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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats."
Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, since 2007. All written content © 2014 by Paul Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Concert Review: Apocalyptica--Evil Sits Down For a Moment

The lights go down. The Who's "Wont Get Fooled Again" trails into silence. And a thunderous roar comes forth: the mighty Apocalyptica--four young musicians from Finland who are putting bow and rosin into thrash metal--played on 'cellos.



On Friday night at the Nokia Theatre in Times Square, Apocalyptica put on a hell of a show. This is not your average chamber music recital. These cellists move around, whipping up the audience, playing standing up. headbanging as they play, long hair whipping around as their bows scrape back and forth. The four cellists: group founder Eicca Toppinen, goth madman Perttu Kivilaakso, gung-ho Paavo Lötjönen and a staid Antero Manninen, who is no longer an official band member (he left in 2002). He doesn't prowl the stage like the other three. They were aided by band drummer Mikko Sirén (also a full-time member). The show was packed with dazzling musicianship. Toryn Green from Fuel joined in as guest vocalist on a few songs, singing both covers and originals with his burly delivery.

For a band that first became known for its Metallica covers, Apocalyptica did not disappoint. "Fight Fire With Fire"," "One", "Seek and Destroy" and "Enter Sandman" all got the 'cello treatment, often with shouted accompaniment from the audience. From the non-Metallica songbook came "Heroes" by David Bowie (sung half in German, half in English by Toryn Green) and encore-closer "The Hall of the Mountain King," played at breakneck pace and introduced as "authentic classic Norwegian black metal y Edvard Grieg." The rest of the set consisted of vocal and instrumental originals, including "Life Burns!", "Inquisition Symphony" and the heartrending "Bittersweet", which sounds like Schubert on steroids.


Apocalyptica started out in Helsinki as classically trained musicians who started playing Metallica covers on four cellos. The cello has the ideal range to cover both the deep growling tones of bass and rhythm guitars. Quick staccato bowing produces the same chunky rhythm sound as James Hetfield's guitar playing, and glissando figures and lightning-fast arpeggios replicate the wild lead guitar playing of Kirk Hammett. This is one of the most unique progressive metal band around--they play with killer technique an absolute conviction, and are a band that stands squarely at the crux of classical music and its louder cousin, speed metal.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Note: This post was inspired by AMG blogger Stephen Eddins. Read his excellent work here.

Tooling around on AMG today I read a post by Stephen Eddins about the Westminster Ring, a lesser recording of the famous Wagner cycle conducted by Hans Swarovsky. I've never heard this particular recording of the cycle, so I can't attest to its quality. However, the album covers, photographed by Christopher Whorf and presented below for your entertainment, are fascinating.

Enjoy, folks.
Der Ring des Nibelungen: How many Rhinemaidens do you need to screw in a lightbulb?
Das Rheingold: Uh...three, I think.
Die Walküre Now mit Fahrfegnugen!
Siegfried: Brought to you by Pearle Vision®
Götterdämmerung: That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles.


I like cookies!
Art by David Horvath © 2008 PrettyUgly LLC.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Opera Buff: The Met Revives Salome

Karita Mattila as Salome. Photo by Ken Howard © 2004 The Metropolitan Opera
The Metropolitan Opera opened its regular season on Tuesday night with a dazzling revival of Salome starring Karita Mattila. The Finnish soprano rose admirably to the many challenges of the title role, navigating the dizzying heights and gut-churning low notes with ease. Her star turn was ably supported by a solid supporting cast and virtuso performances from the orchestra pit.

When this opera premiered, Strauss commented that the work called for a "16-year old princess with the voice of an Isolde". Both of those qualities are present in Ms. Mattila's performance. Hers is a confused, oversexed adolescent, a fascinating mix of kittenish need, raw sexual energy and outright female domination. For 100 minutes, she was the focus of attention from her first entry, tossing off high notes to the moon, pulling the audience along on the journey from teasing temptress to depraved necrophiliac.

From the opening clarinet glissando, Strauss' opera is a mass of contradictions. It starts almost innocently, flirtatiously, with this production (by Jürgen Flimm) portraying Herod's court as a 1950's Hollywood cocktail party. The only sour note at the soiree is the presence of that pesky prophet John the Baptist (newcomer Juha Uusitalo) imprisoned by Herod (Kim Begley) in a cistern.

Salome, Herod's stepdaughter becomes sexually fascinated with Jokaanan. She descends into dangerous obsession when he rejects her advances. She agrees to perform the Dance of the Seven Veils, and demands the holy man's head as payment. Horrified, Herod orders her killed as the curtain crashes down.

In his Metropolitan opera debut, Juha Uusitalo wass a fine, resonant Jokaanan, stoic in his interactions with the princess. Character tenor Kim Begley was a twitchy, neurotic Herod, shrill and panicked in the opera's most atonal passages, singing all of the difficult nuances of Strauss' score. His counterpart, Ildiko Komlosi, was an impressive, piercing Herodias, whose approval of her daughter quickly vanished into a drunken haze of disgust at the opera's end. Joseph Kaiser was a fine resonant Narraboth, giving lie to the old saying that Strauss didn't write good parts for tenors. Patrick Summers led the enormous pit forces wilth lyricism and taste, conducting the opera (as Strauss himself directed) "like Fairy Music."

As for the famous Dance, it was staged here as a gender-bending exercise in tease and denial with multiple male victims dancing support roles to Ms. Mattila. Doug Varone's choreography combined elements of ballet, lap-dancing and sheer bump-and-grind. And yes, curious opera-goers, Ms. Mattila goes the full monty in this performance, leaving her audience stunned. What was even more amazing was that after receiving the severed head, Mattila then let the life and sexual anima drain from her performance, becoming nothing more than a depraved necrophage with a severed head of her very own.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's OPERA SEASON!!!!

(not duck season.)



The Metropolitan Opera opens its 125th season this week, and that means it's time for me to finally write something in this space for the first time in a few months! There's lots of exciting stuff in the pipe for Superconductor. Expect some scathing (and not-so-scathing) reviews, endless kvetching about the renovations to Lincoln Center, and the odd notes about the industry as we try to keep you updated on all the latest and greatest on the New York classical music scene.

Highlights this week include the re-opening of the Met, with a Monday night gala performance featuring Renee Fleming in a trilogy of great scenes: from Verdi's La Traviata, Massenet's Manon, and Strauss' Capriccio. The gala will be simulcast on giant screens in Times Square and at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus (across the street from the under-construction Lincoln Center. Tickets for limited seating are available at the Met box office Monday at 12pm.



The season proper kicks off on Tuesday with Salome, featuring the stunning and sexy Karita Mattila in the title role of the girl who has everything she ever wanted. She last sang this role at the Met in '04 and brought down the house. Expect a review in this space later this week once I get my head reattached.

Right: Renee Fleming, Photo by Andrew Eccles © Decca
Left: Karita Mattila Photo by Lauri Eriksson, © Warner Classics

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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.