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About Superconductor

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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Opera Review: La Plaisanterie Polonaise

Le roi malgré-lui at Bard SummerScape.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Motel hobbies: The Act III set for Le roi maigre-lui at Bard SummerScape.
Photo by Corey Weaver © 2012 Bard SummerScape/Bard Music Festival
The Fisher Center sits on the Bard College campus in the quiet college town of Annendale-on-Hudson. This Frank Gehry-designed theater is home to Bard SummerScape, where New York's opera lovers travel to hear works from deep in the repertory that are way off the beaten path of Verdi, Puccini and even Wagner. This year, the festival made its first comic offering: Emmanuel Chabrier's Le Roi malgré-lui ("The King in Spite of Himself") a comic confection that had just three performances at its 1887 debut--before the theater burned down.

The case for reviving Le roi malgré-lui is a difficult one. Although the opera contains some entertaining melodies, the weak libretto undermines the composer's efforts. The plot is a cross between the (failed) 1840 Verdi comedy Un Giorno di Regno and the composer's later Un Ballo in Maschera--with a reluctant ruler running afoul of an assassination conspiracy--and eventually joining it.

Here's the story: King Henri, a callow French nobleman is newly elected to take the throne of Poland. He hates his job. He abdicates, switches identities with his best friend Nangis, and joins a conspiracy against himself. Finally, he (reluctantly) takes back the reins of power and wins the girl, who happens to be married to one of his courtiers. The story contains a series of comic gyrations that can leave even the most jaded opera-goers scratching their heads.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Superconductor Interview: Shai Wosner

The recitalist and recording artist talks Schubert.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Shai Wosner makes his Mostly Mozart debut on Aug. 10.
Photo from
"Schubert is one of the composers I feel closest to." The speaker is Israeli pianist Shai Wosner. The Onyx Records artist and New York resident is scheduled to make his Mostly Mozart debut on August 10th as part of Lincoln Center's A Little Night Music series.

"It's not any particular piece--it's sort of his work in general I feel strongly about. It's his sensitivity--it's very right for our time especially these days."

He talks about the major work he is performing at the Lincoln Center program: the A Major sonata written at the end of Schubert's short life. "I try to see the way a work is structured and how its structure affects the smaller elements like melody, harmony and rhythm. The A Major sonata is not so much different from other pieces in that I try to go into it at is own pace. Some pieces have their own conception of time."

"First of all, everything today is so hyper-connected and super-fast," he explains. "Not that Schubert's music is slow. But his sense of time, what Schumann called the "heavenly lengths" has the ability to slow things down. And that's something we can all treasure today."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Blog of Five Rings

Superconductor goes to the 2012 Olympics. 
(well, not really.)
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Most definitely not the five rings of the Olympics.
Like much of the world, I have a deep and abiding fascination with the Olympic Games. From watching the Miracle on Ice at the tender age of 6 (I wasn't even going to the opera yet) to the Herculean efforts of Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson, the Olympics are regularly part of my life (with a pronounced preference for winter sports to summer).

In honor of the just started Thirtieth Olympiad, I'm going to try to theme the 16 days with posts relating works of musical art to Olympic events. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to do all of this, but I thought of tying certain events to operas or compositions. It would also allow me to write about some of the back-log of recordings I have piling up.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Milestone Reached

Half a Million Readers Can't be Wrong!
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Richard Wagner, grown taller and rocking the gold lamé suit. 
Sometime last night, the page-view counter on Superconductor ticked over the 500,000 mark. I want to thank all of the artists I've written about, the press agents who have made it possible for me to see so many performances and the record labels for providing me with stuff to write about.

I'd like to thank my colleagues: newspaper critics, book authors and fellow bloggers for camaraderie and encouragement through yet another serving of the Tchaikovsky Fifth.

I'd like to thank the advertisers too, with a polite reminder that advertising rates are available. (Hey, it's a business!)

Above all, though, I'd like to thank you readers for coming to Superconductor and staying with the blog for so many articles--especially when I went off my head and decided to make this a daily (or as I like to call it, an almost-daily publication.

I hope you continue to enjoy reading Superconductor. Here's some nice music:

Sir Georg Solti conducts Die Walküre. Unreleased recording from 1983.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Opera Review: No Shakespeare Allowed

Bel Canto at Caramoor presents I Capuleti e i Montecchi.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi retells the story of Romeo and Juliet
but it's not based on the Shakespeare play.
Saturday evening at Caramoor afforded New York area opera lovers the chance to hear the Vincenzo Bellini rarity I Capuleti e i Montecchi ("The Capulets and the Montagues") in a concert performance featuring the Orchestra of St. Luke's. This version of the story of two star-cross'd lovers was a tremendous early success from Bellini but like many bel canto works, fell out of fashion.

Closer examination of this non-Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet reveals that it contains some of Bellini's most compelling music, although much of the score was cannibalized from his earlier flop Zaira. I Capuleti brims with strong choral passages for the feuding houses and chromatic writing that anticipates Tristan and the most romantic passages of Die Walküre. (Richard Wagner, never above borrowing a melodic idea from a quality source, conducted this opera on many occasions in his early career.)

The libretto ignores the Shakespeare play based on this story, using as its source Matteo Bandello's version of a story by Luigi di Porto--which also inspired the British playwright. In this version, the two noble houses are on opposite sides of the Renaissance conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibilines. Romeo woos Giulietta by pretending to be an ambassador from the Montecchi (Montagues.) Familiar figures like Old Montague, the Nurse, and Mercutio are not present.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bass Booted from Bayreuth

Bass Evgeny Nikitin loses starring role over chest tattoo.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bass Evgeny Nikitin's chest tattoo (left) has cost him a starring role at the Bayreuth Festival.
Photo from Intermezzo.
The sins of Germany's past are very much on the mind of opera-goers as the Bayreuth Festival opens next week. The big story from the Green Hill: Russian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin cancelled  his appearance at this year's festival, due to a tattoo that originally depicted a swastika.

Mr. Nikitin, 38 was scheduled to sing the title role in the Festival's lone new offering this season, a staging of Der Fliegende Holländer. His cancellation was announced two days ago. A replacement, Korean bass Samuel Youn as named yesterday for the new production, which opens July 25.

A tattoo on Mr. Nikitin's chest originally depicted the symbol of Hitler's Germany, along with Germanic runes that the singer, a native of the Russian city of Murmansk, picked out in a tattoo parlor many years ago. The symbols have absolutely no political significance for me, but a spiritual one. I was never a member of a political party and am still not today," he said in an e-mail to the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Movie Review: Behind the Planks

Documentary Wagner's Dream shines (some) light on the Lepage Ring
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Wagner's Dream offers an inside look at the Met's new Ring Cycle.
Image from Wagner's Dream © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
There are many memorable moments in Wagner's Dream, the new documentary by Susan Frömke, delving into the inner workings of the Metropolitan Opera's multi-million-dollar mounting of Wagner's Ring Cycle. However, nothing is more telling than what happens after Deborah Voigt fell off the set.

The soprano, who was making her debut in the key role of Brunnhilde took her tumble in the opening moments of Act II of the premiere of Die Walküre. The movie shows the build-up to the accident, and the fall itself. The cameras track Ms. Voigt afterwards, recording her embarrassment at tripping over her long Valkyrie skirt, and her determination to have that precarious entrance altered in the following performances.

The next day, her decision was abruptly overruled by Met general manager Peter Gelb.

The Bat and the Bullets

A Superconductor Editorial Comment.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
What Batman thinks about guns.
Art and dialogue by Frank Miller © Detective Comics.

Hi folks,
I just needed to use this space today to talk about what happened in Aurora, Colorado last night, especially in light of a column (The Sons of the Batman) that ran in this space just two days ago. Other than that, this post doesn't have anything to do with opera.

The twelve murders perpetrated last night at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises were a real-life worst case scenario. This was something that everyone who sits in an audience on a regular basis should be worried about, especially in this American culture of concealed carry permits, lax gun control, and an enthusiastic Washington lobby of firearms enthusiasts who seem upset that nobody was packing heat and could shoot back.

That it took place at the screening of a film about a hero who refuses to use firearms because his parents were shot dead in front of him by a mugger is beyond ironic.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Putting Ideas Together VI: "I'm Sorry, Dave."

When Pink Floyd's Echoes meets 2001: A Space Odyssey.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The members of Pink Floyd (l.-r. Roger Waters, Nick Mason,
David Gilmour, Rick Wright) meet their new friend HAL 9000.
Image of HAL 9000 © 1969 Turner Pictures. Image of Pink Floyd © 1971 EMI Records.
Photoshop by the author.

Classical music aficionados and science fiction geeks alike know that Stanley Kubrick's seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey features a whole slew of great music, from the opening use of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra to Johann Strauss' Blue Danube. Later scenes feature Atmospheres by iconoclastic Hungarian composer Gyorgi Ligeti.

Movie geeks know that if you watch The Wizard of Oz with the sound off while listening to Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, weird things are supposed to happen. But what is the result when you combine the grand final act of 2001 with Pink Floyd? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Sons of the Batman

When criticism leads to...threats?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sometimes, I think this guy had it right: Heath Ledger as The Joker.
Promotional art for The Dark Knight.
© 2008 Warner Brothers/Detective Comics. Batman® is a registered trademark.
This post isn't really about classical music, opera, or modern music. It's about criticism, what it is, and why I choose to do it. It's also about...Batman.

 It started as a reaction to a recent news story involving movie critic Marshall Fine, whose review of the new Batman film The Dark Knight Rises (on his site Hollywood and Fine sparked vigilante-like rage from fans of the Caped Crusader on the film site Rotten Tomatoes.

Mr. Fine's negative (if even-handed) review of the film triggered an ugly upswell of comment from fans of the movies. Some of those comments were vulgar. Others were actually threatening, as if the writers were going to don cowls, fire up Batmobiles, and exert "street justice" in the name of their favorite superhero. One thinks of director Christopher Nolan's dead-on depiction of the "Sons of Batman" in the blockbusting, earlier film The Dark Knight.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Concert Review: Wind, Weather and Beethoven

Pablo Heras-Casado's stormy debut Caramoor debut.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Stormy skies: conductor Pablo Heras-Casado faced the elements at Caramoor on Sunday.
 Photoshop by the author. 
Sunday afternoon's concert at Caramoor featuring the Orchestra of St. Luke's with pianist Emanuel Ax was supposed to be a coming-out party for  Pablo Heras-Casado: his first concert as the orchestra's new Principal Conductor since taking over the post in December of 2011.

However, the weather had other ideas.

We arried at Caramoor about 3:30pm, driving up from Brooklyn, through muggy heat under overcast skies. Sitting at the picnic tables, we were finishing our meal when I looked up. "Storm's coming," I said, finishing my last bite of chicken. I was looking at the huge grey stratus cloud looming through the trees.

"How soon?" said Emily, my significant other and provider of said meal.

"About five minutes." (I have a "barometer" in my right leg thanks to an old knee injury. It was starting to throb gently.) We packed up qucickly. I refilled the water bottles, and we got to our seats in the Venetian Theater (an outdoor amphitheater covered by a large tent) as the rain started.

This was a full-fledged storm, an hour of drenching rain that thrashed the trees and drummed on the canopy overhead. Finally, there was an announcement: the concert would go forward, but with the Beethoven symphony (the Seventh) moved to the opening half. It would, in any case be easier to hear than the other works on the program.

Obituary: Jon Lord (1941-2012)

Keyboard pioneer was a composer and founding member of Deep Purple. 

"We're as valid as anything by Beethoven."
--Jon Lord, in an interview with the New Musical Express, 1973.
Organist, composer Jon Lord.
Photo from

Keyboardist, organist and composer Jon Lord has died after a long bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

Born Jonathan Douglas Lord, in Leicester in 1941, Mr. Lord began studying classical piano at the age of five. He was a London session musician in th early '60s playing keyboards on The Kinks classic "You Really Got Me." In 1968, he founded Deep Purple with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, injecting his classical influence into projects like Concerto for Group and Orchestra.

Mr. Lord's signature sound combined the Hammond organ with the Leslie speaker cabinet, a rotating amplifier that created a distinctive, swirling tone. He then drove the Leslie through a Marshall stack to create an over-driven sound that could duel on equal footing with Mr. Blackmore's guitar.

After the first of many lineup changes, Purple evolved from blues and experimental music into one of the cornerstones of the first wave of British heavy metal music. They recorded seminal albums like Deep Purple In Rock, Machine Head and the live Made in Japan. Internatonal stars, Purple rode the forefront of a wave that also included Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Opera Review: The Fat Knight Rises

The Martina Arroyo Foundation presents Falstaff.
Beer blast: this would have made old Jack happy.
Sadly, Falstaff Beer went out of production in 2005.

On Friday, July 13th, famed soprano Martina Arroyo presented Verdi's Falstaff at Hunter College's Sylvia and Danny Kaye Theater, as the first of two operas in this year's Prelude to Performance series, the culmination of a series of professional-grade workshops for young singers presented by the Martina Arroyo Foundation.

Sir John has been absent from the operatic stage in New York for a few years. If one is to judge from the tumultuous reception given to Robert Kerr's nimble performance in the title role, the fat knight remains a beloved figure, the center of Verdi's last (and most unexpected) opera.

Mr. Kerr is a talented young singer, well below the age at which most baritones tackle the enormity that is Falstaff. Decked out in trad Elizabethan costume (with a mustache and beard that, wittily, resembled Verdi's own) the singer rollocked through the part, bringing weight to the three big monologues and an unexpectedly skilled falsetto when the score called for it.

He was surrounded by a strong cast. Matthew Gamble was a sonorous Ford, at his best when towering with rage in his Act II aria. Brandon Snook brought a diamond-hard character tenor to the role of Dr. Cajus. Youngchul Park showed promise as Fenton, overcoming early nerves to sing rich, lyric duets with his Nannetta (Nicole Haslett.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Concert Review: Three-Sided Cage

The Flux Quartet's John Cage celebration continues.
Sinister footwear: Merce Cunningham's "John Cage shoes."
by Paul Pelkonen

On Wednesday night at Bargemusic, the Flux Quartet continued their celebration of the tricksome legacy of John Cage, composer, iconoclast and maverick of modernity whose works continue to baffle listeners (and sometimes, players) today.) The first part of the program held an early, familiar work. The second and third explored difficult, gnarled sounds: what the casual listener thinks of when they hear the name "John Cage."

And sometimes they run away.

The String Quartet in Four Parts is a refreshing surprise to anyone expecting nothing but noise terror from this particular composer. Here, the writing is more conventional, almost dreamy. Its sounds are stretched, pulled apart and then knotted back together as the composer strove toward a new way of making music.

The Flux players created a performance of grace and great beauty here, paying fitting tribute to the composer's early period.

And it's rather pretty.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Putting Ideas Together IV

Our selection today...
is the extensive psychedelic experimentation Voyage 34: The Complete Trip, by British psychedelic prog gods Porcupine Tree. Please keep your arms and legs inside the blog.

Photograph by Fabian Oefner. © the artist.

Pierre Boulez Nixes BBC Proms

Composer will not conduct his Le marteau sans maître.
Composer and conductor Pierre Boulez.
A recent report on Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc revealed that Pierre Boulez, one of the most important conductors and composers still active on the international classical music circuit, has been forced to withdraw from this year's BBC Proms He is unable to fly to the United Kingdom due to recent eye surgery.

Francis Xavier-Roth will take his place on the podium, leading Boulez' iconic Le marteau sans maître ("The Hammer without a Master") on July 26. Other concerts, featuring Boulez' experimental music paired with Beethoven symphonies, will be conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

Putting Ideas Together III

Today's selection is a Journey Through a Burning Brain: really old stuff by German electro-nauts Tangerine Dream, made (believe it or not) on a two-track ReVox tape recorder. 
Enjoy the ride.
A ReVox two-track A77 Tape Recorder: the machine used to record Electronic Meditation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

DVD Review: The Plunder Down Under

Teddy Tahu Rhodes in an Australian Don Giovanni.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Does this mask make me look fat?"
Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Don Giovanni.
Photo by Branco Gaica © 2011 Opera Australia.

This DVD of Mozart's Don Giovanni, shot at the Sydney Opera House in October of 2011, preserves a 20-year old production by Opera Australia that is most noteworthy for the leading character's fashion sense--or lack thereof.

That's baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes camping it up in a black domino mask, hot leather boots, Chelsea boy-shorts, and little else in the opening scene, as the Don goes prowling the rooftops of Seville dressed like Zorro on his way to a fetish night. All this beefcake hides the fact that Göran Järvefelt's well-worn production is, at its heart a thoroughly conventional re-telling of the Mozart-DaPonte collaboration, which captures the brilliance of Mozart's writing without breaking any major new ground.

Watching this performance, I noticed a "tunnel" effect on all the voices, most clearly heard in "Dalla su pace," Don Ottavio's aria in the first act. This is probably caused by Carl Friedrich Oberle's dull set, a series of wood-and-faux-plaster chambers that look left over from an old Jean-Pierre Ponelle seem to swallow up the voices instead of allowing them to project out into the house. Some of the singers (notably Rachelle Durkin, the Donna Anna) have the vocal fortitude to get their voices out into the house, but many suffer from this effect.

Putting Ideas Together II

Ed. Note: Sometimes, a cow is just a cow.
Atom Heart Mother by Pink Floyd from the album of the same title.
Written and performed by Pink Floyd. © 1971 EMI/Harvest.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Opera Preview: Le Roi malgré lui

Leon Botstein unearths a rare gem by Emmanuel Chabrier.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"I would rather have written Le Roi malgré lui than the Ring of the Nibelungen."--Maurice Ravel

Costume design for the Cossacks in Le Roi malgré lui.
Costume design sketch by Mattie Ulrich © Bard Festival 2012.
This year's Bard Festival is devoted to the music and culture of 19th century France. As a result, the July opera offering at the Fisher Center (located on the picturesque campus of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson) isLe Roi malgré lui, ("The King in Spite of Himself") a rarely performed comedy by French composer Emmauel Chabrier.

Chabrier is best remembered by opera lovers for writing L'Etoile, a surreal comedy of kingship and succession that has been mounted occasionally at Glimmerglass and at the New York City Opera. Le Roi deals with some similar themes.

It is the story of a ne'er-do-well French nobleman, Henri, who somehow finds himself in line to take the throne of Poland. The opera's plot mainly consists of the reluctant king's increasingly convoluted efforts to escape the country and the pressures of his job.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Opera Review: Hollywood Babilonia

Caramoor presents Rossini's Ciro in Babilonia.
by Paul Pelkonen
Ewa Podles (left) and Jessica Pratt sing a love duet against a digital starfield in Act II of Ciro in Babilonia.
Digital projections by Paolo Cuppo. Photo by Gabe Palacio © 2012 the Caramoor Festival
It is a testament to the industry of Giaochino Rossini that opera companies and festivals are still finding fresh works by the composer to perform. One of the rarest is the Biblical drama Ciro in Babilonia (Cyrus in Babylon) which received its U.S. premiere on Saturday night as part of Bel Canto at Caramoor, the Katonah, NY arts festival's yearly exploration of 19th century Italian repertory.

Ciro retells the story of the conquest of Babylon by the Persian emperor Cyrus II. This is the familiar story taken from the Book of Daniel, with Belshazzar's Feast, the "writing on the wall" and the subsequent downfall of Chaldea and the end of the Babylonian Captivity. Rossini chose the libretto (by Francesco Aventi) as an opera that could be performed during the Lenten season of 1812.

This Old Testament epic was soon eclipsed by the success of Rossini's later works. But that didn't stop the composer from recycling some of the best bits of Ciro into the scores of L'Italiana in Algeri and most noticeably The Barber of Seville. The autograph score is lost, but it proved possible to reconstruct Ciro from a piano rehearsal score. The opera has been recorded twice, and is occasionally revived.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Return of the Plastic Hamburger

Or...How I Learned to Stop Worrying and go back to using a Portable CD Player.
by Paul Pelkonen
My Panasonic Shockwave (SL-SW967VS) currently on tour with Electric Light Orchestra.
Photoshop by the author. Contains elements of album art from Electric Light Orchestra's Out of the Blue.
Original art by Shusei Nagaoka © 1977 Jet Records/Sony Masterworks.
It might surprise some of you to know that the equipment used here at the Superconductor Secret Lair is not exactly high fidelity. (I live in a rough neighborhood.) I listen to almost everything on an old Panasonic  5-disc changer (SC-PM71SD) Except that a few years ago, the changer broke when in transit between the Prologue and Opera of the Giuseppe Sinopoli recording of Ariadne auf Naxos.

Eventually, I got the CDs out of the drawers but the mechanism (as frequently happens with CD changers) was busted. So I kept the stereo, and went digital.

But it didn't last.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Concert Review: A Game of FLUX

The Flux Quartet fétes John Cage at Bargemusic.
by Paul Pelkonen
Three faces of John Cage.
It was a hot summer night on the Brooklyn waterfront.The swelter and scent of the East River served as backdrop for a Bargemusic appearance by the Flux Quartet, the New York-based nw music ensemble who specialize in bold explorations of the last century's avant-garde.

This concert was the first part of the FLUX's three-concert series celebrating the 100th birthday of composer, chef and iconoclast John Cage. The program paired Cage's music with adventurous explorations by three of Cage's contemporaries: Earle Brown, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff.

The program opened with a few introductory words from FLUX violinist Tom Chiu before opening with Morton Feldman's 1956 composition Three Pieces for String Quartet. This was dreamy, atmospheric music that seemed to hang shimmering in the heated air. Each piece sounded as if they could have been the soundtrack for the barge itself, echoing the creaks and wails of a vessel at rest in harbor.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Putting Ideas Together I

Ed. Note: Sometimes you just want to put up a blog post so you can get back to writing. This is one of those days.

Brian Eno's Music for Airports

Classical Music Unleashed

EMI releases 50 Shades of Classical Music.
by Paul Pelkonen
“Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese?”
--Christian Grey, from Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James.

Record companies and, more recently, download merchants are continually trying to find new ways to market the vast catalogue of classical music and opera that was created in the boom years of the music industry. One of the more frequently used ideas is to make a compilation or playlist tied to a particular book or movie, and sell the whole thing as a bundle of files for a low price.

Which brings us to Angel Records' June 25 release: 50 Shades of Classical, the playlist currently being marketed (on iTunes and as a tie in to E.L. James' best-selling soft-core S & M-themed Fifty Shades trilogy. For those of you who haven't heard of these books, Fifty Shades chronicles the kinky love affair between billionaire, control freak and would-be master of the universe Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, the English major who becomes the...object of his affections.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Raindrops in Outer Space

Chopin's Prelude in D features in Ridley Scott's Prometheus.
Renaissance android: David (Michael Fassbender) enjoys Chopin in Prometheus.
Image from Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott © 2012 20th Century Fox/Scott Free/Dune Entertainment.

Yesterday was the Fourth of July, and I took a much-needed break from the heat and hustle to see Prometheus, Ridley Scott's new science fiction opus, a prequel to the British filmmaker's first smash hit, Alien.

Alien is one of my favorite horror films of all time, a chill-inducing re-take on the sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World. It is basically a creature flick with an eight-foot-tall bio-mechanical monster stalking and killing crewmen aboard an atmospheric, dark space-ship. Prometheus is more cerebral, an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired quest for the origins of life on Earth that--you guessed it--leads to crew members being horribly killed in all sorts of inventive ways.

Among the flickering lights, black goo, alien technology and tentacles that one expects from this franchise, there was a small musical pleasure: Chopin's Prelude in D minor, the Raindrop. The pianist is Philip Howard.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Mystery of the Vanishing Orchestra

Australian Opera moves the orchestra out of the pit for Die Tote Stadt.
Is this the direction we're heading in?
Image from Real Genius © 1985 Columba TriStar Pictures.

With the opening of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus in 1876, Richard Wagner introduced the concept of the "invisible orchestra," having both conductor and musicians concealed in a sunken, tiered orchestra pit underneath the stage.

In recent years, the trend on Broadway is to move the orchestra out of the house pit, to a room other than the orchestra pit, with the sound digitally funneled in to the performance. Many Broadway shows, desperate to sell premium ticket space in their theaters have relegated their musicians to an afterthought, sawing away in some theater sub-basement.

The Sydney Opera House has gone one better with the Australian Opera's new production of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die Tote Shitadt. Korngold wrote in the post-Mahlerian Viennese style, and required multiple keyboard instruments, triple wind, a large brass section and four keyboard instruments. Add seven offstage bells, wind, percussion, a high-pile carpet of strings and you get the idea.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Obituary: Evelyn Lear (1926-2012)

Soprano acclaimed for Mozart, Strauss and modern music.
Evelyn Lear as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier.
Photo borrowed from our good friends at
Evelyn Lear, the critically acclaimed American soprano who thrilled audiences in repertory ranging from Die Zauberflöte to Lulu died yesterday at a nursing home in Maryland. She was 86.

The death was reported by Ms. Lear's son Jan Stewart. The cause of death was not reported. A full obituary appeared in the Washington Post.

Ms. Lear enjoyed a long stage and recording career, often appearing with her late husband, bass-baritone Thomas Stewart. Her first Met appearance came in the house premiere of Levy's Mourning Becomes Electra. She ended her run at New York's largest opera house with the Marschallin in a 1985 Der Rosenkavalier.

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