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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Opera Review: Shipping Up to Boston

Boston Lyric Opera mounts The Flying Dutchman.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alison Oakes as Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer.
Photo by Eric Antoniou © 2013 Boston Lyric Opera.
Boston Lyric Opera sailed boldly into treacherous waters this week with Der Fliegende Holländer ("The Flying Dutchman") at the Shubert Theater. This is the company's first Wagner production in two decades. and a rare chance for Bostonians to experience a fully-staged performance of one of that composer's major operas.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Concert Review: A Song for the Departed

Bernard Haitink conducts Mahler at Symphony Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Camilla Tilling sings "Der Himmlische Leben" at Symphony Hall as Bernard Haitink
conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Stu Rosner © 2013 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Bernard Haitink has enjoyed a four-decade association with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, culminating in a successful term (1995-2004)  as the orchestra's principal guest conductor. (He currently holds the title of Conductor Emeritus.) This week, Mr. Haitink returned to Symphony Hall for a program exploring the lighter repertory of two great symphonists: Franz Schubert and Gustav Mahler.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Concert Review: Fountains, Poems and Pictures

The New York Philharmonic plays Carnegie Hall.
by Ellen Fishbein
Renée Fleming appeared with the New York Philharmonic on Friday night.
Photo © Decca Classics.
On Friday night, the New York Philharmonic made a rare appearance on the stage of Carnegie Hall, with a short program that was rich and engaging despite its brevity. Alan Gilbert conducted two orchestral favorites, framing the world premiere of Swedish composer Anders Hillborg's The Strand Settings. The new work featured soprano Renée Fleming in her only appearance with the orchestra this season.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Dialogues of the Carmelites

A great, old-school Met production receives a necessary revival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
All in a row: Isabel Leonard (left) stars as Blanche in Dialogues of the Carmelites.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's production of Dialogues des Carmélites is the stuff of legend. It's the Holy Grail for lovers of French opera and modernistic staging: a stark, elegant vision (by John Dexter) of emotional depth and religious beauty.  The good news is that this revival stars Isabel Leonard as Blanche. Patricia Racette (who sang the leading role the last time the Met revived this opera) is Madame Lidoine.. Felicity Palmer and Paul Appleby round out a stellar cast.

The bad news: the Met has scheduled just three performances.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Concert Review: The Bad Boys of Vienna

Alan Gilbert Conducts Mozart and Bruckner.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Emanuel Ax onstage with the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2012 The New York Philharmonic.
For most of the 18th and 19th centuries (not to mention the 20th), the press and public of Vienna, Austria were taste-makers in classical music. Even today, a successful premiere in that city can ensure a long and prosperous composing career. Conversely, a fiasco could ensure a major artistic setback, or even penury for the artist.

On Thursday night, Alan Gilbert led the New York Philharmonic in the second of three concerts featuring works by Mozart and Bruckner. Both Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 (played here by Emanuel Ax, in his last concerts as this year's Philharmonic Artist in Residence) and Anton Bruckner's Third ("Wagner") Symphony failed at their at their premieres. Both works have survived to gain footholds in the standard symphonic repertory. Programmed together, they form a fascinating study of Viennese musical history.

Concert Review: Romance Isn't Dead

Wagner, Bruch and Bruckner in New Jersey.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
NJSO maestro Jacques Lacombe and friend.
Sometimes, a good program is all you need.

A good example is this week's set of concerts by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra under music director Jacques Lacombe. This program featured veteran concert violinist Sarah Chang playing Max Bruch's First Violin Concerto. Bracketing this Romantic masterpice: works by Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner, two very different composers who were individually obsessed with the concepts of salvation and redemption.

Opera Review: The Return of Fun City

MSM presents Kurt Weill's Mahagonny.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
 Peter Tinaglia (left) Rachelle Pike and James Ioelu are the founders of Mahagonny.
Photo © 2013 Manhattan School of Music.
On Wednesday night, the brilliant and enthusiastic student artists of the Manhattan School of Music mounted a new production of Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (" Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny") at Borden Auditorium, delivering the show's searing moral message with a performance of high artistic quality. A taut performance from the MSM Orchestra under the baton of Kynan Johns caught the wry humor in Kurt Weill's score, with aural references to American jazz, Mozart and even Wagner's Parsifal shining through the aural fabric.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Opera Review: The Viceroy's New Groove

The New York City Opera presents La Périchole.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pineapple express: Marie Lenormand in the title role of La Périchole.
Photo by Carol Rosegg © 2013 New York City Opera.
The New York City Opera wrapped up its spring season this week with Jacques Offenbach’s 1868 opéra bouffe La Périchole.  The show marks the return of director Christopher Alden, whose surreal sensibility has become one of the company's hallmarks under general manager George Steel. The opera in question is a rarity: , originally set in the “exotic” city of Lima, Peru and reimagined here as a modern screwball sex comedy with visual tropes from the Marx Brothers comedies and Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Public Shaming from William Bolcom

Composer's new song "Aren't You Ashamed?" takes aim at Congress.
Composer William Bolcom.
The composer plays his song "Aren't You Ashamed?" written following the he wrote chiding the Senate following their failure to vote on more stringent background checks for gun ownership.

Congress bowed to pressure from the National Rifle Association after the call for stronger gun control legislation following the December slaughter of first graders in Newtown, CT.

It's a really great song. Video footage of the composer performing it after the jump.

Opera Review: We Don't Need Another Hero

Siegfried at the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Stick them with the pointy end: Jay Hunter Morris stars in Siegfried.
Photo by Corey Weaver © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
Richard Wagner's Siegfried is the least popular chapter in the Ring cycle. Wagner thought audiences would eat up this fairy-tale story of a blond muscleman who grows up in the forest and embarks on a career as a dragon-slayer before wooing the Valkyrie maiden Brunnhilde. But he didn't put any women in the first three hours of the opera. The 11am start time at the Metropolitan Opera House might also account for the number of empty red velvet seats at Saturday's matinee performance, the first of three this season.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Concert Review: The Penance and the Glory

The Staatskapelle Dresden plays Bruckner's Eighth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Christian Thielemann in action at Carnegie Hall.
Photo courtesy the Staatskapelle Dresden © 2013.
One of the criteria of a great symphony is its ability to endure interpretation and even reimagination at the hands of a master conductor. Anton Bruckner's Eighth Symphony is one of those works. On Friday night, the Staatskapelle Dresden and principal conductor Christian Thielemann presented this massive symphony as the second of two concerts this week at Carnegie Hall. As with Wednesday's Brahms concert, this performance was dedicated to Sir Colin Davis, the Conductor Laureate of the Staatskapelle who died last week.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Götterdämmerung

The last chapter of Wagner's Ring returns for another burn.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Gibichung Hall in Act II of the Met's new Götterdämnerung.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
The six-hour final chapter of Wagner's Ring is in some ways the most conventional opera of the four. That's because Götterdämmerung (the title translates as Twilight of the Gods, though the opera was originally called Siegfried's Death) was the first libretto written. Twenty-four years later, this was also the last opera of the Ring to be completed, so it has the most complex music.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Concert Review: There Still Ain't Nothing Like a Dame

Mitsuko Uchida returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mitsuko Uchida. Photo © Decca Classics/Universal Music Group.

It's almost unfair to write a "review" of a pianist like Mitsuko Uchida. The Japanese-born, Vienna-educated Dame Commander of the British Empire brings a unique expertise and musical understanding of whatever material she programs, combining a bold musical imagination with a bold technique and a smooth, slightly dry legato that has made her an international superstar.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Opera Review: As the Walls Close In, a King is Made

Les Arts Florissants bring David et Jonathas to BAM.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jonathan (Ana Quintans, left) and David (Pascal Charbonneau)
greet the Israelites in a scene from David et Jonathas. 
Photo by Julieta Cervantes © 2013 BAM/Les Arts Florissants.
In 1979, the period performance group Les Arts Florissants took their name from an opera by French baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier. This week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the ensemble, under the baton of its founder William Christie, presented another Charpentier gem, the biblical drama David et Jonathas. Written in 1688 and designed to be played in alternating acts with Saul (a play written by a French Jesuit) this is an example of tragedie-biblique, where a sacred story is treated in the style of early French opera.

Concert Review: In the Shadow of Death

The New York Philharmonic premieres Prospero’s Rooms.
by Ellen Fishbein
Alan Gilbert leads the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2013 The New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert began Wednesday night's New York Philharmonic concert with a program change.

"The New York Philharmonic and I were discussing dedicating a piece to Sir Colin Davis. Then, we heard about the senseless massacre in Boston." The evening began with Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations. The short work was dedicated to both the late conductor and to the victims of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Mr. Gilbert held a reverent moment of silence at the end, as the impact of these events was felt, not heard.

Opera Review: Hi-Def on the Nile

City Opera comes home with Mosé in Egitto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
As Moses, baritone David Salsbery Fry (center) prepares to part the Red Sea.
Photo by Carol Rosegg © 2013 New York City Opera.
The New York City Opera launched the second half of its 2012 season this week with a new production of Rossini’s Mosé in Egitto, ("Moses in Egypt") the first of two productions at City Center this month. The show marks the company’s return to that ornate W. 55th St. theater after four decades. It is also the famously low-tech City Opera's first embrace of digital scenery, the en vogue  alternative to props, backdrops and flats.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Young Man With a Horn

Reflections on Boston and (briefly) Wagner's Siegfried.
Downtown Boston, and the Rainbow Bridge.

I'm going to go off topic here for a few minutes and shake out some feelings on this blog regarding yesterday's tragedy: the bombing of the Boston Marathon by person or persons unknown. I'm writing this off the cuff in an effort to put some of my feelings on paper in the time honored tradition of bloggers since the Internet was young.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Opera Review: The Brother From Another Opera

Siegmund falls early; the Met revives Die Walküre.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Wotan, (Mark Delavan) Brünnhilde (Deborah Voigt) and (at right) a plank of the "Machine."
Scene from Act II of Die Walküre. Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
There were no technical problems with Saturday morning's matinee performance of Richard Wagner's Die Walküre. In fact, the Metropolitan Opera's revival of the second chapter in Robert Lepage's production of Der Ring des Nibelungen went off without a glitch from the "Machine," the 45-ton set that occasionally upstages the gods and mortals that inhabit this mythic German drama.

On Saturday morning, the problem was...allergies.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Obituary: Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013)

Acclaimed British conductor known for recordings and versatility.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013.) Photo by Chris Lee.
Sir Colin Davis, the English conductor and longtime president of the London Symphony Orchestra died today after an illness. He was 85.

An acclaimed conductor and recording artist with a vast repertory, Sir Colin enjoyed a 50 year association with the LSO, serving as principal conductor for ten years before becoming its president. His career paralleled the rise and fall of the classical music recording industry, and its subsequent reinvention with the launch of LSO Live, the British orchestra's small-scale private record label.

Concert Review: Fifty Shades of Tonality

Spectral music comes to the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor of many colors: David Robertson.
Original image © Michael Tammaro, color alterations by the author.
The pursuit of the new by modern composers is invariably met with excitement from music people and dread from the ordinary concert-goer, who may prefer the traditional harmonies of Mozart and Beethoven to the experiments of Olivier Messiaen and (his pupil) Tristan Murail. The New York Philharmonic split the difference this week, as David Robertson conducted a performance of Mr. Murail's new piano concerto, (titled Le Désenchantement du monde) framed in the works of the other three, more familiar composers.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Siegfried

The third part of Wagner's Ring presents the greatest challenge for the tenor voice.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Deborah Voigt wakes up on the Machine in Act III of Siegfried.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
Although it's part of the Met's much-hyped Robert Lepage production of the Ring Cycle, Wagner's Siegfried might have the worst reputation among the ten operas that are considered to be the German composer's main body of work. Wagner conceived the opera as the "light-hearted" section of the Ring. (In all fairness, it does have a happy ending!)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Opera Preview: Mosè in Egitto

City Opera reaches its promised land: City Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This is not a digital projection from the City Opera's new Mosè en Egitto .
It's a political cartoon from Cote d'Ivoire. But we like the octopus.
The New York City Opera's transformation from a staid Lincoln Center company to a run-and-gun company staging four operas a year around New York City has been a painful one. But this month, the company returns to its roots at City Center for the first of two shows: the Gioachino Rossini's Mosè in Egitto ("Moses in Egypt").

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Opera Review: The Queen, Suddenly Promoted

Danielle De Niese steps in at the Met's Giulio Cesare.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Danielle De Niese swoops in on an east wind as Cleopatra.
Photo by Tristram Kenton © 2005 The Glyndebourne Festival.
Danielle De Niese was only going to the opera last night.

The Australian soprano is not on the Metropolitan Opera's roster of singers this season. She was planning on attending the second performance of the company's new production of Giulio Cesare last night, sitting in general manager Peter Gelb's parterre box and watching the baroque extravaganza starring David Daniels in the title role and Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Opera Review: Crusading Tenor Busts Out

The Opera Orchestra of New York performs I Lombardi.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tenor Michael Fabiano and soprano Angela Meade appeared together in
I Lombardi, but not in this PhotoShopped image.
Source photos from the artists' websites. Collage by the author.
The arrival of a great voice on the New York opera scene is no small matter. Three years ago, it was Angela Meade, whose performance in a Bel Canto at Caramoor performance of Bellini's Norma caught the attention of critics and aficionados. Last night, it was tenor Michael Fabbiano, who appeared with Ms. Meade in the Opera Orchestra of New York's concert performance of Giuseppe Verdi's I Lombardi.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Opera Review: The Ghost in the Machine

With a clank and a clatter, the Met revives Das Rheingold.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Whaddya mean it's busted?" Wotan (Mark Delavan, standing) assaults
Alberich (Eric Owens) in Scene Four of Das Rheingold.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Robert Lepage production of Wagner's Ring has returned to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. Yes, the "Machine" is back, that multi-million dollar unit set with 24 rotating planks that serve as acting area and projection surface for Mr. Lepage's digital scenery. And for the first half of Das Rheingold on Saturday afternoon, things were going pretty well. Mr. Lepage's high-tech story-book approach proved surprisingly engrossing, carried along by the brisk conducting of Fabio Luisi.

Then the Machine malfunctioned.

Concert Review: Moon Dreams and Street Players

The New York Philharmonic makes CONTACT!
by Paul J. Pelkonen
An astronaut footprint from the Apollo 11 mission, on the Sea of Tranquility.
The New York Philharmonic's biannual CONTACT! series allows Alan Gilbert and company to break free of their usual digs at Avery Fisher Hall to explore works by cutting-edge composers. On Friday night, the wood panels of Grace Rainey Rodgers Auditorium (tucked neatly between Arms and Armor and the Egyptian Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) resounded to the sounds of the 21st century.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Concert Review: The Quickness of the Hand

András Schiff conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Up from the piano: soloist and conductor András Schiff.
Image courtesy the New York Philharmonic.
The Bach Variations, the New York Philharmonic's month-long excursion into the repertory of Johann Sebastian Bach, came to a fitting end this week with concerts featuring Hungarian pianist and conductor András Schiff. But where Mr. Schiff is known for his international appearances as a virtuoso concerto guest and solo performer, these concerts cast him in the less familiar role of conductor,  both from the keyboard and later, the podium.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Walküre

Robert Lepage's high-flying Wagner circus continues.
Nine girls and a machine in Act III of Die Walküre.
(That's Deborah Voigt bringing up the rear.)
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
Like every opera in Robert Lepage's version of The Ring, Die Walküre takes place on a massive unit set with 24 rotating planks above the Met stage. Over the course of four hours, the "Machine" (as stage-hands call it) transforms into mountain-tops, buildings, trees, and even a gigantic flying wing for the Ride of the Valkyries.

Concert Review: The Heart of the Mountain

Daniele Gatti conducts the Mahler Third.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Mahler groove: conductor Daniele Gatti.
Photo from DanieleGatti.Eu
Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony is the Everest of its genre. Consisting of six movements and clocking in at nearly two hours, it is a visionary (some would say overblown) recreation of the natural and metaphysical world built the from elements of orchestral sound. But it’s easy to be left a little cold by the vast outer movements: detailed portraits of geological activity, changing seasons and abstract paeans to heavenly love.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Superconductor Interview: Liang Wang

The Philharmonic's principal oboe makes CONTACT!
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Oboist Liang Wang and friend. 
"Many oboe players are a little crazy."

The speaker is Liang Wang, principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic. will play the first performances of Poul Ruders' Oboe Concerto at  CONTACT!, the orchestra's twice-a-year exposition for new music and modern composers.

Once More Unto the Planks

Gearing up for another Ring Cycle.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Siegfried (Jay Hunter Morris, left) rows up the Rhine as the Gibichungs look on.
Act I, Scene 1 of the Met's production of Götterdämmerung.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
I wasn't all that enthusiastic about seeing the Ring again.

I'll admit that in the buildup to the 2010 premiere of the Metropolitan Opera's new Robert Lepage production of Der Ring der Nibelungen, I was excited, even enthusiastic. I had enjoyed the concerts and theatrical productions that I'd seen him put on: Peter Gabriel's Growing Up tour, the Met's fully staged 2008 Le Damnation de Faust and Cirque de Soleil's Ka in Las Vegas.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Concert Review: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Carter Brey Plays the Bach Cello Suites.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Carter Brey and friend at Holy Lutheran Church.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2013 The New York Philharmonic
Johann Sebastian Bach' Six Suites for Solo Cello are the core of that instrument's repertory, works that may have been designed to instruct and educate players on that still relatively new string instrument. Each consists of a Prelude followed by a matched set of dances in different style. But considering the length of each work and the serious instrumental challenges that Bach presents in each of the six Suites, the playing all of them on one program is a rare event.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Concert Review: Not Into That Whole Brevity Thing

Gustavo Dudamel conducts Debussy and Stravinsky.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Dude abides: Gustavo Dudamel conducts.
Photo by Chris Lee.
A concert appearance by Gustavo Dudamel is always cause for excitement--and for those who venerate the 32-year old Venezuelan conductor, a level of fan support not usually seen with men who beat time. On Thursday night, New Yorkers had the opportunity to hear the fiery Venezuelan lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 20th century orchestral repertory. This was the second of two appearances at Avery Fisher Hall by the L.A. players, as part of the annual Great Performers at Lincoln Center subscription series.

Out Comes the Evil

Prince of Darkness cracks down on Gounod Faust. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Art by Joe Quesada from Spider-Man: One More Day © Marvel Comics.
Balloon caption by the author.
In a stunning series of multiple lawsuits filed in New York, Paris and the United Kingdom, Mephistopheles, the reigning Prince of Darkness, Lord of Hell and General Manager of the Underworld has demanded that Charles Gounod's opera Faust be withdrawn from the general operatic repertory.

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