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Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, since 2007. All written content © 2014 by Paul Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Verdi-Otello-Crisco™ Joke

We present a classic anecdote of the opera, which I first read in The Rough Guide To Opera, an excellent referential guide to all things pertaining to the maddest of the fine arts. We are proud to give you....


(not brought to you by Crisco, a product of the J.M. Smucker Co.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Concert Review: Mr. Robertson's Neighborhood

A man and his violin: Leonidas Kavakos.
Photo © 2008 by Yannis Bournias.
Thursday night at the New York Philharmonic featured a trio of familiar orchestral works led under the able baton of David Robertson. Robertson is music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and is currently in town for a two-week residency. This program explored music from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, incorporating the sounds of Salzburg (Mozart), Budapest (Bartok) and Vienna (Brahms.)

The evening started out with an energetic performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 34 in F Major. This is an important Mozart symphony, marking the composer's transition from Salzburg to Vienna and highlighting his decision to use a slightly more expanded orchestra. It is sometimes odd to hear these smaller-scale works in the great hall built for the likes of Mahler and Bruckner, but this was a pleasing performance, with warm textures from the string section and some agility in the woodwinds.

The Bartok Violin Concerto No. 2 followed. This work is a good introduction to Bartok. It is mostly tonal, and creates a shimmering set of variations on a simple Hungarian folk melody. Leonidas Kavakos played the tricky solo part with fire and energy, navigating the difficult cadenzas with a pleasing, singing tone from his Stradivarius. Each individual movement was greeted with applause from some enthusiastic patrons in the house. When they were "shushed" by more tradition-minded concert-goers, Kavakos said, "no, it's OK. You can applaud!" before launching into the difficult final movement.

The concert concluded with a powerful, robust Brahms Third Symphony (the piece immortalized by John Cleese in Fawlty Towers as "Brahms' Third Racket!". The Racket went off beautifully, except for a small problem with one of the horns. After a bad note in the opening passages and could be seen pulling out his crooks and trying to clean out his instrument onstage. Happily, his four fellow section-members were more than able to cover for the problems, which were clearly the fault of the instrument and not of the performer. The rest of the symphony went off without a hitch, with the orchestra delving deeply into the rich textures of Brahms' score, playing this idyllic, optimistic symphony with genuine joy.





Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lecter at the Lectern: Sir Anthony Hopkins conducts in Dallas

Friday night's program at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra featured the world premiere of two works by Academy Award-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins. In addition to Hopkins' own Schizoid Salsa and The Masque of Time, the concert featured his dramatic music from the plays August and Slipstream.

Sir Anthony Hopkins looks over a few bars.
Photo from The Silence of the Lambs, © 1991 Orion Pictures
Sir Anthony (or "Tony", as he prefers to be called) took the podium for the encore, conducting a reprise of Schizoid Salsa. He also introduced each number on the program to the audience. His conducting was greeted with stomping approval from the orchestra members, a sign of utmost acclaim from veteran musicians. In return, each member of the orchestra, (most notably the flute section) appears to be alive and well.

In addition to Hopkins' original music, the imaginative program featured music from his great films. Excerpts from Howard Shore's score for The Silence of the Lambs and Richard Robbins' music for The Remains of the Day were featured, along with clips from these classic films. No word on whether the orchestral forces covered the Scorpions' Hit Between the Eyes from the soundtrack of the 1995 sci-fi flick Freejack..

Check out the Dallas Symphony website for more information on these concerts, and click here for a 70-second excerpt from one of Sir Anthony's compositions.


Opera Review: La Vida Breve at the New York Philharmonic

Thursday night at the New York Philharmonic featured the orchestra's first complete performance of Manuel de Falla's two-act opera, La Vida Breve. The opera was an unqualified knockout. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, the Spanish conductor with the German name (he added the de Burgos) opened the concert with a pleasurable performance of his own orchestral transcriptions of Isaac Albeniz' Suite española.
Rafael Frühbeck di Burgos examines his baton.
Photo © Columbia Artists Management, Inc.
La vida breve is a verismo tragedy, similar to Cavalleria Rusticana--but in Spanish. The strong young cast, featured singers and a chorus that were exclusively from Spain. Maria Rodriguez gave a passionate performance as Salud, the young gypsy girl who jilted by her boyfriend Paco. As Paco, tenor Vicente Ombuena displayed a creamy tone with a hint of bite at the appropriate moments in the score. The big Act II duet featured these two young, strong voices making a pleasing blend before the Wagnerian sweep of the orchestra.

La Vida Breve combines lyric string passages (including a memorable cello solo), intricate woodwind writing, thunderous brass passages and a complex percussion score requiring eight dexterous players. The clang of anvils opens the opera, echoing down the busy streets in a way that the Gypsies of Il Trovatore could only dream of. Choral and orchestral writing help to create an authentic-sounding aural evocation of the colorful streets of Granada.

Everything that followed: the distant voice of a young laborer in the streets, the fiery flamenco dancer (Nuria Pomares), the character turn for a wedding singer and his accompanying guitarist contributes to Falla's Spanish sound-world. Falla's opera is a refreshing change from all the Italian and French operas that use Spain as their backdrop, but only make a marginal effort to capture the rich life and unique musical textures of this country.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Opera Review: Tick, Tick, Boom

Doctor Atomic nukes the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

"Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom!"
--Marvin Martian
Some of the greatest operas in history have bombed on opening night. John Adams' Doctor Atomic, which had its Met premiere on Monday night, is an exception--a very successful operatic work about the bomb itself. Penny Woolcock's new production finally gave New York audiences a chance to experience this powerful, oratorio-like work, that tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the launch of the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Los Alamos, The Trinity Project, 1945.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Correspondah Gioconda

(because every now and then I need to write something other than a straight-up review.)

Corresponda Gioconda

(with apologies to Almacore Ponchielli, Arrigio Boito and Alan Sherman)

(sung to the "Dance of the Hours" from Act III of La Gioconda, by Almacore Ponchielli)



It's your opera, correspondah
writin' 'bout La Gioconda
It's this opera, by Ponchielli
He's been dead long time by now he's kinda smelly.

This here opera's, 'bout this lady
Lives in Venice, think she's crazy
There's this creep who, wants to love her
So he sicks the Inquisition on her muddah!

Lady Laura, saves Mom's bacon
She sees Enzo, says "what's shakin'?"
But she's married, bursts his bubble
and it turns out Lady Laura is in trouble

That's not all 'cos, Gioconda
Loves old Enzo, He Don Juan 'er,
Cos he's lovin', Lady Laura
So he burns his boat and goes to the C'a D'oro

Laura's hubby's, (he's gonna kill her)
Dance of Hours, (he'll poison pill her)
But then G she switched the potions
so Laura and Enzo ex-cape to the ocean

In the fourth act, Gioconda,
saves ole Enzo, and his blonde-a
Then she waits there for Barnaba
Stabs herself in the gut before he can grab-ba.

Will it end? (when they abscond-a)
Four hours long (so help me Rhonda)
I think this one's, over-rated
Cos the opera's plot's too goddamn complicated

Did we mention, the blind momma?
She's thrown into the Orfana
A canal in, dear old Venice
She dies offstage which ties up the loose endies.

Dearest readers, this here story
has more twists than Trovatore!
But it's music, for the masses
Damn it now I went and lost my opera glasses!

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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.