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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Opera Review: A Stubborn Kind of Faith

The Met still believes in Luc Bondy's Tosca.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Scarpia (George Gagnidze, right) puts the moves on Tosca (Patricia Racette) in
the Metropolitan Opera's revival of Puccini's Tosca. 
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
With the tedious inevitability of an unloved season, the Metropolitan Opera's current Luc Bondy production of Tosca, received its third revival (in four years) on Tuesday night. This production, which transports Puccini's Roman melodrama into a grim industrial setting better suited to Wozzeck, was roundly booed on opening night in 2009. Despite tweaks, adjustments and (a performance of quality from its leading and supporting cast) it remains a production best seen from the score desks in the Family Circle.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Opera Review: The Woman in the Moon

Angela Meade takes over the Met's Norma.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Angela Meade (top) and Jamie Barton share a sisterly moment in Bellini's Norma.
Photo © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
Since the premiere of Bellini's Norma in 1831, the opera's title role has become a career statement for any soprano. Malibran, Callas, Sutherland and Sills have all essayed the part to varying degrees of success. Thanks to Hollywood and the occasional TV commercial "Casta diva" has become one of those melodies known even to those ignorant of the world of opera--the biggest hit tune in Bellini's repertory.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Opera Review: The Cyclops Who Loved Me

Le Concert d’Astrée plays the White Light Festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Emmanuelle Haïm brought Le Concert d'Astrée to this year's White Light Festival.
Photo by Simon Fowler © 2013 Virgin Classics courtesy Lincoln Center.
George Frederic Handel was one of the most prolific composers of operas and oratorio in the 18th century, creating an enormous amount of material for the human voice. On Saturday night, Lincoln Center hosted one of the composer's rarely heard early works: Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, commissioned in Naples in 1708. The composer was just 22 years old. The work was presented by the French period ensemble Le Concert d'Astrée under the banner Metamorphosis, part of the performing arts organization's fourth annual White Light Festival.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Concert Review: Just Desserts

The Philadelphia Orchestra indulges its sweet tooth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. Photo by Steven J. Schwartz, courtesy of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Sometimes you just get to see an orchestra do what they do best.

On Friday afternoon, the Philadelphia Orchestra offered the second of three concerts under the baton of Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, the 80-year-old Spanish conductor whose specialties include the music of the late Romantic era and the early 20th century. This program of Lalo, Debussy and Ravel displayed all of its performers at the highest possible level. It is also a milestone for Mr. Frühbeck's storied career, as this year marks his 150th appearance with this storied orchestra.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Opera Review: Destination: Nowhere

Washington National Opera takes on La Forza del Destino.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She wants YOU: Preziosilla (Ketevan Kemoklidze) summons the troops in La Forza del Destino.
Photo by Scott Suchman © 2013 Washington National Opera/The Kennedy Center.
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It is a bold stroke for new Washington National Opera artistic director Francesca Zambello to tackle Giuseppe Verdi's La Forza del Destino in a new production for the composer's bicentennial year. Forza is Verdi's great theatrical experiment, crossing a Spanish revenge tragedy with the sprawling worldview of a Schiller play. The sprawling plot gleefully demands abandonment of Aristotelian unities (and even logic) to tell a story that amounts to an interconnected series of unfortunate events. It is also the opera world's equivalent of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Whispered backstage stories tell of ill fortune--even death--befalling those who dare to sing its three leading roles.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Opera Review: Experimenting on their Audience

Gotham Chamber Opera opens Baden-Baden 1927.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Murder for breakfast. Tenor Matthew Tuell (seated at table)
 contemplates his actions as Maeve Höglund lies supine.
Photo © Richard Termine  from Hin und Züruck,
part of Baden-Baden 1927 presented by Gotham Chamber Opera.
The Gotham Chamber Opera opened its season Wednesday night with a bold experiment. Baden-Baden 1927, seen Wednesday night at the company's regular performing digs, the Gerald W. Lynch Theater reunites four short operas from the German arts festival which also lends the program its title. This was the first time these works have been performed together onstage in North America. It's just the kind of edgy programming that suits a company trying to ease itself into the seat once occupied by the late New York City Opera.

These four works (L'enlèvement d'Europe by Darius Milhaud, Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse by Ernst Toch, Hin und Zurück by Paul Hindemith and the Mahogonny-Songspiel by Kurt Weill) form a snapshot of Europe between the wars, a time of fearless theatrical and musical experimentation before the rise of Naziism labeled these innovations as entartete or "degenerate." Paul Curran's production presents these diminutive operas as exhibits in a debate on the nature of art. Each work was introduced by a member of the cast, putting the operas--or exhibits--in their historical and visual context. Like most exhibits of modern art, some of it worked and some of it didn't.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Opera Review: Boot Up, Log In, Burn Out

The Met unveils Nico Muhly's Two Boys.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
You're sitting too close: Paul Appleby as Brian in Nico Muhly's Two Boys.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera leaps squarely into the 21st century with the North American premiere of  Two Boys, the company's first commission (and the first opera) from the pen of contemporary American composer Nico Muhly. The opera (which premiered at the English National Opera in 2011) bowed on Monday night at the Metropolitan Opera House. It shines a light into the dark chat rooms of the early Internet, and the ultimately fatal relationship between the cyberspace-obsessed title characters.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Concert Review: The Start of Something Big

The London Symphony Orchestra returns to Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bernard Haitink returned to Lincoln Center with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
The meteoric rise of Dmitri Shostakovich as one of Soviet Russia's most brilliant composers came to a screeching halt in 1936, when the dictator Josef Stalin attended one of his operas, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. The fall-out from Stalin's displeasure (which included an infamous Pravda editorial) led Shostakovich to quietly withdraw his Fourth Symphony from rehearsals. Locked away in a desk drawer, the work would not be heard until 1961.

On Sunday afternoon at Avery Fisher Hall, Bernard Haitink and the London Symphony Orchestra made a good case for the long, difficult Fourth as one of the composer's finest compositional achievements--and its composer's first important statement as a symphonist. (The First is a student piece, while the Second and Third are examples of Party propaganda.) It was fitting that this work was paired with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9--that composer's first mature statement in a genre that he would come to master. This concert was the first of this year's Great Performers at Lincoln Center, an annual series of orchestral concerts and chamber works.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Concert Review: The Family That Plays Together

The 5 Browns Debut at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Waiting for their Steinways: The 5 Browns perch on a piano.
Image © 2013 The 5 Browns.
The piano transcription has always been the unloved middle child of the keyboard repertory. Sometimes, playing an orchestral work can reveal harmonic complexities or make the composer's intent clearer to the ear. Other transcriptions can drain a work of its vitality and reduce orchestral colors to mere dexterity and flash.


Both of those extremes were on display on Friday night at Carnegie Hall, which saw the debut of sibling pianists The 5 Browns on the main stage of that historic auditorium. These Utah-raised, Juilliard-educated pianists (Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody and Ryan) offered a program that was almost entirely composed of piano transcriptions, featuring their signature sound of five Steinway concert grands, nosed up against each other in a vast circle of keys, hammers and strings.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Concert Review: Massacre at Lincoln Center

The New York Philharmonic plays Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Bloody Sunday Massacre by Ivan Vladimirov.
The month of October in New York has been a bit of a mini-celebration of the works of Dmitri Shostakovich. No fewer than five of the composer's 15 symphonies are appearing on concert programs this month, and his early opera The Nose continues to run at the Metropolitan Opera. This week, the New York Philharmonic contributed to this accidental festival, performing the composer's Eleventh Symphony under the baton of Semyon Bychkov.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Festival Preview: De-Lux Aeterna

A look at Lincoln Center's month-long 2013 White Light Festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Anna Caterina Antonacci performs Era la Notte as part of the 2013 White Light Festival.
Photo by Magalie Bouchet © 2013 courtesy of Lincoln Center.
The White Light Festival has become the signature fall offering of Lincoln Center. Once again, New York's biggest performing arts center invites artists from all over the world and from different genres and disciplines to participate in an exploration of music, spirituality and the soul.

White Light 2012 was marred by the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. That devastating storm that destroyed and shut down whole swathes of New York. (The performances went off, but the minds of New Yorkers may have been on other things than spirituality and contemplation of the soul.) This year's Festival offers a promising slate of artists, and hopefully more clement weather. The month-long offering starts with a free performance on Oct. 24 (at the David Rubinstein Atrium) and continues through Nov. 19.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Concert Review: A Globe Girdled in Silk

The Silk Road Project celebrates 15 years at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Members of the Silk Road Project in concert. (l.-r. Sandeep Das, Yo-Yo Ma,  Johnny Gandelsman,
Mike Block. Center-foreground: Wu Tong.) Photo by Todd Rosenberg © 2012 The Silk Road Project.
The hallowed stage of Carnegie Hall resounded on Wednesday night with the bold sonic explorations of the Silk Road Project, founded and led by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The group, a melting pot of musicians and musical styles from around the globe, marked 15 years of musical journeys with this program of six works, featuring three New York premieres. This was opening night of the Project's current North American tour.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Opera Review: Goodfellows

The Met reawakens A Midsummer Night's Dream.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bottom at bay: Tytania (Kathleen Kim) charms a translated Nick Bottom
(Matthew Rose, with ass's head) in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
The spirit of William Shakespeare was definitely evident in the Metropolitan Opera's current revival of its  Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, seen Tuesday night at Lincoln Center. This is the first presentation of the company's 1996 production (by Tim Albery and designer Antony MacDonald) in ten years. The occasion? The composer's 100th birthday, which falls on Nov. 22 of this year.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Two Boys

Nico Muhly's first opera visits the brave new world of the Internet.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A scene from Two Boys at the English National Opera.
The Met presents this production in 2013.
Image © 2011 English National Opera.
This is the United States premiere of the first opera by composer Nico Muhly. This energetic young American composer is best known to New York opera lovers for Dark Sisters, a resounding success at Gotham Chamber Opera in 2012. Two Boys, with a libretto by Craig Lucas recounts the real-life events of two teenagers whose chat-room existence led to a near-fatal stabbing. The production is designed by Bartlett Sher, and marks the Tony-winning director's fifth show at the Metropolitan Opera.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Concert Review: Along the Comeback Trail

James Levine conducts the MET Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
James Levine conducting the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
New Yorkers love a comeback. At least those New Yorkers who follow the Metropolitan Opera, a company that has reinvigorated itself with the return to duties of music director James Levine. That was evident on Sunday afternoon as James Levine led the MET Orchestra in his first subscription concert of the season at Carnegie Hall. Rolling onstage in his custom-built wheelchair and getting locked into the elevated conductor's kiosk, Mr. Levine received a thunderous reception from the sold-out Stern Auditorium.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Opera Review: Sudden Death, Over Time

Pocket Opera Players premieres two new works.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The composer Anton Webern at the piano. 
The sudden failure of New York City Opera caused a tectonic shift in the landscape of New York's opera community. Suddenly, the spotlight has fallen on Pocket Opera Players, John Eaton's smart little shoe-string company working out of the Thalia Theater on the lower level of Symphony Space. On Saturday night, POP (as they style themselves) offered the third performance of its season-opening double bill: The Death of Webern by Michael Dellairia and ReRouted, a farce by company leader John Eaton.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Concert Review: Life During Wartime

Valery Gergiev conducts Shostakovich at Carnegie Hall
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The effects of war: Stalingrad in 1943 after the battle.
Image © 1943 RIAN Archive, licensed through Wikimedia Commons.
The protesters were absent on Friday night, as the Mariinsky Orchestra offered the second of three concerts at Carnegie Hall under the baton of music director Valery Gergiev. Friday's concert was an all-Shostakovich program, with music director Valery Gergiev choosing to highlight two very different works.

The Concerto for Trumpet, Piano and Strings (also in the catalogue as Piano Concerto No. 1) and the Symphony No. 8 stand ten years apart. (About the only thing they have in common is their key signature: C minor.) The concerto is a youthful, early work with the same manic energy that fills his opera The Nose. The Eighth is a war symphony, written in a safe haven deep in Russia as the Nazis advance was finally halted at the year-long Battle of Stalingrad.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Concert Review: Dance 'til You Drop

Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra return to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Valery Gergiev. Photo by Aleexander Shapunov
© 2013 Columbia Artists Management International, courtesy CAMI.
You can say one thing for Valery Gergiev: he's determined to focus on music.

Last night, the conductor had his second encounter this season with protesters from Queer Nation. They lined up under Carnegie Hall's glass portico to express their displeasure with Mr. Gergiev's close association with Russian leader Vladimir Putin--and his lack of comment on the Putin government's laws banning so-called "gay propaganda" within Russia.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Happy Birthday, Maestro Verdi!

The composer turns 200.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
It's not every day a composer turns 200.

Today marks the 200th birthday of Giuseppe Verdi, whose long career and vast output make him the dean among Italian opera composers. So what are we celebrating here, apart from a number?

Verdi's body of work continues to have depth and resonance for the contemporary listener, who can choose from the composer's different career phases. Let's start with the vocal virtuosity and patriotic fervor of his early period, featuring oom-pa-pa rhythms and rousing choruses, music that shaped the conscience of a nation. It was his third opera Nabucco that caught the public's imagination, as the chorus Va, pensiero became an unofficial anthem of the Risorgimento movement that gripped Italy during Verdi's lifetime.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Opera Review: It's Off...and Running

The Metropolitan Opera re-tweaks The Nose.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Doctor (Gennady Bezzubenkov) administers to the nose-less Kovalyov in a scene from The Nose.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
This year's Metropolitan Opera season is full of unlikely gems, revivals of opera productions that combine the best aspects of the unique and unexpected. One of those is the current revival of The Nose, the first opera from the pen of Dmitri Shostakovich. This revival marked the return of the innovative, kinetic staging by William Kentridge, whose imaginative use of multi-media and the Met's enormous stage allowed this thoroughly Russian farce to play out with the force of a titanic sneeze.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Obituary: Patrice Chéreau (1944-2013)

French opera director forged legendary Bayreuth Ring.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A scene from Patrice Chéreau's production of Das Rheingold 
with Alberich (Hermann Becht) flanked by "working girl" Rhinemaidens.
Image ©  1980 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Classics.
Patrice Chéreau, the French director who revolutionized the staging of Wagner operas with his 1976 production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen died yesterday of lung cancer. He was 68.

Mr. Chéreau shot to international fame with his staging of the Ring, which re-imagined Wagner's medieval legends as a modern economic parable. Gods became greedy industrialists. Nibelungs: oppressed factory workers. As Das Rheingold opened, the Rhinemaidens were reimagined as street hustlers, plying their trade in front of a huge hydroelectric dam.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Very tragical mirth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Nick Bottom the Weaver (Peter Rose, with ass's head) confronts
the fairy folk in a scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Image © 2002 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met celebrates the legacy (and 100th birthday) of composer Benjamin Britten with his fantastical  comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, based on the beloved Shakespeare play.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Concert Review: Earning His Beethoven Badge

Alan Gilbert conducts the Ninth Symphony.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alan Gilbert. Photo by Chris Lee © 2013 The New York Philharmonic
Leading a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (that's the one with chorus, soloists and the Ode to Joy) is a mark of achievement for any conductor. On Friday night Alan Gilbert led the New York Philharmonic in his second performance of that famous work this week. This is Mr. Gilbert's first series of Beethoven Ninths since becoming Music Director five years ago.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Concert Review: The Thunder of Invention

The American Symphony Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
American Symphony Orchestra music director Leon Botstein.
Image from Orchestra in Exile © 2013 Aronson Film Associates.
A Carnegie Hall concert by Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra demands commitment. The ASO's yearly Vanguard Series offers works from dark corners of the orchestral repertory, often presented in an unyielding marathon of music that packs as many as five compositions into a single musical evening.

On Thursday night, the ASO's first Carnegie concert of the season (and, due to an Oct. 2 strike by Carnegie Hall stagehands, that venue's de facto opening night) featured five musical behemoths, enormous works for orchestra from the 20th century. The common thread: all of these works were by American composers (the last, Edgard Varèse, lived here for 50 years) and all broke new ground in terms of changing how audiences listen to music. A program note (by Dr.  Botstein) tied all five pieces to the Armory Show, a seminal art exhibition from 1913 that introduced new concepts (like cubism) to American eyes.

Carnegie Hall Strike Ends

Historic venue open for business as usual.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

A mysterious force removed the rat (seen previously) from the Carnegie Hall stage.
Photo provided by Carnegie Hall. Laughably crude photoshop by the author.
In an announcement from Carnegie Hall today, stagehands at New York City's legendary classical concert venue have voted to accept a two-year contract, putting an end to a two-day strike. This was the first strike in the long history of Carnegie Hall.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Keep Calm and Blog On

On Shutdowns, Closures, Crises and Coping: 
Some words from the Superconductor editorial desk.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Just do what the sign says. Photoshop by the author.
It's been a tumultuous week for the classical music business. The New York City Opera shut its doors after seventy years of operations. The opening night of Carnegie Hall (with the Philadelphia Orchestra and violinist Joshua Bell) was kyboshed by an 11th hour strike by the stagehands' Local One. Finally, the Minnesota Orchestra continuing its year-long self-asphyxiation by lockout. The latest blow: the resignation of Osmo Vänskä from the post of Music Director following the Orchestra's withdrawal from its planned November concerts at Carnegie Hall.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Carnegie Hall Opener Canceled

Stagehands strike nixes Opening Night.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
There's a new soloist (but no audience) as Carnegie Hall goes dark for opening night.
Original photo © Carnegie Hall. Photoshop by the author.
In a move that sent ripples through the New York classical music community, Carnegie Hall has been forced to cancel its opening night gala featuring Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Joshua Bell and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Opera Review: Under the Serious Moonlight

Norma at the Metropolitan Opera. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The disco 'round: Sondra Radvanovsky enters in Act I of Norma.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera
The American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky has risen to prominence on the international stage in the last decade, with a combination of genuine acting ability and a steel-cored lyric soprano that can glide between passages of soft dolce singing and the white-hot rage required of a tragic opera heroine. All of these admirable qualities were on display Monday night, as Ms. Radvanovsky sang her first Norma at the Met. This was the first revival of the Bellini opera in six years, and another step toward superstardom for this talented American soprano.

Obituary: New York City Opera (1943-2013)

Opera company to file for bankruptcy Oct 2.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Quote by Puccini. Graphic made on tombstonebuilder.com.
The New York City Opera, founded in 1943 by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia has announced that it will file for bankruptcy on Oct. 2. This is the end of a 70-year run for the financially troubled company, which began as the "People's Opera."

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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.