from Harrison Parrott.

L’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (for the rest of this review, referred to as the Montreal Symphony Orchestra) is one of the finest symphonic ensembles in North America. They are a stellar symphonic ensemble with a long history and a sound all their own, combining precise European string playing with the lusty, leather-lunged brass one associates with this continent. However, they have been relatively infrequent visitors to the Carnegie stage in the past  decaderecently have New Yorkers been able to hear this superb orchestra enjoyed by our neighbors to the North.

On Wednesday night, the Montrealers returned to the stage of Carnegie Hall under music director Kent Nagano for a balanced program featuring concertos by Brahms and Bartók. These works were preceded by the New York premiere of A Globe Itself Unfolding by Samy Moussa. This recent work is a single movement for organ and orchestra, and featured the orchestras resident organist Jean-Willy Kunz playing the solo part.

This work started with a mass of primal orchestral sound, in a deep and sonorous register supplanted by the low pedals of the organ. Unusually, the soloist sat at the back of the stage at his console, his sound amplified electronically as Carnegie Hall (unfortunately) still lacks a pipe organ. The upper voices of the organ penetrated the cloud, offering beams of illumination aged lifting the gloom. As the work swelled and surged, the other orchestral instruments joined the organ in its wordless song, with the  whole rising to a grand climax before descending into the nether regions once more.

The next work on the program was the well-loved Concerto for Orchestra  by Bartók, written as the composer battled leukemia on a six week retreat in upstate New York. It is in five movements and features every instrument on the stage in some capacity or another, from the versatile strings to the brassy roar of the gong. Though a masterpiece of structure and melodic content, this piece is also leavened with a sharp dose of Hungarian humor and is all the better for that.

The Montrealers displayed their good qualities throughout the complex opening  movement, where three thematic ideas argue amongst themselves and eventually struggle for dominance. The  second movement (titled "Game of Pairs") pits duos of instruments against the  whole fabric of the orchestra, the thematic ideas tossing back and forth like beach balls. In the third, a slow and moving elegy, the strings stepped to the fore, delivering wispy fragments of thematic ideas from the first two movements,, reshaped, rebuilt and and reassembled to form a slow and moving ode.

The fourth movement is the one with the gong solo and perhaps the work’s most famous section. In it, two thematic ideas are rudely interrupted by a third,a bleating March excerpted from the long first movement of the Shostakovich Lenngrad Symphony, This annoying bit of humor is quashed by the entry of the gong, which effectively bonks the little March over the head making way for more poetic utterances by the strings and oboe. The finale, with its brilliant fugato writing for strings and brass brought the whole,orchestra into a vast and triumphal shout, expertly cued and managed by Mr. Nagano. This is difficult stuff but this orchestra made it look and sound effortless in the best possible way.

The second half featured the evenings other soloist: Maxim Vengerov of playing the Brahms Violin Concerto. After a stirring first movement it featured a double-length cadenza in which the violinist teetered and tottered in a single line, over a silent orchestra. Things fell to pieces in the finale. Indeed, this famous all-out Rondo had Mr, Vengerov at odds with his instrument, playing lyric phrasesin an abrupt and choppy manner and pausing to glare at his Stradivarius during the orchestral passages. However, master and violin appear to have mended things for their encore, a charming performance of the Meditation from  Massenet's opera Thaïs

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Opera Review: This...is...Jeopardy!

The Metropolitan Opera revives Turandot.
James Morris (center) celebrated 1,000 performances at the Metropolitan Opera on
Tuesday. Here he appears as Timur in  Turandot with Aleksandrs Antonenko (left) as
The Unknown Prince and Maria Agresta (right) as Liù in Puccini's opera.
Photo by Marty Sohl copyright 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.

Turandot is Giacomo Puccini’s final, unfinished work. It is a a grand fantasy of legendary China as reimagined through the lens of Italian romanticism. It is a farm tale, the story of an ice-hearted princess and the fearless Prince who wins her hand. It is seen (wrongly) as the end point of the genre of Italian opera. It is also, along with La bohème, the last of the Metropolitan Opera’s giant Franco Zeffirelli productions, crowded extravaganzas that evoke the opulence of a bygone era. (In this case, we’re talking about the 1980s.)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Exterminating Angel

Thomas Adès' new opera arrives, where no-one is allowed to leave.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The party's not over: a scene from The Exterminating Angel.
Photo by Monika Rittershaus from the Salzburg Festival, courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
A group of strangers are held in place by a mysterious force. Is it Stephen King's Under the Dome? The Eagle's "Hotel California?" No, it's The Exterminating Angel, a new opera based on the work that may have inspired those works of art,  The opera is based on the surreal 1962 film by Luis Buñue. At a strange dinner party, the guests find out that they are not allowed to leave. Their imprisonment turns comedy into drama and reveals the base nature of the many protagonists.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Opera Review: The Exes Mark the Spot

Vittorio Grigolo procrastinates through Les Contes d'Hoffmann.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Left behind: Stella (Anna Hartig, center) leaves Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, left)
with the diabolical Lindorf (right) in the finale of Les contes d'Hoffmann.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
As a writer, it's hard not to have a soft spot for Les contes d'Hoffmann. No matter how many times this reviewer has seen it (ten), the final opera by Jacques Offenbach (English title: "The Tales of Hoffmann") never fails to move. Offenbach's opera, which was unfinished at the time of the composer's death, features the poet, composer and writer E.T.A. Hoffmann as the unwilling and unwitting protagonist of his own fantastical stories. He sits in a Munich tavern, drinking and telling tales of his past romantic affairs as he waits for his beloved Stella, an opera singer performing next door.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Concert Review: Earth-Shattering Kabooms

Paavo Järvi conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Paavo Järvii led the New York Philharmonic this week.
Photo © Harrison  Parrott.
The New York Philharmonic is (finally) back from a galaxy far, far away. This week marked the orchestra’s second traditional program of the season, with guest conductor Paavo Järvi leading works by composer-in-residence Esa-Pekka Salonen alongside music by Rachmaninoff and Sibelius. For Mr. Järvi, son of a famed Estonian conductor and a maestro in his own right (currently with the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo) this was a concert that played squarely to his strengths.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Concert Review: Where Science Has Lease

The Orchestra of St. Luke's opens its season at Carnegie Hall.
Pablo Heras-Casado.
Photo from the conductor's official website.
All entities must evolve to survive, and the Orchestra of St. Lukes has undergone some changes in recent years. The ensemble, which originated playing chamber music at the Church of St. Lukes in the Fields in Greenwich Village has had, since 2011,  a permanent address: the Dimenna Center on Manhattan's West Side. They are also about to change music directors again, with period performance expert Bernard Labardie slotted to replace Pablo Heras-Casado next season.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Concert Review: The Bleeding Hearts and Artists

The American Symphony Orchestra stands up for what's right.
Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland back in the day.
Photo from the estate of Leonard Bernstein.

A peculiar sense of existential dread hung over Wednesday night’s concert at Carnegie Hall, the first of the young season featuring the American Symphony Orchestra under the baton of its long time music director Dr. Leon Botstein. For this concert, titled “The Sounds of Democracy”,Dr. Botstein chose 20th century music by Leonard Bernstein, Roger Sessions and Aaron Copland, leading lights of American music in the last century but now largely ignored by the fast-food reality-television culture of the 21st.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dmitri Hvorostovsky is Not Dead

Russian baritone "sleeping peacefully" at home.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dmitri Hvorostovsky in his most recent appearance at the Met.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
Earlier tonight Superconductor posted that the 54 year old Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky had died. Apparently he is not dead, but sleeping peacefully next to his wife Florence at his London home. Earlier today, a Russian news website had reported his death.

Opera Review: Flowers in the Attic

Singing defeats spectacle in the Met's latest La bohème.
Angel Blue and Dmytro Popov share a tender moment in Act III of   La bohème.
Photo by Marty Sohl Copyright 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera’s Franco Zeffirelli production of La bohème is the company's biggest export. Seen in films and commercials, this series of ginormous Parisian picture postcards can swallow up singers. With 250 people onstage at one point in Act II and a huge simulated blizzard in Act III, this show risks rendering the love story of Rodolfo and Mimì redundant in the face of its spectacle. However, thanks to a stellar cast of young singers and a fresh face on the podium, this current revival is quite possibly the Met’s best Bohème in many years.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Moscow is Back on the Hudson

The Met and the Bolshoi prepare to make music together.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Going Vegas? Anna Netrebko's new Aida at the Met will be staged by Michael Mayer.
Here, the diva sings in front of the Luxor Hotel thanks to the magic of digital photo alteration.
Image © Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas. Image of Anna Netrebko © Salzburg Festival. Photoshop by Lord Voldemort.

The Metropolitan Opera has locked down its plans for three new productions between 2019 and 2021. The operas in question are Aida, Salome and Lohengrin Finally, these three new productions will be staged in collaboration with the Bolshoi Theater, the Russian-based opera and ballet company that is Moscow's biggest opera house. Each of these three premieres will feature soprano Anna Netrebko in prominent roles: the title role in Aida and Salome and as Elsa in Lohengrin.

Concert Review: Saving the Galaxy (and the franchise)

The New York Philharmonic ends its Star Wars marathon. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Adam Driver as the villainous Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Image © 2015 The Walt Disney Corporation used for promotional purposes only.
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII to fans) hit movie theaters in 2015, the franchise's fanbase had a right to be nervous. Would this new film, produced by Disney and set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi bring the Force back into balance? Or would it be another dark, turgid history lesson in the vein of the murky "Prequel Trilogy?" Happily, Force Awakens is the former, and the New York Philharmonic paid tribute to the next generation of Jedi with Saturday night's concert, the second of two complete performances of the John Williams score and the last in the orchestra's four-film cycle of Star Wars performances.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Turandot

Fantastical, phantasmagorical and faintly ridiculous.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
That's amore: Marcelo Alvarez (center) woos Turandot as thousands cheer.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met's elaborate production of Puccini's final opera returns to the delight of people who like "Nessun dorma" and big, elaborate productions.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Concert Review: Of Intimacies and Mortal Thoughts

Mischa Maisky and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra open the 92nd St. Y season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mischa Maisky. Photo © Deutsche Grammophon/UMG.
Ask a music lover (like your humble narrator!) what hall has the "best" acoustics in New York, and the response might well be the Kaufman Auditorium. This wood-paneled, intimate hall is the centerpiece of the 92nd St. Y, that educational and cultural center that stands foremost among such institutions on Manhattan’s swanky Upper East Side. In addition to its lectures, social events and educational programs, the 'Y' offers top-flight lieder, chamber music and occasional orchestral concerts, all of which are among the finest New York offers in terms of musical quality. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Concert Review: Four-Armed is Forewarned

The Philadelphia Orchestra opens Carnegie Hall
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The pianist Lang Lang. Presumably this is not how he injured his left hand before Wednesday night's season-opening Carnegie Hall concert where he played with Chick Corea and Maxim Lando. Photo © Sony Classical.

How do you get three pianists to play together?

That conundrum, explored by only a few composers over the centuries, was what faced Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra as they prepared for Wednesday night's concert opening the 2017-18 season at Carnegie Hall. The program featured two Leonard Bernstein works flanking George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. This was an important concert for the resurgent Philadelphians, who missed their chance to play opening night three years ago. It was also a crucial concert for music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, whose profile has risen in New York since he accepted the post of music director at the Metropolitan Opera, effective in the 2020 season.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Carnegie Hall 2017-2018 Season Preview

The Hall Where Music Lives sets the wayback machine.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Two visitors check out Carnegie Hall (left) in the 1960s.
Sherman and Mr. Peabody © Dreamworks Entertainment.
The science of time travel is not normally associated with the classical music business. And yet, one might argue that the finest time travel device in New York City stands not in some hidden laboratory but on the corner of 57th St. and Seventh Avenue. That's right, it's Carnegie Hall, whose 2017-18 season offers the intrepid listener a chance to travel between centuries and musical worlds.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Concert Review: Sometimes the Bad Guys Win

The New York Philharmonic plays The Empire Strikes Back.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The father-son reunion at the climax of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Image © 1980 LucasFilm, Twentieth Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is generally considered to be the best Star Wars film ever made. The dark middle chapter of the original trilogy came out in 1980 as the second movie released, and remains a firm fan favorite. It boasts an expanded universe, a complicated storyline alternating between the flight of Han Solo and Princess Leia from the evil and remorseless Darth Vader, and the Jedi training of Luke Skywalker at the hands of the diminuitive but wise Yoda.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Changing Face of Evil

Offenbach, Stephen King and the Man in Black.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Randall Flagg? Walter O'Dim? Richard Fannin? He's the villain of Stephen King's The Dark Tower.
Art by Jae Lee © Marvel Comics. Character © 1978 Stephen King.
Jacques Offenbach saved his very best work for last. His final opera Les contes d'Hoffmann (playing at the Metropolitan Opera this week) was left incomplete at his death, but quickly entered the repertory in various completed versions. Offenbach based the opera on three stories by the author/poet/composer E.T.A. Hoffmann, working from a libretto that placed the poet himself as the hapless protagonist in his own stories. Standing in his way: four leading ladies (often played by two sopranos and a mezzo) and four villains, all of whom are designed to be played by the same bass-baritone.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Concert Review: Owner of a Lonely Heart's Club Band

A second Yes rocks Newark.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yes featuring Jon Anderson (center left) Travor Rabin (far right) and Rick Wakeman (far right) at NJPAC.
Photo by the author.
What's in a name? For Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, an awful lot. The three musicians banded together last year as "ARW" and started touring playing Yes music. Following the induction of eight band members into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the boys are now calling themselves "Yes featuring ARW", putting their band in direct competition with the "official" version of the band led by Steve Howe. Their version of the band rocked NJPAC in Newark last night with a show featuring different eras of the venerable English prog rock band's 49-year history.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Opera Broadcast Review: Buzz-saw and Dynamo

The Met’s new Norma gives the people what they want.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Woman on top: Sondra Radvanovsky (center) and Joyce DiDonato (right) in Act I of Norma.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
In the twelve years since Peter Gelb took the helm of the Metropolitan Opera, the company's opening night has been a splashy, if tricky proposition. Splashy because it's a big glitzy occasion with celebrities in gowns on the red carpet, a big fancy dinner afterwards and for the little people (like your humble correspondent) a free public simulcast on the electronic wonderwall televisions of Times Square with the opera pumped through speakers. For Mr. Gelb, Opening Night (the caps are his) has been the chance to premiere a new production at the Met. This new Norma (directed by Sir David McVicar and starring Sondra Radvanovsky and Joyce Di Donato) provided every opportunity for a a slam dunk.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

An Anthem of the Mind

Reflections on the National Anthem and the Trump presidency.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Three Flags by Jasper Johns from 1958.
Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
In the last 24 hours of the never-ending cycle of news, tweets and sloganeering that has come to characterize American politics since the elevation of one Donald John Trump to the highest office in the land, another firestorm has erupted. The subject: Mr. Trump's decision last night to attack currently unemployed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his protest gesture of taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem at NFL games.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Les contes d'Hoffmann

Is this the real life, or is it just fantasy?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
I love you Miss Robot:  Erin Morley in a scene from Les contes d'Hoffmann.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met revives Offenbach's final opera, a phantasmagorical tale about a writer trapped in stories of his own creation. Vittorio Grigolo is the hapless hero in this tragicomic classic.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Concert Review: Another Openin', Another Maestro

Jaap van Zweden opens the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jaap van Zweden accepts the "baton award."
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.

The changing of the guard at any major symphony orchestra is a long and complicated process. For the New York Philharmonic, who are in the process of installing the Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden as its new music director, that process took another turn on Tueday night. Mr. van Zweden is not quite "here" yet. He will start his first official season with the orchestra in 2018 and conduct a few subscription concerts this year. Meanwhile, he will divide this season between New York, Hong Kong and Dallas, where he is in the final year of his contract.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Norma

A change of seasons and a change of divas for Opening Night.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sondra Radvanovsky (with knife) prepares for sacrifice in Norma.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 the Metropolitan Opera.

Norma is one of those operas that is all about the soprano singing the title role. In this case, the Metropolitan Opera opens its 2017-18 season with a new production by Sir David McVicar, starring Sondra Radvanovsky as the knife-wielding pagan priestess who reacts badly when she learns her boyfriend (the leader of the opposing Roman forces) is cheating on her....with her handmaiden.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The 2017-18 New York Philharmonic Season Preview

New York City's most prominent symphony orchestra unveils its new face.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The New York Philharmonic unveiled Jaap von Zweden (center) as its new Music Director.
Background art © 1983 Mad Magazine from Issue 259. Painting by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder.
Photo butchery by the author.
The New York Philharmonic throws open its doors tomorrow night with a concert they are dubbing the Gala of 106 All-Stars. The program is unusual and heavy for an opening night: Gustav Mahler's burly five-movement Symphony No. 5. The real star of the show will be on the podium: Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden who is one year away from beginning his tenure as the orchestra's newest Music Director. This concert will be reviewed on Superconductor but if you're not going it will also be streamed live on Facebook.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Concert Review: A Precise Hit Will Start a Chain Reaction

The New York Philharmonic plays Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Three ships came back: the Rebels at the start of the Battle of Yavin.
Image from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope © 1997 Lucasfilm Ltd./The Walt Disney Company.

There would be no Star Wars without the music of  John Williams. On Friday night, the composer's stirring opening music sent hairs standing on end as the New York Philharmonic gave its second performance of the complete orchestral score of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Their task: accompanying George Lucas' 1997 remastered "Special Edition" of the beloved 1977 science fiction classic. This concert series will continue later this month with The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and the most recent "official" episode in the series: The Force Awakens.

Friday, September 15, 2017

New Head on the Block

Puccini's Turandot claims yet another victim.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Princess Turandot. Art from the original cover of the score as published by Ricordi.
The title character of Puccini's final opera Turandot is a fabulous Chinese princess, and possibly the most bloodthirsty heroine in opera. Y'see, Turandot, the daughter of the Chinese Emperor, is a single girl. And in a vow to her ancestor, she has her would-be suitors decapitated when they fail to answer three riddles. One could view this work as an exotic vision of ancient China through the eyes of a late Romantic Italian composer...or a game show gone horribly wrong.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Clown Shows in Brooklyn

Pagliacci postponed: gang of plucky kids may be responsible.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Actor Bill Skaarsgaard) visits LoftOpera.
Pennywise image © 2017 Lions Gate Studios. LoftOpera image © LoftOpera.
Photoshop by the clown that writes this blog.
Opera lovers may notice a gaping hole in the schedule this week. LoftOpera, that plucky and innovative company that mounts wonderful operas on the cheap has been forced to postpone   its planned production of Pagliacci, the bloody Leoncavallo verismo drama about a clown who goes berserk and murders his wife.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Concert Review: Naked Crunch

Apocalyptica celebrate 20 years of Metallica covers--on cellos. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The gentlemen of Apocalyptica: (l.r.) Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaasko, Paavo Lötjönen and Antero Manninen
in their video for "Battery." Image © 2017 Apocalyptica.

Twenty years ago, I was in the Record Factory in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn on a Saturday afternoon. The clerk, Fred showed me something "new and weird" that had just come in. It was by a band called Apocalyptica and was titled Plays Metallica for Four Cellos. Skeptical, I flipped it over. And that was when I recognized Eicca Toppinen, the Finnish cellist who is the band's leader and who I had met when he was playing in New York with the new music ensemble Avanti! the year before. Anyway, I bought it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Festival Preview: Star Wars at the New York Philharmonic

A long time ago, in a concert hall far away...
by Paul J. Pelkonen
His name is Lord Vader. Be extremely polite.
Star Wars art © 2017 Lucasfilm, Twentieth Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company,
used for purposes of promoting the New York Philharmonic only. 
In recent years, the New York Philharmonic has jumped squarely on the bandwagon of playing orchestral scores as accompaniment to popular films. This month though, America's oldest orchestra takes that experiment to hyperspace with the Star Wars Film Concert Series: performances of four of the seven films in the Star Wars franchise, with the orchestra thundering away (under the baton of David Newman) as the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia spool forth onscreen. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi coming out in December, this three-week cinematic marathon is just the place for Star Wars fans to get their inner Force into balance.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Opera Review: Minnie Shot First

The New York City Opera opens with La fanciulla del West.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A rootin'-tootin' romance: Jonathan Burton and Kristin Sampson in  La fanciulla del West.
Photo by Sara Shatz courtesy New York City Opera.

Of the mature operas by Giacomo Puccini, La fanciulla del West (English title The Girl of the Golden West) is unique. It was his first (and only) opera written for the American stage, premiering at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910 with Enrico Caruso in the tenor part and the composer in attendance. Based on a play by David Belasco, (he also provided Puccini with source material for Madama Butterfly) its ending preaches tolerance over tragedy. The final curtain descends on an ambiguous but generally happy note as the hero and heroine ride off into a new future. It was an inspired choice to open the second full season of the resuscitated New York City Opera.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Le Nozze di Figaro

Mozart's comedy of masters, servants and class warfare returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ildar Abdrazakov and Isabel Leonard in a moment from Le Nozze di Figaro.
Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
The Met brings back its sparkling Figaro under the baton of English period performance maven Harry Bicket.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Hansel and Gretel

Cannibalism repurposed as holiday entertainment.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A delightful time for the whole family. Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.

The Met revives Humperdinck's fairy tale (in English) in this fractured production by director Richard Jones. More cake?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Verdi Requiem

In place of the cancelled Forza, four concerts instead.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The subject matter of the Verdi Requiem, in one image.
Superconductor makes no endorsement of any one religion, belief or practice.
Giuseppe Verdi's setting of the Requiem Mass has been called his best opera that doesn't have a staging. Here, the Met offers this massive work as a substitute for its cancelled production of La Forza del Destino.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Thaïs

The most famous French opera with an umlaut in the title.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A scene from the Met's first run of Thaïs with Renée Fleming (left) and Thomas Hampson.
Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera 
The Met revives Massenet's most sensuous opera as a vehicle for soprano Ailyn Pérez and stud baritone Gerald Finley.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Madama Butterfly

East meets West with disastrous consequences in Puccini's tragedy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A dancer in the opening scene of the Met's production of Madama Butterfly.
Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
It's one of the greatest love stories of the operatic canon. It's a sharp commentary on American imperialism and the uncaring treatment of "natives" by white people. It's both. It's brilliant. It's Butterfly.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Opera Review: Fox Does Politics

Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble flushes The Cunning Little Vixen.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Into the woods: the Fox (left) and the Vixen (Rachel Hall) meet cute in Janáček's opera.
Photo by Brian Long © 2017 Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble
In the remarkable string of operas that the Czech composer Leoš Janáček crafted in the last years of his life, it is Příhody lišky Bystroušky (usually represented in English as "The Cunning Little Vixen" that stands apart. Based on a Czech newspaper cartoon that was popular in Janáček's hometown of Brno, it is the only one of his operas that has any appeal to a younger audience. And yet, as shown in an intriguing new production by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble. the Vixen is a deeply relevant opera whose sunny libretto masks some strong political subtext.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Opera Preview: La Fanciulla del West

New York City Opera will kick off its season with Puccini's most American opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cards with a stranger: Emmy Destinn (right) and Enrico Caruso (center) in Act II
of La Fanciulla del West. Photo © 1910 the Ricordi Archives.
The resuscitated New York City Opera has reclaimed its position as the leadoff hitter of the 2017 fall cultural season in New York City, as they prepare to open Sept. 6 with a staging of Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Concert Review: Robert and Clara (and their friend Johannes)

It's all Schumann and Brahms at Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The 5,000 Fingers of Kirill Gerstein. The pianist played Mostly Mozart this week.
Photo by Marco Borggreve.
The trials and tribulations of the great Romantic composers have always fascinated the classical music-loving public. From the extramarital wanderings of Richard Wagner to Frederic Chopin's stormy relationship with the lady novelist George Sand, it has provided fodder for intermission conversation over coffee and small overpriced sandwiches,. Arguably, the most famous triangle relationship was between three composers: Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann (née Wieck) and Johannes Brahms.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Concert Review: The Survival of the Fittest

Yes bring their touring "Yestival" to Coney Island.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yes go close to the edge. L.-R.: Steve Howe, Dylan Howe, Jon Davison, Geoff Downes, Alan White, Billy Sherwood.
Photo by the author, graphics by Roger Dean.
Yes, the British progressive rock band known for long Byzantine songs and perpetual lineup changes, rolled through Brooklyn last night, bringing their tour, dubbed "Yestival", to the Ford Amphitheater on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The veteran band, who are celebrating their past due induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, brought yet another lineup change, and a set that featured ten carefully chosen songs, one from each of] their first ten albums, played in chronological order.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Concert Review: The Antic Disposition

The Danish String Quartet play Beethoven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The members f the Danish String Quartet and their latest construction project.
Photo courtesy Kirshbaum Associates. 

Each summer, the Mostly Mozart Festival is dominated by the main stage orchestra offerings at David Geffen Hall. On Thursday evening, however, the ears of its audience were attuned to chamber music. This concert at Alice Tully Hall featured two of the great string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven, as played by that excellent and fast-rising ensemble, the Danish String Quartet. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Concert Review: Rolling Doubles

Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis at Mostly Mozart.
Violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis team up again at Mostly Mozart.
Photo courtesy Linfoln Center/Mostly Mozart.
Tuesday night's concert at Mostly Mozart, conducted by Andrew Mainze and featuring an all-star tandem of soloists featured a distinct absence of music by Mozart. Rather, the Festival Orchestra turned its talents to Brahms, Bach and Mendelssohn. The program was well chosen, bringing together three unusual and infrequently layer pieces together. Credit for this must go to the scholarly Mr. Mainze, whose cool-headed, cerebral approach to music-making has four him at the helm of the Academy of Ancient Music and the English Concert.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Concert Review: New Blood for Old Masters

Beatrice Rana plays Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The young virtuoso Beatrice Rana took Mostly Mozart by storm.
Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Classics.
The music of Bach and Beethoven form a rite of passage for any young pianist. Playing the challenging works of these composers before a paying audience (as Beatrice Rana did last week at Mostly Mozart) is a further test. On Friday night, Ms. Rana made her festival debut with two performances: a preliminary concert featuring Bach's Partita No. 2 in c minor and the main event: a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1.

Friday, August 4, 2017

There is Water Under Ground

The importance of Remaining in Light.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Benin-born singer Angelique Kidjo performed Remain in Light
by the Talking Heads at Lincoln Center on Wednesday night.
The other night, as my concert companion and I walked out of Mostly Mozart, we started crossing Lincoln Center Plaza southward. As we approached the bandshell, we heard the extraordinary sound of...the Talking Heads. Now, I don't usually go to another concert right on top of the first one, and I'm reluctant to be in a crowd when processing a show. However, this was Angelique Kidjo and her band, and one of the events this summer that I had wanted to see (and had forgotten about) a complete performance of the classic 1980 Talking Heads album, Remain in Light presented by Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Concert Review: Of Trash Cans, Bottles and Pipes

Sō Percussion joins Mostly Mozart for a new concerto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
They're lumberjacks and they're OK: the men of Sō Percussion.
Photo © 2017 
Sō Percussion/Mostly Mozart Festival.
In recent years, the Mostly Mozart Festival, once the staid haven of conservative music lovers in the hot summers of New York City, has become a home for new music. On Wednesday night, the Festival Orchestra and its music director Louis Langrée were joined by Sō Percussion, a New York based quartet. This was the second of two concerts this week, featuring the premiere of man made, a new work by David Lang.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Recordings Review: This Ain't No Fairy Music

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Mendelssohn's five symphonies.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cover portrait of Yannick Nézet-Séguin from his new DG cycle
of Mendelssohn symphonies. © 2017 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG
The five symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn have enjoyed a mixed reputation in the hectic whirl of the 21st century. Two of them remain standard program items: the Third ("Scottish") and Fourth ("Italian"), musical walking tours in which the composer muses on his travels to those two countries. The Fifth ("Reformation") stands between the early Romanticism of Beethoven and the perfectionism of Brahms. And the first two are almost never programmed: a cheerful work of the composer's early maturity and a massive choral symphony that is closer in its nature to a cantata. All these works used to be recorded regularly, but a new cycle of Mendelssohn symphonies is like a tricycle for adults: stable, reliable, but not everyone wants or needs one.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Opera Review: Tsarface

The Time of Troubles comes to Bard College with Dimitrij.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Family snapshot: the false tsar Dimitrij (Clay Hilley, center)
flanked by Marfa (Nora Sourouzian) and Marina, his wife (Melissa Citro).
Photo courtesy Bard College and Bard SummerScape.

The operas of Antonín Dvorak are central to the repertory in that composer’s native land, but apart from Rusalka, remain neglected here in the United States. That may change after this weekend, when Bard SummerScape offered the first fully staged U.S. Performances of Dimitrij. Planned to be Dvorak's breakthrough international success, this opera is his most ambitious stage work: an absorbing, turbulent drama chronicling the start of the Time of Troubles, the most turbulent period in Russian history,

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Total Perspective Vortex

Strauss, Nietzsche and Ein Alpensinfonie
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The climactic moment of Strauss' Ein Alpensinfonie.

Before he rose to fame as the creator of operas like Salome, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss was famed for his tone poems. Of these, his last and most ambitious is Ein Alpensinfonie from 1915. It is a mind-boggling 22-movement work which follows some of the conventions of a proper symphony but is designed to be played as one single unit, telling the story of a day's journey up an Alp in his native Bavaria.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La bohème

Death, romance and the rooftops of Paris in Puccini's timeless opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Susanna Philips as Musetta and cast in Act II of La bohème. 
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera markets Puccini's third opera as "the most popular opera of all time." That may be debatable, but the show returns this year in Franco Zefirelli's elaborate and constantly rehabilitated production.

Death, Congress and Tosca

On Twitter with Puccini and the banality of evil.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Cover art for the CD issue of the 1980 Karajan Tosca.
Image © 1980 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG.
It started because I couldn't sleep.

Tonight was the super-stealthy midnight vote by the Republican Party to enact a so-called "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act, the health care achievement by President Barack Obama that has enabled me to continue my career both as a freelance writer and as the author of Superconductor, my very own classical music publication that you're reading if you're reading this right now.

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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.