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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.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dear Superconductor....


Yes I actually answer reader mail.
Send me some at ppelkonen@gmail.com.

On Thanksgiving morning, (just as my partner and I were trundling through a traffic jam on the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge) I received the following piece of reader mail:

Dear Superconductor,

I have seen you at many concerts and I would not truthfully say that you sit in the CHEAP seats.  Would you???

I enjoy your blog but PLEASE replace your motto.

--J.S.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Concert Review: The Leftovers

The Boston Symphony Orchestra serves up Beethoven and Brahms.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Door busters: Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (left) and Peter Serkin serve up Beethoven and Brahms.
Photo by Sam Brewer © 2013 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Black Friday is a weird tradition. Since the 1960s, American consumers gathered at the malls and "big box" stores on the day after Thanksgiving for so-called "door-buster" deals. All this consumerism an have injurious, or even fatal consequences. But for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its audience, today was just another Friday matinee at Symphony Hall, a civilized pause for high culture in the middle of all the holiday hype.

The program for this week's concert featured a crowd-pleasing pairing of Brahms (the Piano Concerto No. 2 with soloist Peter Serkin) and the Beethoven Seventh Symphony. With the sturdy conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos on the podium, this looked to be safe serving of holiday fare, sure to please the musically conservative audiences that attend the BSO's Friday concerts.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Falstaff

Verdi has the last laugh in this new production.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Falstaff (Ambrogio Maestri) goes out on the tiles in this new
Des McAnuff production, coming to the Met on Nov. 6.
Photo by Catherine Ashmore © 2012 The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.
For most of his long career Giuseppe Verdi was known for writing tragedies, from the family drama of his first opera Oberto to his masterpiece Otello. For his final opera and last musical utterance, he finally turned to comedy. Working with librettist Arrigo Boito (his collaborator on Otello), he created Falstaff from the Shakespeare play The Merry Wives of Windsor. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thank You and Happy Thanksgiving!


Some holiday thoughts from Superconductor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Milhouse and Lisa Simpson meet Tom Turkey on The Simpsons. 
Image from Treehouse of Horror XIX, © 2008 Gracie Films/20th Century Fox.
It's Thanksgiving here and I thought it might to be time to stop in the middle of hurried holiday travel packing (we're going to Connecticut and to Friday's concert at Boston's Symphony Hall) and give thanks.

Thank you for reading this blog. And if you've been here for all of its nearly seven years offering classical music and opera coverage and criticism, thank you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Opera Review: Absolute Beginners

Fresh blood revives Der Rosenkavalier at the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Silver polish: Sophie (Erin Morley, left) receives the silver rose from Octavian
(Alice Coote) in Act II of Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Cory Weaver © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
A revival of Der Rosenkavalier (particularly in the Metropolitan Opera's sturdy, attractive, and 44-year-old production) is always welcome. The opera premiered at the Metropolitan Opera a century ago, enchanting listeners with its mix of comedy and sentiment, spurred on by irresistible waltzes that make it Richard Strauss' most popular stage work. This is one of the house's oldest shows, a company classic enjoying its last revival before retirement. (Apparently, a new production is projected to open the 2016 season.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Opera Review: A Fish This Big

Peter Grimes marks the Britten centennial at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Scallop, sculpture dedicated to Benjamin Britten, sits on the beach in his hometown of Aldeburgh.
The inscription "I hear those voices, they will not be drowned" is from the libretto of Peter Grimes.
Sculpture by Maggi Hamblin © 2003 the artist. Photo under license from Wikimedia Commons.
Benjamin Britten's 1945 opera Peter Grimes remains the most enduring of the composer's stage works. One of the few major works from the mid-20th century that has a secure place in the international operatic repertory, it was the ideal choice for a celebration of the composer's 100th birthday on Friday night at Carnegie Hall. And there was no better choice for this tale of an individual against the oppression of a community than the St. Louis Symphony, here under the baton of its music director David Robertson.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Concert Review: When Springtime Came in Autumn

The New York Philharmonic celebrates Benjamin Britten.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Benjamin Britten. Photo by Yousuf Karsh © Wikimedia Commons.
Today is the name day of St. Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. It's also the 100th birthday of British composer Benjamin Britten. To commemorate the latter occasion, the New York Philharmonic scheduled three performances of the composer's lesser known works this week: the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings and the Spring Symphony. The performances were intended to provide a showcase for Paul Appleby, who would sing the tenor parts in each piece.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Opera Review: An Invasion, Tastefully Decorated

The Juilliard School presents Handel's Radamisto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Radamisto (John Holiday) consoles Zenobia (Virginie Verrez) in a scene from Handel's Radamisto.
Photo by Nan Melville © 2013 The Juilliard School.
The Juilliard Opera is more than just a student ensemble--this is one of the most innovative companies at Lincoln Center. Each season, the students and guest artists at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater find ways to present a vast and diverse repertory. On Wednesday night, Juilliard opened its 2013 opera season with a new production of Handel's Radamisto by James Darrah. The performances, featuring the school period ensemble Juilliard 415, marked the conservatory debut of conductor Julian Wachner.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Concert Review: O, Supermen!

Strauss and Rouse at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
New York Philharmonic oboist Liang Wang gets a round of applause from his colleagues.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2009 The New York Philharmonic.
It is not common practice for reviewers to attend the last night of a concert weekend by the New York Philharmonic. But Tuesday night's concert, the last of four featuring two major tone poems by Richard Strauss and an Oboe Concerto by current composer-in-residence Christopher Rouse proved an historic occasion. For this was the last time that outgoing concertmaster Glenn Dicterow would play the solo parts in Don Juan and Also Sprach Zarathustra. (It was also this writer's only chance to see this concert following his return from last week's Chicago trip.)

In Strauss' Comedy, A New Ingénue

Late casting change in Der Rosenkavalier.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

"The Presentation of the Rose" from Act II of Der Rosenkavalier.
Photo © 2009 The Metropolitan Opera.
In a late breaking item (courtesy of  Lisa Hirsch at The Iron Tongue of Midnight) soprano Erin Morley will take over as Sophie in the Metropolitan Opera's 2013 revival of Der Rosenkavalier. The Richard Strauss comedy, one of the composer's most beloved comic creations, opens Friday at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Concert Review: An All-Star Team, Minus Two

The 2013 Richard Tucker Gala at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This year's Richard Tucker Gala celebrates the singer's 100th birthday.
The annual Richard Tucker Gala is like opera's equivalent of the All-Star Game, a chance to hear today's foremost opera singers alongside the stars of tomorrow. Held to commemorate the Richard Tucker Foundation's annual awarding of the Tucker Prize to a promising young singer, this concert at Lincoln Center attracts affluent opera lovers and industry cognoscenti alike. This year's gala also celebrated the centennial of Richard Tucker's birth, and featured a new banner across the back of the stage with five portraits of the late tenor and New York native.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Concert Review: Getting Carter

The American Symphony Orchestra pays tribute to Elliott Carter.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The composer Elliott Carter in his New York apartment in 1983.
Photo by Nancy Crampton courtesy Boosey & Hawkes.
New York's own Elliott Carter was the dean of modern music in this country, an artist whose vast output spanned orchestral works, songs and even opera. His music always looked relentlessly forward, breaking new ground even in his last works. On Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra celebrated the memory of this great composer, who died on November 5 of last year at the age of 103. The carefully curated program offered six of Carter's pieces, spanning eight decades of his output and giving a glimpse at the wide variety of styles and music created over a long compositional career.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Der Rosenkavalier

The last run for the Met's classic 1967 production of the Strauss comedy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Marina Serafin and Alice Coote in a tender moment from Act I of Der Rosenkavalier.
Photo by Jonathan Tischler © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
Der Rosenkavalier is a rambunctious Viennese comedy, a bitter-sweet coming of age story that chronicles Octavian's transition from a sweet, adulterous relationship with the Marschallin (Marina Serafin) to eventual marriage to Sophie von Faninal, a 15-year-old ingenue played by Erin Morley. (She is a late replacement for Mojca Erdmann, who is recovering from pneumonia.) Edward Gardner conducts.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Concert Review: A Funeral for a Birthday

Charles Dutoit conducts the War Requiem at Orchestra Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Charles Dutoit. Photo by Chris Lee.
On Thursday night, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra marked the 100th birthday of composer Benjamin Britten (coming up on November 22nd) with the first of three performances of his War Requiem. This massive work, requiring two seperate orchestras, chorus, children's choir and three soloists, was conducted by Charles Dutoit, the Swiss maestro whose globe-girdling 2013 conducting schedule has focused on performances of this particular work.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Opera Review: The Trumpet of the Swan

Parsifal at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Hunting license: Gurnemanz (Kwangchal Youn) confiscates Parsifal's (Paul Groves) bow  in Act I of
Parsifal, as Kundry (Daveda Karanas) looks off. Photo by Todd Rosenberg © 2013 Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production of Parsifal (by director John Caird, making his house debut) is at once modern and old-fashioned, re-imagining Wagner's medieval iconography (Spear, Grail, magic garden) in a way that makes sense to a modern audience and still respects the rich stage history of this opera at Bayreuth and elsewhere. Mr. Caird's production uses six principal dancers (the choreographer is Tim Claydon) to create a vision of flying swans, woodland creatures (Kundry arrives by anthropomorphic horseback) and more movement than one usually sees in this static opera. The results are emotionally satisfying and magical, and familiar enough to please even the most conservative Wagnerite.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Opera Review: Back to the Tables

The Met revives its "Las Vegas" Rigoletto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Rigoletto (Dmitri Hvorostovsky, right) explains the facts of life to
Gilda (Irina Lungu) in the Met's revival of Rigoletto. 
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
Despite a run of strong performances last season and a wave of critical acclaim, the Metropolitan Opera's still-new Michael Mayer production of Rigoletto remains controversial. Mr. Mayer's production updates Verdi's opera to 1960s Las Vegas, transforming the Duke into a Frank Sinatra-type casino entertainer and the titular hunchbacked jester as his opening act: a painfully unfunny insult comic.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Concert Review: White Nights at White Light

The Estonian National Symphonic Orchestra at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Forever young: conductor Neeme Järvi.
Photo © 2013 Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi is of the old school, and not just because the conductor is now 76. On Sunday evening, he brought the Estonian National Symphonic Orchestra and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir to the White Light Festival at Lincoln Center. Their purpose: a program of Sibelius, Tormis, Mozart and Arvo Pärt at Avery Fisher Hall. Billed as The Word Made Flesh, this concert was part of this year's White Light Festival.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Concert Review: Famous Last Words, Revised

The New York Philharmonic offers a new version of Mozart's Requiem.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Bernard Labadie. Photo by David Cannon© 2013 Les Violins du Roy.
In March of this year, the New York Philharmonic offered The Bach Variations, an an entire month celebrating the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Not only did this festival remind concert-goers of this ensemble's skill with baroque music, it also provided opportunity for some lesser-known conductors to appear with the orchestra. One of them was Bernard Labadie, music director of Les Violons du Roy and a specialist in music from the baroque era. On Friday night, he conducted with a brisk, efficient energy, moving lightly on his feet and drawing dulcet tones from singers and ensemble.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Opera Review: The Deep, Dark Truthful Mirror

Die Frau ohne Schatten (finally) comes back to the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Scenes from a marriage: The Empress (Anna Schwanewilms, right) fights to save the
Emperor (Torsten Kerl) from being turned to stone in Act III of Die Frau ohne Schatten.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
The stars are aligned.
The twelfth messenger has arrived.
The red falcon has come home.

In other words, the Metropolitan Opera finally revived Richard Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten last night. This handsome production by the late Herbert Wernicke has been absent from that company's stage for nine years, an almost unforgivable oversight by one of the few North American companies capable of mounting this difficult work.

Opera Review: A Deviled Egg

Eric Owens takes on Mefistofele at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Stamping out evil: Mephistopheles (left) and Faust on a 60dm West German postage stamp.
© 1979 Deutsches Bundespost.
On Monday night, the Collegiate Chorale opened their 2013 season at Carnegie Hall with a concert performance of Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele. This was one of the most anticipated evenings of the fall opera season in New York, and marked the first appearance of baritone Eric Owens in the demanding title role. It was also the first performance of Mefistofele in 13 years--the show was last seen at the Metropolitan Opera in 2000 in Robert Carsen's sturdy production.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Concert Review: Don't Let Them Be Misunderstood

The Cleveland Orchestra returns to Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Franz Welser-Möst leads the Cleveland Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall.
Photo by Stephanie Berger for the Cleveland Orchestra © 2008.
Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra have been absent from Lincoln Center since 2008 when they presented a five-day festival pairing the symphonies of Anton Bruckner with music by John Adams. On Monday night, conductor and orchestra returned to Lincoln Center for another combination of classical and modern composers: in this case Ludwig van Beethoven and Olivier Messiaen. This unusual, but effective pairing was a major concert of this year's White Light Festival, the performing arts center's annual Fall exploration of the numinous in the lively arts.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Opera Review: East Side Story

The New York Opera Exchange presents Romeo et Juliette.
by Ellen Fishbein, special to Superconductor.
Kendra Berentsen (left) and Scott Ingham star in Romeo et Juliette.
Photo courtesy New York Opera Exchange.
On Sunday evening, the fledgling New York Opera Exchange explored French repertory with a charming production of Romeo et Juliette, the five-act adaptation of Shakespeare's play by composer Charles Gounod. The production was mounted at the Unitarian Church of All Souls on Lexington Avenue. Though beautiful, the space was a risky choice: sound resonated freely in the room, but so did  mistakes. A few hiccups in the overture gave way to a consistent performance from the orchestra, which navigated Gounod’s delicate dissonances smoothly under conductor David Liebowitz.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Frau ohne Schatten

Richard Strauss' mighty, mystic morality tale returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Emperor (Torsten Kerl, left), the Empress (Christine Schwanewilms) and the
Red Falcon (Scott Nelson) in a moment from Die Frau ohne Schatten.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
Die Frau ohne Schatten is a beloved Richard Strauss opera, but like a comet, it is only seen occasionally. Constructed on an enormous scale and requiring a huge orchestra, this 1919 work is at once a fairy tale, an ode to domestic harmony and a celebration of the joys of having children.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Concert Review: The Composer on the Podium

Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen in action. © 2013 The Philharmonia Orchestra.
Ever since he stepped in, Bernstein-like to lead the Philharmonia Orchestra in a performance of Mahler's Third Symphony, Esa-Pekka Salonen has led the double existence of composer and conductor. Happily, he has succeeded in both endeavors, leading crisp, hospital-corner performances of orchestral music from the last three centuries, while breaking new musical ground with his own eclectic compositional style.

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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.