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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 © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Theater Review: The High Price of Beauty

Farinelli and the King on Broadway.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tragic kingdom: Sam Crane and Mark Rylance in the titular roles of Farinelli and the King.
Photo © 2018 Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

Those of you who regularly read Superconductor know that the dramatic stage, that is, the one without an orchestra or singing is not the normal demesne of this publication. However, thanks to the good offices of my friend Amy M., your humble correspondent found himself at Saturday night's performance of Farinelli and the King. This play, produced by Shakespeare's Globe of London and written by that company's resident composer Claire van Kampen, opened on Broadway in December after a successful London run. (It closes at the Belaco Theater on March 25.)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Lucia di Lammermoor

The blood-stained bride returns to the Met stage.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Well, the bride was a picture in the gown that her mama wore
When she was married herself nearly twenty-seven years before
They had to change the style a little but it looked just fine
Stayed up all night, but they got it finished just in time." --Nick Lowe
Olga Peretyatko-Mariotti, seen here in a 2014 performance of I puritani, 
is the bloody bride in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo by Ken Howard © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera, 
The Met revives Mary Zimmerman's controversial, deeply weird and really fun take on Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, for some the ultimate expression of the bel canto style. And yes, this is the opera with the blood-splattered wedding dress.

What is Lucia di Lammermoor?
Gaetano Donizetti's opera is (along with Bellini's Norma) the most important, most beloved example of bel canto tragedy. Bel canto means "beautiful song," and the Donizetti style requires just that: long vocal lines, a high tessitura, and above all, a sweetness of tone and delivery, even in the most histrionic moments.

What's the plot of Lucia di Lammermoor?
Based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott, this is the story of two rival families and the secret affair between Lucia Ashton and Edgardo Ravenswood. When she is forced by her evil brother Enrico to marry Arturo Bucklaw, she goes completely cuckoo-bananas and kills her hubby dead on their wedding night. Yes, it has every operatic cliché you can think of but that's why it's so great!

What's the music like?
There's a reason that the travails of the bride of Lammermoor has held the operatic stage for almost two centuries: this is a masterpiece of construction. There is tension, there is drama, there is an amazing Act I sextet where all the plot points come boiling to the surface. If all that isn't enough the soprano has the 17-minute "Mad Scene" where a stunned, blood-splattered Lucia retreats into insanity rather than confront the fact that she's just killed her husband on their wedding night. And the fireworks aren't over.

How's the production?
Mary Zimmerman opted to set the first half of Lucia against a serie of filmed backgrounds representing the lochs, mountain crags, and natural scenery of the Scottish highlands. As Lucia descends into madness, things start to get weird. The Mad Scene is sung on a stand-alone grand staircase, beneath a giant moon. And as to the fate of the tenor, you'll just have to see for yourself.

What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
African or European swallow?
I don't know that. Ask Arturo Bucklaw.

Who's in it?
This revival features two equally formidable casts. The March run stars soprano Olga Peretyatko-Mariotti in the title role, opposite Vittorio Grigolo as her enthusiastic beau Edgardo. His rival is played by Massimo Cavalletti. The second team is soprano Pretty Yende (though Jessica Pratt will sing two performances) tenor Michael Fabiano and up and coming barihunk Quinn Kelsey.  Vitalij Kowaljow and Alexander Vinogradov sing Raimondo. All are worthy. Roberto Abbado conducts.

Why should I go see it?
The combination of singers in this much loved opera should make for a fiery and enjoyable revival. And Lucia is the sort of tragedy that can be really fun if the singing is good.

When does it open?
The show opens with the first cast on March 22, 2018. The second cast takes the stage in April.
Where can I get tickets?
Tickets are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I buy?

Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala cond. Herbert von Karajan (EMI, 1955)
Lucia: Maria Callas
Edgardo: Giuseppe di Stefano
Enrico: Rolando Panerai
Maria Callas made three recordings of Lucia: in 1953, '55, and '56. The '55 recording pairs La Stupenda with conductor Herbert von Karajan and tenor Giuseppe di Stefano. This is an exciting live recording of the opera. There are some traditional cuts, stage noises, and mono sound.

London Symphony Orchestra cond. Thomas Schippers (ABC/Westminster, 1970)
Lucia: Beverly Sills
Edgardo: Carlo Bergonzi
Enrico: Piero Cappucilli
One of the great Beverly Sills recordings of the major Donizetti operas from the 1970s, this set boasts a knockout pairing of Carlo Bergonzi and Piero Cappucilli. Sills takes more of the bel canto "songbird" approach to the role, navigating the Mad Scene with fearless control and dazzling coloratura. Back in the catalogue, thanks the the Universal Classics decision to reissue recordings from the defunct ABC label.

Orchestre de l'Opera National de Lyon cond. Evelino Pido (Virgin Classics, 2002)
Lucie: Natalie Dessay
Edgar: Roberto Alagna
Henri: Ludovic Tezier
Natalie Dessay in the role of Lucia--make that Lucie. Yes, this is the French version of the opera, and the only recording of Gaetano Donizetti's 1838 revision of the opera for the Paris stage. Featuring Roberto Alagna (who always sounds better in his native language) and Ms. Dessay's fearless assault on the Mad Scene, this set presents an engaging alternative version.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Opera Review: Mugging on the Boardwalk

The Met takes Cosí fan tutte to Coney Island.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Motel illness: Kelli O'Hara, Christopher Maltman, Adam Plachetka, Ben Bliss, Serena Melfi and Amanda Majeski
in a frantic Act I moment from Così fan tutti. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
How do you solve the problem of presenting an opera that forces men and women into the stereotypes of the 18th century to a 21st century audience? If you're director Phelim McDermott, whose dazzling new Cosí fan tutte arrived at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday night, you roll the score in glue, dip it in glitter, and hope for the best. Mr. McDermott's staging is a co-production with the English National Opera. It moves the show to Coney Island some time in the 1950s. The effect is sweet, sugary and yet strangely empty, like substituting cotton candy for your dinner after a night out on the Boardwalk.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Concert Review: Dead Man's Party

Lara St. John and Matt Herskowitz rock The Crypt Sessions.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Underground music: Matt Herskowitz and Lara St. John entombed.
Photo by Andrew Ousley for The Crypt Sessions.
At last night's installment of The Crypt Sessions, the esteemed series of chamber music and concert recitals that takes place in the sepulchre of the Church of the Intercession at W. 155th St. and Broadway, host (and curator) Andrew Ousley staked the claim that the Canadian violinist Lara St. John was a "force of nature." The violinist, in concert with her performing partner Matthew Herskowitz, was offering something special in the house of the dead. The program was Lavuta an hourlong mixtape of fiddle tunes and folk-inspired music from Eastern Europe, covering a vast triangle of land from Moscow to Jerusalem to Budapest. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Concert Review: The Toast of Two Cities

The Philadelphia Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leading the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Photo © 2018 The Philadelphia Orchestra.
There is no question that the Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is the big man on the New York classical music scene at the moment. The music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra was in town with his troops on Tuesday night, for his first Carnegie Hall appearance since being appointed the music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Throwing in the Towel

The Metropolitan Opera fires James Levine.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Facing the music: James Levine was fired by the Met today.
Photo by Naomi Vaughan © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
In a breaking story by Michael Cooper in The New York Times, the Metropolitan Opera fired longtime conductor and music director James Levine today, ending an era and a scandal at America's largest opera house.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018-19 Great Performers Season Preview

British orchestras and chamber music are the focus of Great Performers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to New York next year to conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Photo © Philharmonia Orchestra.
When Lincoln Center was established as New York's mecca for the performing arts, it became home to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the New York City Ballet. However, it soon became apparent that there was need for an in-house performing arts series, inviting international orchestras and soloists from around the globe. The Great Performers series is no longer the flagship it once was, but it still provides the opportunity to hear international orchestras in a posh setting.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Verdi Project: Macbeth

The composer escapes the galley with his first Shakespeare adaptation.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
In his later life, Giuseppe Verdi referred to the period from 1842 to 1850 as his "galley years". In those years, the composer applied his energies to writing thirteen operas (counting revisions) for the Italian stage as well as opera houses in London and Paris. Of these, one work stands out: his 1847 adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy Macbeth.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Concert Review: Night of the Blob

Pierre-Laurent Aimard at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pierre-Laurent Aimard and friend. Photo from the artist's website.
There is no question that the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is among the most innovative and forward thinking masters of the keyboard working today. However, Thursday night’s recital on the big stage of Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium was a bit of a puzzle, challenging to both the artist himself and the music lovers, aficionadoes and reviewers in attendance.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Così fan tutte

The Met opens the Coney Island Boardwalk a week early.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Gee. No beer, no opera dogs..." --H. Simpson
"Wann fährt der nächste Schwan?": A scene from Così fan tutti with 
Adam  Plachetka and Serena Melfi, pushed by strongman Titano Oddfellow.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera. 

The Met tries its hand at Brooklyn gentrification with a new production of Così fan tutte set on the Coney Island Boardwalk. (If the reviews are negative, the next one will be staged in lower Manhattan, presumably on Park Place.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Concert Review: Unbowed, Unbeaten, Unbroken

Sō Percussion and the JACK Quartet play new works at Zankel Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Photo of Sō Percussion by Janette Beckman. Photo of the JACK Quartet by Shervin Lainez.
Carnegie Hall, with its multiple venues and well of donors is instrumental to the contemporary music community. Starting in 2016, the historic venue celebrated its 125th year with the 125 Commissions project, offering 125 new compositions in celebration of the venue’s anniversary in 2016. On Tuesday night, the subterranean stage of Zankel Hall hosted two important contemporary ensembles: Sō Percussion and the JACK Quartet, performing a trio of these new pieces.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Concert Review: The Keys to the Cipher

The New York Philharmonic plays Brahms and Prokofiev.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Working the keys: Yuja Wang (left) and Jaap van Zweden play Brahms.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic just went on tour. However, before he orchestra caught a Saturday flight to Japan last week, they played four evening concerts under its new music director Jaap van Zweden. The program, heard Friday night, eschewed the usual tripartite musical evening for a pairing of heavyweight favorites: the D minor Piano Concerto by Johannes Brahms, and the Fifth Symphony of Serge Prokofiev.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Recordings Review: A Little Old Fashioned (But That's All Right)

Unraveling Jonny Greenwood's Phantom Thread.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
One of the hidden messages in a dress from Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread.
Image © 2017 Focus Features/Universal.
On Oscar Night 2018, the Paul Thomas Anderson film Phantom Thread won only one major award: that for costume design. While it is not surprising that a film about a 1950s London dressmaker garnered that particular Academy Award, a listen to the lush, creative and emotive soundtrack (available on Nonesuch) to that film by composer Jonny Greenwood indicated that this picture may have had a shot at Best Score as well. (That Oscar went to Alexandre Desplat and his work on The Shape of Water, and it was a well-deserved win.)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Exit: Major Winchester

Some words for actor and conductor David Ogden Stiers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
As Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, David Ogden Stiers (right)
torments his tentmates (Alan Alda and Mike Farrell) in the M*A*S*H episode The Smell of Music.
Image © 1970 20th Century FOX/CBS
We interrupt tonight's regularly scheduled Superconductor post for some sad news in the television community and the classical music world. Actor David Ogden Stiers died this morning at his Oregon home. He was 75. Mr. Stiers died peacefully in his sleep after a battle with bladder cancer, according to a report in Entertainment Weekly.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Opera Review: Her Time is Now

Christine Goerke unleashes Elektra on the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Benched: Christine Goerke and Mikhail Petrenko as Elektra and Orestes in Elektra.
Photo by Karen Almond © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
There comes a time in the career of an opera singer when they are the artist of the moment. For Christine Goerke, the American dramatic soprano starring in the title role of Elektra at the Metropolitan Opera, that time is now. Ms. Goerke has sung this part on other stages (including Carnegie Hall) to great acclaim, both here and elsewhere. However Thursday night was a watershed. It marked the dramatic soprano's long-awaited return to a major Strauss roles on America's largest operatic stage.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Concert Review: The Long and the Short of It

Mitsuko Uchida in recital at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The amazing Mutsuko Uchida.
Photo by Justin Pumfrey for Decca Classics.
Is it possible for an artist to be above criticism?

That question is necessitated by this week's schedule st Carnegie Hall, which features not one but two recitals of Schubert piano sonatas by the astounding Mitsuko Uchida. On the concert hall as well as on disc, Ms. Uchida offers a highly personal approach to these works. St the first off these concerts on Monday night, she offered three of the sonatas. These are works that Schubert had trouble getting performed in his brief lifetime. While they are firmly in the standard repertory for the solo pianist, a traversal of them is rare. The playing of three of these large-scale works on a single evening is a considerable feat.

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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.