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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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Birthday, Maestro Rossini!

He's looking pretty good for 53.
by Paul Pelkonen.
Today is the 53rd birthday of Giacchino Rossini, composer of Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

And no, that's not a typo. Rossini was born in 1792, and is one of the most famous leap year babies in history. Like that joke in the Barber where Figaro blunders into the china closet, Rossini never gets old. (Not counting the leaps, he would be 220 today.)

Rossini had an astonishing compositional career, writing 39 operas. His output started with Il cambiale de Matrimonio (performed this winter at Juilliard) and climaxed with the four-act French grand opera Guillaume Tell. But after saving the Swiss from their Austrian oppressors, the great Rossini put down his pen. Singing styles had changed, and the delicate bel canto tenors had given way to the heroic style, and Rossini did not wish to write for those larger, louder voices.

To celebrate, here's the finale from Act I of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, filmed at the Met in the late 1980s. Starring Rockwell Blake, Kathleen Battle, Enzo Dara, Leo Nucci and a young Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio. Ralf Wiekert conducts.


Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Opera Review: Everybody Dies

Khovanshchina at the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul Pelkonen.
Real-life husband-and-wife Olga Borodina and Ildar Abdrazakov in Act II of Khovanshchina.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
On Monday night, the Metropolitan Opera brought back Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina for the first time since 1999. This revival came with a twist. Conductor Kirill Petrenko chose to perform the Shostakovich version of the score, but with the final scene orchestrated by Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel. This was the first Met performance to use the Stravinsky finale.

Khovanshchina (the title means "The Khovansky Affair") is best thought of not a historical drama but as a series of tableaux depicting events in and around Moscow in 1682 and 1689. The rise of Peter the Great is central to the opera, but Imperial edict stated that it was illegal to depict any Romanov tsar on the stage. 

Mussorgsky forged ahead anyway. Working in the last years of his life, he constructed a libretto from historical records. With Peter offstage, he placed dramatic focus on the opposition: the fanatical Old Believers, the rebellious Streltsy militia, and their leader, the boyar Ivan Khovansky, a real historical figure who lends the opera his name. The composer died at the age of 42, leaving a partially completed first act, piano sketches for the middle scenes, and mere text for the finale, the mass self-immolation of the Old Believers. There is an orchestration by Rimsky-Korsakov, one by Shostakovich, and parts of an arrangement by Stravinsky and Ravel.

This production boasted an all-star cast of Russian singers. Anatoly Kotscherga made an overdue house debut as Ivan Khovansky. He has been singing this role for over two decades, and he brought power and experience to the power-hungry boyar. Mr. Kotscherga also showed why every bass wants to play this part: Khovansky gets his own private ballet from six sexy Persian slave girls.

The second major bass part is Dosifey, leader of the Old Believers. Ildar Abdrazakov was resonant in the part, though he lack the last smooth bottom notes that can make this a terrifying part.  Mrs. Abdrazakov, better known as Olga Borodina played Marfa, Dosifey's disciple. She hit some extraordinary low notes in this part, as the mystic, psychic, yet sensual female lead.

George Gagnidze has an unattractive voice, but is a good stage presence. He was powerful as the boyar Shaklovity, one of the few survivors of the turmoil. Tenor Vladimir Galouzine was ideal as the scheming Prince Golytsin. The young Ukrainian tenor Misha Didyk, (making his house debut) sang with clear tone but was stuck in the role of Andrei Khovansky, one of the least gratifying tenor parts in the repertory.

The six loosely connected episodes that make up Khovanshchina can be a long evening. But the opera was dramatically involving, thanks to the quicksilver conducting of Kirill Petrenko. He kept the plot moving, with an energy that did not sacrifice the weight of Mussorgsky's music. He also did a superb job conducting the carefully coached choristers, who had a number of opportunities to prove that the Metropolitan Opera can be a fine house for Russian repertory, if the company just puts its mind to it.

Stravinsky's version of the final scene still has arias and numbers for Marfa, Andrey and Dosifey. But the last pages are all about the chorus. Crammed into a wooden church (built on the stage turntable), they created an apocalyptic vision. Candles in hand, their voices rose through the ancient Russian church modes. Time itself seemed to stop for five minutes, only moving forward again when the flames went up, and the gold curtain came down.
Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Concert Review: Brass from the Steel City

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra plays Lincoln Center.
by Paul Pelkonen.
Man of Steel: conductor Manfred Honeck leads the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has been around for over a century. But the ensemble has never achieved the same prominence as other American orchestras. Sunday's concert at Avery Fisher Hall under the baton of music director Manfred Honeck indicate that good things are afoot in the Steel City.  Mr. Honeck leads an ensemble with a rich, robust tone quality, led by the trumpets and trombones. Percussion and wind playing were tight, and the carpet of strings (the heart of any orchestra's sound) was tightly woven. 

The concert opened with Silent Spring, a work composed for the PSO by composer-in-residence Steven Stucky. Mr. Stucky's work is inspired by the environmental writing of Rachel Carson. The sound recalls the nature-loving middle period of Richard Strauss (particularly the Alpine Symphony) with exotic tones formed from bell clusters, shimmering strings and complex percussion parts for multiple players. 

Hilary Hahn took the stage next, wrapped in a flame-orange gown that recalled Serge Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel. That was appropriate, as the soloist was playing that composer's Violin Concerto, a lyric work steeped in Russian folk-song and lore. She began the work as a soliloquy for her instrument and expounded eloquently on the work's main theme. At the movement's close, the audience applauded.

The slow movement featured lyric, graceful playing against the orchestral fabric, a gauzy, lush sound that is antithetical to the industrial-strength writing usually associated with this composer. More applause greeted this movement, with the assembled audience clearly not knowing their concert manners.

The last movement, a kind of folk-tale in itself, provided ample opportunity for Ms. Hahn's fearless technique. This was Russa music of another time, evoking the mythic past of that great country before the Soviet revolution. She gave this work the strong performance it deserved, soaring up to the high trill by the bridge of her instrument and finishing with a flurry of well-placed notes. This time, the applause was on time, and entirely justified. She offered an encore, a graceful, nimble Sarabande from Bach's second Partita.

The second half of the concert featured a muscular, brass-driven reading of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. The Fifth is the exception among the late Tchaikovsky symphonies, coming between the soul-searching Fourth and the heart-rending Pathetique. The work also borrows from the composer's little-heard "Manfred" Symphony, with one theme serving as a melodic thread between four movements.

That theme starts as a funeral march before metamorphasizing into a triumphant, swaggering celebration. Mr. Honeck and his forces played this familiar music with ferocious intensity, with the brass leading the charge. Unfortunately, less experienced listeners in Avery Fisher Hall jumped the gun again. Thinking that the work had ended, they applauded. Mr. Honeck ignored them, and drove the last bars forward, finishing the work in a blaze of sound.

The concert ended with another encore: the Galop from Aram Khachturian's Maskarad Suite. Given the opportunity to play an extended clarinet cadenza, PSO principal Michael Rusenick added a few bars of Leonard Bernstein's "New York, New York" from On The Town. It was a charming way to end a strong concert.
Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.

Egyptian Plague Strikes Soprano

Sondra Radvanovsky, Latonia Moore to platoon in Aida at the Met.
by Paul Pelkonen.
She's in the Egyptian business: Sondra Radvanovsky.
The winter flu bug has struck Egypt--and the Metropolitan Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera press office announced earlier this week that Violeta Urmana, scheduled to sing Aida at the Met this week, was ill.

Her replacement on Tuesday night was soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. Saturday's matinee broadcast will be sung by Latonia Moore.

Ms. Radvanovsky rose to stardom at the Met with the company's 2009 production of Il Trovatore. She has sung Aida before, but in the much smaller role of the (offstage) Priestess in Act I.

Her last appearances at the Met were in the spring of 2011, where she sang the title role in Tosca and reprised the role of Leonora in Trovatore. Next season, she will sing the role of Elisabetta de Valois in Don Carlo.

Latonia Moore is a recipient of the 2005 Richard Tucker Foundation grant. She has sung the role at the Hamburg State Opera in 2009 and at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in 2011. This performance is her Metropolitan Opera debut.

In other news, tenor Marcelo Giordani will sing Radames, taking over for Marcelo Àlvarez. Stephanie Blythe, who has drawn strong reviews for her fiery portrayal of the Egyptian princess Amneris, will sing as scheduled.

For a full review of the Met's Aida starring Ms. Urmana and Ms. Blythe, visit this page on Superconductor.
Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen

Concert Review: The Apocalypse Watch

Sir Simon Rattle conducts Mahler's Resurrection Symphony.
Sir Simon Rattle.
Photo © EMI Classics.

When Simon Rattle was 12 years old, he went to a performance of Mahler's Second Symphony: the massive five-movement worked dubbed the Resurrection after its choral finale. The young listener immediately wanted to conduct it. Four decades later, Sir Simon Rattle sees the Resurrection as his classical calling card: the central composition of his conducting career. Small wonder that he chose this work to end his three-night stand at Carnegie Hall with the Berlin Philharmonic. The 

Since a performance of the Mahler Two usually runs about 90 minutes, it is usually not paired with works by other composers. This concert started with three short choral works by Viennese composer Hugo Wolf. The Westminster Symphonic Choir made a good case for "Fruhlingschor", from Wolf's unfinished second opera Manuel Venegas. The Wagner-inspired melodies wound forth from the orchestra, casting a brief spell that makes one want to hear more of this rare opera.

Soprano Camilla Tilling led the short "Elfenlied," evoking the Romantic side of Wolf's writing with its pixie-dust orchestration. The mini-set ended with a virtuoso performance of the challenging "Die Feuerreiter." This genuinely disturbing lied--about an arsonist who perishes in a burning mill, was performed in a complex choral arrangement that proved a welcome challenge for the Berlin players.

Maybe it's because they were warmed up from playing the Wolf pieces, but the Berlin Philharmonic played the opening funeral march of the Resurrection with unusual zeal. The basses and cellos growled out the first subject, answere by rising figures in the horns and a longing melody in the low woodwinds. Sir Simon showed his long experience with this work, letting his orchestra swagger but never sacrificing momentum. 

The ferocity of the Totenfier march gave way to the longing ländler of the second movement and the ironic, bitter pages of the central scherzo. This is some of the most difficult terrain of this symphony, as Mahler's protagonist bids a bittersweet farewell to mortality. Acceptnce comes in the ravishing "O roschen rot" sung here by mezzo Bernarda Fink. Singer and orchestra created a brief peace with this meditative movement, before the real firepower was unleashed.

Carnegie Hall is a great music venue, but its high balconies and tight backstage spaces make putting on the last movement of the Resurrection something of a challenge. Mahler calls for bell players, offstage horns, and an entire marching band in the distance depicting the rising of the dead and the build-up to the final judgement. 

Sir Simon's long experience in this symphony made this huge movement--almost a dramatic scene from an opera--move forward from one section to the next. The orchestra produced admirable effects, from the raised horns in the back proclaiming the tuba mirum to the percussion and basses going to town depicting the earth itself cracking open in a series of apocalyptic sonic blasts.

When the chorus came in, it was almost a relief, that the heavenly torments were at an end and the redemption promised in the first movement finally began to unveil itself. Ms. Tilling and Ms. Fink were added to the massed voices of the choir, and the whole work seemed to elevate into a higher plane. It was overwhelming and gloriously over the top.
Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Metropolitan Opera Preview: L'Elisir d'Amore

Flórez and Damrau get together over a bottle of wine.
by Paul Pelkonen.
Doctor Dulcamara opens for business in L'Elisir d'Amore.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2009 The Metropolitan Opera.
They've enthralled audiences (and critics) in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Fille du régiment and last season's Le comte Ory. Now, Juan Diego Flórez and Diana Damrau face off once more as Nemorino and Adina in Donizetti's warm-hearted comedy. This is the last set of performances for John Copley's charming production, which will be replaced by a Bartlett Sher staging at the start of next season.


Donizetti wrote some wonderful music for this opera, the story of simple schnook who wins the girl of his dreams with help from a quack doctor and a bottle of wine. Elisir features comic arias, country peasant ensembles and a great "patter" role. But everyone knows this opera for the Act II showstopper "Una furtiva lagrima." This is the aria that Caruso and Pavarotti made famous, the one that makes people bellow "Maaaaa-maaaaa" when asked what they know about Italian opera.

This set of performances has a strong cast. Mr. Flórez and Ms. Damrau are joined by bari-hunk Mariusz Kwiecien in the role of Belcore, Nemorino's rifle-toting rival, and Alessandro Corbelli as the quack Doctor Dulcamara, whose cheap vino acts as the ultimate social lubricant.

Recording Recommendations:
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Vittorio Gui (Glyndebourne, 1962, released 2010)
Nemorino: Luigi Alva
Adina: Mirella Freni
Belcore: Enzo Sordello
Doctor Dulcamara: Sesto Bruscantini
A revalation: this tape sat in the vault for almost half a century before being released in a 2 disc package last year. The young Freni is miraculous here, paired with bel canto specialist Luigi Alva. A thrilling live performance taped in the intimate conflicts of the Glyndebourne Festival.

English Chamber Orchestra cond. Richard Bonynge (Decca, 1972)
Nemorino: Luciano Pavarotti
Adina: Joan Sutherland
Belcore: Dominic Cossa
Doctor Dulcamara: Spiro Malas
This is one of the classic Decca recordings pairing the unbeatable combination of Sutherland and Pavarotti in bel canto repertory. Luciano injects his ineffable charm into the role of the lovestruck Nemorino. Sutherland's cool approach to the music suits the bookish Adina. With her husband conducting, La Stupenda takes a different cabaletta than the norm in Act II, singing one written for the great Maria Malibran.
Return to the Metropolitan Opera Season Preview!

Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.

Concert Review: A Voyage Around the Father

The St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble presents Circling Bach. 
by Paul Pelkonen.
The St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble.
Photo by Carol Cohen © 2012 Orchestra of St. Luke's.

On Saturday afternoon at the Brooklyn Museum, the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble presented Circling Bach, a program that was devoted to the composers that were influences upon, and later, influenced by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Today, Bach is thought of as the foundation of Western classical music. But the concept of him as musical progenitor is a 19th century one, rooted in the rediscovery of his works by Felix Mendelssohn and others. In truth, he was a human being, and a composer like any other, who produced a vast body of work under remarkable circumstances.

The first half of the concert was devoed to composers who may have influenced the development of Bach's style. It opened with three short works by Salomone Rossi, a Jewish composer in Renaissance Mantua. Rossi is almost forgotten today, but he was in the court of the Duke of Gonzaga (who helped found the first opera performances)and an associate of composer Claudio Monteverdi. 

More importantly, Rossi helped establish the of instrumental music where a treble part is written over bass harmonies--the very basis of modern homophony--or Western music. The pieces were played with galant style by the St. Luke's musicians, featuring unusual instruments like the cittern, a flat-backed, picked cousin of the mandolin.

The concert then moved to more familiar names. Antonio Vivaldi's influence on Bach was profound. Heard here: the A minor Cello Concerto. The solo part was taken with great energy by Myron Lutzke, whose low-toned playing was a fiery contrast with the tutti ensemble. A major work by Handel: the F Major Concerto Grosso  closed the first half, giving each of the skilled St. Luke's players a turn in the spotlight.

The second half was devoted to composers influenced by Bach. Fittingly, it started with his son Carl Philip Emanuel. C.P.E. Bach was feted in his lifetime as a better composer than his dad, but much of his work has faded from the repertory. The D minor Flute Concerto was transcribed for that instrument from an earlier work, for the royal lips of flute enthusiast Frederick the Great of Prussia. 

Elizabeth Mann may not be royalty, but she played this difficult concerto with grace and charm, hiding the tremendous technical requirements with experience and ability. Her playing in the slow movement was transportive, evoking the Potsdam court of Sans Souci. The fast movement that ends the piece was even more impressive.

The concert ended with another rarely heard name: Francesco Geminiani. Geminiani's work has sunk into obscurity, possibly because his career ended with a tenure in Dublin, Ireland, far from the heart of European musical life. Here, St. Luke's concertmaster Krista Bennion Feeney led a series of violin variations on La Follia, originally by composer Arcangelo Corelli. These variations crackled with robust energy, delivered with flair by the excellent players of the Chamber Ensemble.
Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Concert Review: The Door to Infinity

The Berlin Philharmonic plays the completed Bruckner Ninth.
by Paul Pelkonen.
Portrait of Sir Simon Rattle by Robert Lewis Booth.
© 2010 Robert Lewis Booth.

When Anton Bruckner died in 1896, he was working on his Ninth Symphony. He had finished three movements, but it was widely believed that the finale of this last work only existed as a few sketches, with not enough music to be performed. On Friday night at Carnegie Hall, New Yorkers were able to hear the completed symphony for the first time.

However, when a team of researchers and musicologists began investigating the composer's documents, they found (after assembling pieces of manuscript that had been taken as far as Washington D.C.) that Bruckner had indeed finished his final movement, at least up to the coda. (In a video on the Berlin Philharmonic website, music director Sir Simon Rattle explained that, in a work that was 650 bars of music, the musicologists only had to write 28 bars of music based on the composer's ideas.) The result is a giant, cosmic close to his last symphony, with huge brass figures, a massive orchestral fugue, and an organic, flowing exploration of the heavens and the ultimate meaning of life.

In 1992, when musicologists Nicola Samale and Giuseppe Mazzuca, working with John A. Philips and Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, produced a performing version of the final movement of this symphony. It was revised in 2005. In 2011, the revision was re-worked and premiered in Sweden under conductor Daniel Harding. This concert marked the U.S. premiere of this new revision. An earlier version by William Carragan premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1984.

Bruckner was a deeply religious man, a Catholic who saw the writing of gigantic symphonies as a way to reach upwards to heaven and offer great works "to the dear Lord." The Ninth is his ultimate statement, a confrontation with the mysteries of the beyond that moves from earth-shaking fury to a stellar, cosmic realm where only the bravest conductors may tread safely.

Sir Simon Rattle is one of these conductors. Working from memory, the British maestro wasted no time in grappling with this work's cosmic mysteries. A hushed chord for the brass stammers, as if clearing its throat. Then the strings, Wagner tubas, and heavy brass announce a stately theme of flexibility and power. This first climax was a potent, visceral moment, seeming to shake the walls of Carnegie Hall.

The second movement was even better. Based on the form of a dance, this movement was more of a mosh pit for orchestra. The timpani took the lead in this tribal, pounding rhythm, playing with a savagery that reminded one of The Rite of Spring. The trio section was the perfect contrast, with grace and even humor  leads into a theme of flexibility and power. This made the return of the head-banging main theme even more jarring.

Bruckner called the third movement of this symphony--the last he completed--his "farewell to life." But the slow movement of this symphony sounds different when heard in context and not as Bruckner's "final statement." Under Sir Simon, the Berlin strings came to the fore, delivering a deeply heart-felt performance of this tortured, heart-rending Adagio. The sound rose in a series of slow, blossoming climaxes, powered by the mighty sound of the trumpets and Wagner tubas. The final dissonance hung in the air, a profound statement in its own right.

At that point, one hard-core Brucknerian got up and left. His mistake.

Much like the last movement of the Beethoven Ninth (without the singing), the Finale of the Bruckner Ninth brings together the themes from the first three movements. The questions asked by the descending opening theme of the first movement are answered by a dissonant, raging theme from the trumpets and horns. The whole is expressed in a gigantic double fugue over a thick texture of strings. The Berlin forces poured themselves into this music. At last, the major key returned with the ringing final trumpet chorale of the new coda (built from the same theme in the preceding Adagio.) This last theme became a key to the infinite, as Bruckner's final mysteries were unlocked at last.

Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.

In Memoriam: Howard Kissel, 1942-2012

Howard Kissel, 1942-2012.
Photo by Mary Blanco.
Former Daily News critic dies.
by Paul Pelkonen.
Howard Kissel, who spent 20 years as the theater and classical music critic at the New York Daily News, died on Friday. He was 70.

I first knew Howard when I was a young writer covering the New York Philharmonic. I remember meeting him at a Philharmonic cocktail function and discussing music. That was probably in 1998.

He was always a friendly face with an encouraging word for a writer, and a good colleague. The last time I saw him was at the Carnegie Hall press breakfast and season announcement a couple of weeks ago.

According to his bio on the Huffington Post, Howard is the only person to have served as the New York Film Critics Circle and the New York Drama Critics Circle. He wrote several books, including The Abominable Showman and The Art of Acting. He also worked as an actor, playing Woody Allen's manager in the classic Stardust Memories.


His most recent work was posted three days ago on the Huffington Post, where he worked as that publication's Cultural Tourist.

Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.



Friday, February 24, 2012

Concert Review: A Grand Tour of the Gilded Age

Sir Simon Rattle brings the Berlin Philharmonic to Carnegie Hall
Black-and-white brilliance. Sir Simon Rattle in action.
Photo © EMI Classics.
Mention the Berlin Philharmonic to a classical music aficionado, and you'll get a dreamy response, with memories of floor-shaking fortissimos and the flexible, powerful army of musicians that can create liquid tones of light and shade and transport a listener to a state of bliss.

Sir Simon Rattle and the orchestra in question made a welcome return to the Carnegie Hall stage on Thursday night, with a program celebrating the rapid changes in music that took place at the turn of the 20th century. In his decade at the helm of this orchestra, Sir Simon has remade the orchestra into a lean, flexible ensemble, capable of playing even the most familiar music with freshness and energy.

The four works programmed were by four different composers from different countries. But they cohered into a potent artistic statement, forming a kind of mini-symphony when played over the course of the evening. That statement started with Emmanuel Pahud's flute, leading off Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. With this ten-minute work, Debussy has been acknowledged (for better or worse) as the composer who ended the spell of Wagner and paved the way for the 20th century.
This performance owed something to that German composer. The weary dream of the solo flute echoed passages of melting beauty in Parsifal: the sound of dappled light and softly breathing woods. Dreamy brass chords meandered into this forest of sound. An English Horn evoked a sad shepherd. And the music hypnotized, seeming to hang floating in the air as it wound to a soft close.

The "dance" movement as Antonín Dvořák's The Golden Spinning-Wheel, a late example of the composer's final style where symphonic structures were replaced by that newer form, the tone-poem. The Wheel is an effective symphony in minature, contrasting the gallop of horses through a Bohemian forest with the horrifying fate of a girl tortured and mutilated by her evil relatives. The Berlin cello section drove the piece forward, slowing for a central section that recalled the wide American vistas inspired by Dvořák's visits to the American Midwest.

The slow movement of this "mega-symphony" was Arnold Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, played by the strings in the composer's expanded orchestration. Credit here goes to the razor-sharp string playing, evoking the drama of a man and a woman in the woods negotiating the future of their troubled relationship. Under Sir Simon's leadership, the tonal fabric was stretched to its limit, with delicate solos on the violins and violas leading towards a soft, transcendent close.

Many symphonies conclude with a theme-and-variations. In this case: Sir Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations, a kind of parlor game played by a huge orchestra. Elgar's original "enigma" has a meaning that has never been decoded by conductor, critic, or composer. But the opening theme was eloquently stated, and the tonal colors of the Philharmonic were fresh and bright. Sir Simon then launched into the astonish series of re-workings, re-orchestrations and rhythmic re-structurings. The 23 variations were divided into paragraphs of musical thought, with the whole flowing forward from his baton.

While the secret behind Elgar's musical riddle has never been cracked, it is known that each variation serves as a musical tip of the hat to all of the important people (and one dog) in Elgar's immediate social circle. As the work moved past the famous "Nimrod" variation, the orchestra began building up into a giant dance of joy. Each quarter of the ensemble was heard from in this muscular, good-natured performance, which was finally joined by the organ for a triumphant, final shout. That climax was fitting, as the last movement depicts Elgar himself.

The Doge Dies Early

Plácido Domingo as  Simon Boccanegra.
Photo by Monika Rittershaus for the Berlin State Opera.
Financial Issues Poison OONY Boccanegra.

The Opera Orchestra of New York issued a statement today canceling a planned concert performance of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, which would have starred Plácido Domingo in the title role. The performance was to be conducted by Alberto Veronesi.

The reason for the cancellation: a loss of anticipated funding. Tickets purchased can be donated to the company, used towards a future performance, or simply refunded.

"We regret having to cancel the upcoming presentation of Simon Boccanegra," board chairman Norman Raben said in a press release. "As a board, we have a mandate to be fiscally responsible."

He added: "With the loss of funding for this production we had no choice but to cancel the concert. The Opera Orchestra of New York has a long legacy of presenting operas in concert on New York’s greatest stages and our primary goal is to maintain the company's vision and ensure the longevity of the institution."

OONY was founded in 1971 by conductor Eve Queler, with a mission to present concert performances of operas without the traditional accoutrements of costumes and sets. In a long-running series of concerts at Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall, the ensemble has presented New Yorkers with rarities like Wagner's Rienzi, Meyerbeer's L'Africaine and Massenet's La Navarraise. Recent concerts included a revival of Rienzi and a fall performance of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvrer.

The press release also stated that the company will announce its 2012-2013 slate of operas in concert in coming weeks.
Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen

A Tenor Meets Colbert Nation

Plácido Domingo appears on The Colbert Report.
by Paul Pelkonen.
Plácido Domingo kicks off "La donna é mobile" on last night's The Colbert Report.
Image framegrabbed from the home page of The Colbert Report,
Used for promotional purposes only. © 2012 The Colbert Report/Comedy Central.
Tenor, conductor and impresario Plácido Domingo appeared on The Colbert Report last night. The singer was a genial guest, discussing the title role in Simon Boccanegra and the relevant costs of opera-going.

The 71-year old tenor, who is currently having some twilight success in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra said: "You get your money's worth out of opera. It's pricey but you get something for your money."

He also pointed out that Boccanegra, a pirate-turned-politician in Renaissance Genoa, has the longest death of any of his characters. "So this character," he said "gets poisoned in the second act. It's a slow poison. I die in the third act. So this is the longest it takes me to die." 

Mr. Domingo was scheduled to sing a concert performance of Boccanegra in New York on March 7 with the Opera Orchestra of New York. (That performance was cancelled today, in an announcement from the OONY.) He has also performed the role at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

Asked by Mr. Colbert why the tenors get all the attention, Mr. Domingo responded by doing an impression of Dos Equis spokesman Jonathan Goldsmith as "The Most Interesting Man in the World." 
Stephen Colbert (in tux) tries his hand at  "La donna é mobile" on last night's The Colbert Report.
Image framegrabbed from the home page of The Colbert Report
Used for promotional purposes only. © 2012 The Colbert Report/Comedy Central.
Following the commercial break, the show ended with Mr. Domingo and Mr. Colbert (newly changed into white tie and tails) singing "La donna é mobile" from Rigoletto as a two-tenor duet. The TV host is no heldentenor, but he displayed a potent, if sometimes flat light baritone. His delivery was occasionally covered by Mr. Domingo's more robust voice. 

Watch the full episode here on Colbert Nation.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Metropolitan Opera Announces 2012-2013 Season

This is last year's post. For the Met 2013-2014 Season visit this link.

A slate of seven new productions--and no Strauss.
by Paul Pelkonen.

(Ed. update: Full details of the coming season are available at the Metropolitan Opera Season Preview.)

Caesar (David Daniels, l.) woos Cleopatra (Natalie Dessay) in Giulio Cesare. Photo © 2005 the Glyndebourne Festival.
The 2012-2013 Metropolitan Opera season is being released today in an online presentation. This is what is known in the industry as a "news dump." No fanfare, press conference, speeches or free lunch for us hard-working members of the gutter press. Besides, this preview is going up while I'm heading to Carnegie Hall to see the Berlin Philharmonic. 

Having a cybernetic season announcement is an attempt to create viral Internet buzz on hip, irony-laden opera publications (like this one) or our good friends over at Parterre Box. The schedule leaked on that site last week. Maybe the company is running short on those little sandwiches and panini that they serve at intermission.

Anna Netrebko opens the season in L'Elisir d'Amore.
Photo by Nick Heavican © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
Another possibility: General Manager Peter Gelb is experimenting with William Gibson's concept of "anti-marketing", releasing the schedule in the worst possible way to create the maximum amount of Twitter/Tumblr traffic over the weekend. And maybe then he'll fly to London in search of a bespoke denim jacket.

It's also possible that doing the season announcement this way was the Met's way of hoping that no-one would notice their DRACONIAN NEW SUBSCRIPTION POLICIES. Read more about them here.

Looking at the slate of 28 operas, counting Der Ring des Nibelungen and this year's "family" (English-language, edited) version of The Barber of Seville, the reason might just be that this year's schedule isn't all that exciting. 

Oh, well. Here's the list. And here's the season brochure.

New Productions:
The Met offers SEVEN new productions this year.

The season opens with the Sept. 24 premiere of Bartlett Sher's L'Elisir d'Amore. This is the Broadway director's fourth show to premiere during the Gelb administration. Mr. Sher's version of the opera will star Anna Netrebko as Adina and Matthew Polenzani as the smitten Nemorino. No word on whether the smashed pumpkins of The Barber of Seville will be matched by an onstage grape-stomping.

Tattooed love god: Simon Keenlyside is Prospero in The Tempest.
Photo by Anne Deniau © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
On Oct. 23 the Met returns to the...ahem...enchanted island with The Tempest by British composer Thomas Adès. The good news: this will have more to do with Shakespeare than last season's baroque confection. Simon Keenlyside takes the role of Prospero and the fabulous Isabel Leonard is Miranda. The bad: the staging is by Robert Lepage, who (at six operas) has now done more works onstage at the Met than Mr. Sher. Word is that "the machine" will not be involved.

Nov. 8 is the opening of the company's new Un Ballo in Maschera which moves the action of Verdi's Swedish court drama back to Boston, Massachusetts (as per the censors' direction at the opera's premiere in 1859.) The production is by modernist/revisionist David Alden (whose twin brother Christopher is directing the City Opera's ongoing cycle of Mozart/da Ponte operas.) We expect the assassination to take place in Boston's Public Garden following the Patriots' second Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. Or something. More details to come.

On New Year's Eve, the Met unveils its new staging of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda by David McVicar, with the mighty Joyce DiDonato as Mary, Queen of Scots. This is the Met's second installment of Donizetti's "Three Queens" trilogy, which is like the Ring Cycle with better arias and more decapitations. Anna Bolena was staged last year. Roberto Devereux is planned, but I'm not supposed to tell you that.

Anti-fashioni: Jonas Kaufmann in Parsifal.
Photo © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
Following the negative reception of Luc Bondy's 2009 Tosca, Mr. Gelb reversed his decision to import the French director's critically derided version of Verdi's Rigoletto from Vienna. Instead, the new Rigoletto (bowing Jan. 28, 2013) will be directed by Broadway baby Michael Mayer, whose resume includes shows like Spring Awakening and the current NBC TV series Smash. (He also made a direct-to-video film of My Friend Flicka, which did not star Frederica von Stade.) Željko Lucic stars as the troubled jester, with Diana Damrau as Gilda.

Otto Schenk's Wagner productions continue to bite the dust. The Met replaces the transforming trees and boing-ing flowers with François Giraud's Opera de Lyon production of Parsifal, premiering Feb. 15, 2013. The good news is that Jonas Kaufmann will sing the title role. The bad: advertising images from that French company have included a river of blood, so expect some sort of grim, post-Apocalyptic version of the Grail legend. We'll know more after the Lyonnaise staging takes the boards on March 6 of this year.

The last new production of the season is a new version of Handel's Giulio Cesare with super-countertenor David Daniels singing the title role opposite the Cleopatra of soprano Natalie Dessay. The production is imported from the Glyndebourne Festival. Directed by Mr. McVicar, with sets by Richard Jones. It opens April 4, 2013.

Living on a prayer: Joyce DiDonato in Maria Stuarda.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
Here's the regular season,  (what we opera types call the generale) in order of premiere. Two dates indicate different runs with different casts for each. More details to follow in the Superconductor 2012-2013 Metropolitan Opera Preview, currently on sale at a Borders™ bookstore near you.

Turandot opens Sept. 26, with runs in Oct., Nov. and Jan. 2013.
Carmen, opens Sept. 28; Second run opens Feb. 9.
Il Trovatore, opens Sept. 29; Second run opens Jan. 9.
Otello opens Oct. 9; Second run (Domingo conducting) opens March 11. 
Le Nozze di Figaro, opens Oct. 29.
La Clemenza di Tito, opens Nov. 16.
Aida, opens Nov. 23.
Don Giovanni, opens Nov. 28.
Les Troyens, opens  Dec. 13.
La Rondine, opens  Jan. 11.
Le comte Ory, opens Jan. 17.
Don Carlo, opens Feb. 22
Francesca di Rimini, March 4
La Traviata, March 14, (with Diana Damrau.)
Faust, opens March 21.
Les Dialogues des Carmélites, opens May 4.

Holiday Offering: 
The Met offers an annual opera aimed at parents and kids. To their credit, this is the best opera to get youngsters started on a lifetime of loving the genre.
The Barber of Seville (shortened and in English), opens Dec 18. 

Der Ring des Nibelungen
The Met will be mounting three complete Ring cycles in 2013. For a breakdown of the company's new multi-million-dollar version of Wagner's epic, visit this link.

Das Rheingold, April 6
Die Walküre, April 13
Siegfried, April 20
Götterdämmerung, April 23

Recordings Review: Jogging through Nuremberg

Marek Janowski's brisk new Meistersinger.
by Paul Pelkonen.
It's a concert recording, so you'll just have to imagine Ye Olde Nuremberg.
This live recording of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was made in Berlin at a June 3, 2011 concert performance by the talented, underrated Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Led by veteran Wagnerian Marek Janowski, it is the first of a 10-opera project to preserve new digital version of the composer's mature operas over two years.

As Wagner's lone successful comic opera, Die Meistersinger is always better when heard in a theater. The interplay between characters is often swallowed up in the studio recordings, and live performances are interrupted by the stomping of boots on wooden stages. This recording, made at a concert performance in the friendly, pentagonal confines of the Berlin Philharmonie, is a perfect compromise: the vitality of a live performance minus the stage noises.

Mr. Janowski's approach to this work is brisk and no-nonsense, with few languors. The Prelude kicks immediately into high gear, with the complex series of fugues and marches taken at speed. He sometimes takes a phrase too fast for the singers' or players' comfort--there are moments where the music seems to "jump" ahead. The trade-off is an energetic performance that bottles the manic wahn that lies at the heart of this very long opera.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Opera Review: Sin City, Part Two

The second cast breathes life into the Met's Don Giovanni.
Isabel Leonard (l.) and Gerald Finley contemplate the horizontal mambo in Don Giovanni.
Photo by Marty Sohl. © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
When the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Don Giovanni opened in October, the big story was the injury to baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, scheduled to sing the title role. The ill luck continued for this run, when bass John Relyea was forced to cancel his appearances as Leporello. 

Happily, Tuesday night's performance proved to be something of a coming-out party for his replacement, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen. Leporello is the more interesting role anyway, and Mr. Ketelsen brought a rough comic energy to the part of the Don's faithful servant. His Catalogue Song snickered and leered. The brief tryst with Donna Elvira (Ellie Dehn) was a highlight of the second act, as he threw himself into the role of impersonating the Don. 

Gerald Finley brought a light touch to the title role, emphasizing the comic side of the character. This Don was played as the character that inspired the Romantics. He may have committed murder in the opening scene, but he was fun to be around, pulling the audience along on his wild adventures and making his actions seem like small sins in pursuit of a philosophical ethos

The Canadian baritone borought acting ability and a bustling comic energy to the part, racing through the Champagne Aria in what sounded like one breath. On the other hand, "Deh vieni a la finestra" was sung with a smooth seductive edge. The final scene, with huge gouts of flame eructating from the stage was heroically sung, with Mr. Finley pulling the audience's sympathies over to the side of the unrepentant Don.
Don Ottavio may be the most unrewarding primo tenore role in the repertory, with just two arias and little to do other than being supportive to Donna Anna. But this production continues to have good luck casting the part. Matthew Polenzani made the most of his two arias, putting emotional weight into "Dalla su pace" and  "Il mio tesoro." 

The ladies were a major improvement in this cast. Marina Rebeka has settled into the house, although her bright-toned soprano can prove wearing as Donna Anna. Ellie Dehn was a luxuriant, sensual Donna Elvira, without the shrill manic edge. And Isabel Leonard stole hearts and the opera as Zerlina. Masetto, (the bluff bass Shenyang) is a lucky peasant. 

The only hitch in the casting was the presence of James Morris as the Commendatore. His bass-baritone is still noble, but wearing at the bottom and showing more signs of age. At 65, the singer cannot make the listener jump out of their skin, and his voice lacked the black power needed to stand up to Mozart's writing for the full orchestra.

Sir Andrew Davis conducted an engaging, red-blooded performance. By not having to split duties at the harpsichord, the British maestro gave an old-fashioned Romantic reading of the score, that kept all of its power and hellfire while sacrificing none of the humor that is essential to this carefully balanced dramma giocoso.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Opera Review: Doin' the French Mistake

City Opera opens Rufus Wainwright's Prima Donna.
Melody Moore as Regíne Saint-Laurent in Prima Donna.
Photo by Carol Rosegg © 2012 New York City Opera.
by Paul J, Pelkonen

On Sunday afternoon, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the New York City Opera offered its second production of the 2012 season: the U.S. premiere of Rufus Wainwright's first opera, Prima Donna. Mr. Wainwright's name recognition and reputation as an award-winning singer-songwriter are seen as key to the success of this work and the opera company itself. But the two-act work is more of a curiosity than a valid artistic statement.

Mr. Wainwright's work has been called a "love letter" to opera in the press materials. But while the Canadian composer borrows freely from four centuries of operatic history, he does not break new ground. The effect is not so much a love letter as a ransom note, pasted together from Italian, French and German composers, with a post-script by Philip Glass.

To his credit, Mr. Wainwright shows skill in establishing a smooth orchestral surface. Luxuriant tonal pillows are provided to rest the voices of his cast upon. The score's inspirations range from the medieval to the minimal, with major debts to Massenet, Debussy, and in one scene, Wagner. Pleasant sounds flow from he orchestra pit, occasionally interrupted by irritating percussion stabs, keyboard flourishes and heavy brass chords.

The libretto (in French, by Mr. Wainwright and Bernadette Colomine) is a warmed-over Sunset Boulevard, transferred to the world of opera in Paris and with a happier ending. Like Norma Desmond, the diva (played here by Melody Moore) longs to return to the limelight in her greatest role--in this case Eleanor of Aquitaine. The story spends two acts in her gloomy Paris apartment, a chamber of burnished mirrors and broken dreams.

Ms. Moore sings the role with enthusiasm and energy, maintaining the long, soaring vocal lines with clear tone and a commanding stage presence. She reminisces on playing Aliénor, taking a recording down from her mantelpiece. She starts an onstage record player. The orchestra takes over. The walls melt away and suddenly the audience is in that fictional opera soaring on waves of orchestral writing. It is a magnificent coup de théâtre.

Mr. Wainwright created magic in this one scene. But cruelly, he gives up when the record ends, drawing the curtain on his opera-within-an-opera, forcing the listener back to the claustrophobic apartment and impending artistic crisis. In the final pages, the idiom changes from romanticism to minimalist expression, as Ms. Moore sets off vocal fireworks against simple, repeated cells played on the keyboards and strings.

The cast of Prima Donna: Randal Turner, Melody Moore, Katherine Gutherie Demos,
Tayor Stayton.) Photo by Carol Rosegg © 2012 New York City Opera.
In Act I, the diva is interviewed by André, (tenor Taylor Stayton) an opera fan turned journalist. André nearly enters a disastrous romantic tryst, but escapes the fate of Joe Gillis. Mr. Stayton presents an appealing onstage manner and a potent tenor voice with a bright timbre. The role is demanding, lying very high in the voice and requiring Strauss-like heroics when Mr. Stayton impersonates King Henri in the operatic flashback.

Baritone Randal Turner is Philippe, a grumpy butler--the Erich von Stroheim character. He is the closest thing that the libretto has to an antagonist. As the faithful maid Marie, soprano Katherine Guthrie Demos gives a sky-scraping performance. Ms. Demos brings some much-needed fire and energy to Regíne's gloomy chamber. Her Act II table-setting aria earned the loudest applause of the afternoon.

There is a lot riding on the slender shoulders of Ms. Saint-Laurent and Mr. Wainwright. It could also be argued that the faded soprano's attempted stage comeback parallels the struggles of New York's second opera company. City Opera left its Lincoln Center home last year, promising to use the "whole city" as its stage. But if the rebooted company wanted to make its bones as an innovator in the genre, this is not the opera to do it with.

Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Khovanshchina

Mussorgsky's grim historical drama is not as grim as Russian history.
Feodor Chaliapin as Dosifey in Khovanshchina.
Photo from the Russian Private Opera, 1897.
Note: The title of this opera is pronounced "Kho-VAN-sheen-ah" with the accent on the second syllable and the "kh" sound made in the back of the throat. Translation: "The Khovansky Affair." 

When Mussorgsky decided to write an opera about the rise of Peter the Great, he was faced with a major problem: an Imperial edict forbidding the portrayal of any Romanov Tsar on the Russian stage. To solve the problem and tell the story of Peter's rise to power, the composer focused on the forces opposing Peter's rise. The Tsar himself is central to the action of Khovanshchina, but never appears.

Writing his own libretto and working from historical documents, Mussorgsky focused on the year 1682, and the efforts of three groups: the Streltsy riflemen, the boyars (Russian noblemen), and the Old Believers, a faction of fanatical Russian Orthodox churchgoers who believed that Peter was literally the Anti-Christ. The title comes from the involvement of boyar Ivan Khovansky (Anatoly Kotscherga) the commander of the Streltsy who tried to seize power in the middle of the turmoil. This is a real historical figure.

The plot follows the Streltsy Uprising of 1682. Khovansky's attempt at a coup--known in Russian history as the "Khovansky thing" or Khovanschina. Appointed as Minister of War, Ivan tried to usurp the throne, which was held by Peter and the disabled Ivan V under a regent, Princess Sophia. Most of the scenes consisting of  discussion of the future of Russia and the unwelcome changes sweeping the country. Central to the action is the Old Believer Dosifey (a great bass part, sung here by Ildar Abdrazakov), his disciple Marfa (Olga Borodina) and Andrei, Ivan's son who is obsessed with Marfa.
Morning of the Streltsy Execution by Vasili Surikov.
Peter the Great is on the horse, to the right.
Mussorgsky fictionalized a number of events in Khovanshchinha, including the assassination of Ivan Khovansky in the middle of an orgy surrounded by Persian slave girls. (He had to put the ballet somewhere.) In real life, Khovansky and his son were beheaded after fleeing for their lives. The Streltsy were lined up and executed n Red Square after a second coup attempt in 1689. Peter chopped off four of their heads personally, and had the blood spill into the coffin of a boyar who was in on the conspiracy.

In the opera, the rebellious riflemen receive a pardon, and are rendered politically powerless. Andrei and Marfa perish with the Old Believers, who choose to burn themselves to death inside a church rather than live with Peter's religious reforms.


Mussorgsky died at the age of 42, leaving the libretto, some musical fragments, and piano sketches for the first four acts. His friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov orchestrated and revised the opera, softening the ending and writing the orchestration in his own style. In the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky and Dmitri Shostakovich each took a crack at completing Khovanshchina. The Stravinsky version is lost, except for the Act V orchestration.  The Met uses the Shostakovich version, mounted in a well-preserved August Everding staging from 1985.

Recording Recommendation:
Although it is much more obscure than Boris Godunov, Khovanshchina is well represented on CD. For the Shostakovich orchestration, Valery Gergiev's recording with the Mariinsky Theater is a safe recommendation. But it's out of print, caught in the current label transition of the Philips catalogue over to Decca. So....

Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus cond. Claudio Abbado (DG, 1989)
Ivan Khovansky: Aage Haugland
Marfa: Marjana Lipovšek
Dosifey: Paata Burchuladze

With a cosmopolitan cast (an Italian conductor, Austrian orchestra and chorus, a Danish Ivan, a Czech Marfa, and a Georgian Dosifey) this recording dates from before the collapse of the Iron Curtain. But it is notable for Mr. Abbado's tasteful conducting of the score. Based on a series of performances in Vienna, this is a powerful version of the opera. 



The first four acts are the Shostakovich version. The last act (the immolation of the Old Believers) uses Igor Stravinsky's orchestration, based on Russian church modes. It is quiet, moving way to end the opera.


Return to the Metropolitan Opera Season Preview!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Concert Review: Soaring Through Lost Altitudes

Leif Ove Andsnes at Carnegie Hall.
Leif Ove Andsnes. Photo © EMI Classics
by Paul Pelkonen


This current season at Carnegie Hall celebrates the Hall's legacy of music making, 120 years presenting concerts at the corner of W. 57th and Seventh Avenue. On Wednesday night, Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes solidified his part in that legacy with an engaging program that spanned familiar composers of literature for his instrument.

The first half of this concert spanned three centuries of keyboard literature, from the classical experimentation of Haydn to the early 20th century works of Bartók and Debussy. Mr. Andsnes chose Haydn's C minor Sonata to start the evening.

Although he is one of the first important composers to write for the piano. Haydn's vast output is often ignored by soloists focused on the  heroics of Beethoven. Here, the soloist showed that the classicism of the 18th century could also express raw emotion. 

It was followed with Bartók's Op. 14 Suite. This is an early example of this composer, with the rhythms of the Hungarian countryside underpinning tonal experimentation and fearless playing from the soloist. The aural palette then shifted to bright, new colors for Debussy's Images, played in a shimmering kaleidoscope of sound.

The ways in which Chopin's piano writing can be interpreted are as diverse as the myriad forms which he invented for the instrument. And at first glance, a long Chopin recital, as offered in the second half of this concert, looks as if the various Waltzes and Ballades were chosen arbitrarily. 

But listening to Mr. Andsnes' cool, cerebral performance, an overall sense of structure emerged. The four Waltzes were played with a steady, pumping left hand and a delicate filigree in the right. Each work solves the problems of the dance rhythm through a different key and musical idea. Mr. Andsnes made each of these works flow naturally into the next.

That sense of structure continued into the second group of works: two Ballades flanking the late Nocturne in B. The Ballade form is a vehicle for heroic expression. Mr. Andsnes drove this work forward in a propulsive, yet engaging style. The more reflective Nocturne formed a slow central movement, the heart of a vast, pastiche sonata.

The concert ended with three encores. It started with a return to Chopin's waltzes, played with the same lyric grace and flow of musical expression as before. Mr. Andsnes then turned south for one of the Spanish Dances by Enrique Granados, which sounded a little like Liszt taking a holiday on the Costa Brava. He concluded with one of his strengths, an Etude-tableaux by Sergei Rachmaninoff. As the notes of this fellow virtuoso sounded in the arched confines of the Hall, one had a sense of this young Nordic artist taking his place among the great artists who call this vast, blonde-wood stage home.

Listen to a live-stream of the recital on WQXR.Org.



Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Many Faces of Charles Anthony

A look at the long career of the Met's great comprimario tenor.
From the Met archives: Charles Anthony as the Simpleton in Boris Godunov.
Photo by Sedge LeBlang, © 1954 The Metropolitan Opera. 
Rather than write a straight obituary for Charles Anthony, the comprimario tenor who shattered the record for most appearances onstage at the Metropolitan Opera. He sang 2928 performances, in 67 operas, and had 111 roles to his credit. He broke the record for most Met performances in 1992 with the role of Borsa in Rigoletto. 

Company music director James Levine is in second place with 2,442.

Born in New Orleans, LA in 1929, Mr. Anthony began life as Calogero Antonio Caruso. The singer first auditioned for  the Met in 1952. Former Met general manager Rudolf Bing forced Mr. Anthony to drop his last name right before a broadcast performance.

His first performance was on March 17, 1954 as the Simpleton in Boris Godunov with George London singing the title role. 

According to the Metropolitan Opera archives, Mr. Anthony sang leading roles in his early career, including a 1959 Rodolfo in La bohème and Ferrando in Così fan tutte. But he was known for small parts in major operas.

His staples included: 
the Innkeeper in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, (159 performances) 
Ruiz in Il Trovatore (141 performances)
Gastone in La Traviata (136 performances)
Spoletta in Tosca (135 performances.)

I thought it might be fun to look at his career in terms of (some) of the roles that he sang at that venerable opera company. Here's a partial list:
  1. The Simpleton in Boris Godunov. (debut)
  2. The Count of Lerma in Don Carlo.
  3. Beppe in Pagliacci.
  4. L'Incredible in Andrea Chenier.
  5. The Count Almaviva (and later the Sergeant) in Il barbiere di Siviglia.
  6. Remendado in Carmen.
  7. Goro in Madama Butterfly.
  8. Tinca in Il Tabarro
  9. Abbé in Adriana Lecouvrer
  10. First Commissioner in Dialogues des Carmélites
  11. Roderigo in Otello.
  12. Trin in La Fanciulla del West.
  13. Arturo, Normanno in Lucia di Lammermoor.
  14. Innkeeper, Faninal's Major-Domo in Der Rosenkavalier.
  15. Watchman in Die Frau Ohne Schatten.
  16. Young Servant in Elektra.
  17. Gastone in La Traviata.
  18. Jaquino in Fidelio.
  19. Edmondo in Manon Lescaut.
  20. Steersman in Die fliegende Holländer.
  21. Don Riccardo in Ernani.
  22. Andres in Wozzeck.
  23. Schmidt in Werther.
  24. Notary in La Perichole.
  25. Shepherd in Tristan und Isolde. Also in Oedipus Rex.
  26. Heinrich in Tannhäuser.
  27. Flavio in Norma.
  28. Noble in Lohengrin.
  29. Rodolfo, Parpignol in La bohème.
  30. Ernesto in Don Pasquale.
  31. Cochenille in Les contes d'Hoffmann.
  32. A waiter in Arabella.
  33. A Priest in Die Zauberflöte.
  34. The Messenger in Aida.
  35. Borsa in Rigoletto.
  36. Arthur Jones in Billy Budd.
  37. Bruno in I Puritani.
  38. Desiré in Fedora.
  39. Captain in Simon Boccanegra.
  40. Third Squire in Parsifal.
  41. Federico in Stiffelio.
  42. A Jew in Salome.
  43. Ruiz in Il Trovatore.
  44. Messenger in Samson et Dalila.
  45. Eisslinger, Kunz Vogelgesang in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
  46. Guard in Manon.
  47. A Servant in Un Ballo in Maschera.
  48. Spoletta in Tosca.
  49. The Emperor Altoum in Turandot. (last role)
Charles Anthony as the Emperor Altoum in Turandot.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2009-2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
Charles Anthony's last performance at the Met was as the Emperor Altoum in Turandot, on Jan. 28, 2010. He died at home in Tampa, FL. The New York Times reported his cause of death as kidney failure. A private funeral is scheduled for Saturday.

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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.