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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.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

DVD Review: Miracles Out of Nowhere

The Royal Opera of Covent Garden mounts Parsifal.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The wounded and the penitent: Gerald Finely as Amfortas and Angela Denoke as
Kundry in a scene from Act II of Parsifal at Covent Garden.
Photo by Clive Barda © 2013 Royal Opera House of Covent Garden
Parsifal is the final completed stage work of Richard Wagner. For better or for worse, it is also the work that  lends itself most easily to radical interpretation. This latest DVD issue of the opera (released earlier this year on OpusArte) comes from the Royal Opera House of Covent Garden, and shows director Stephen Langridge's vision of the opera. He puts a secular spin on this story, re-imagining the Grail legend as a story of innocence lost and miracles achieved, although not always in a way that one would expect.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Of Salt Spray and Space Warps

Superconductor remembers the music of composer James Horner.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The U.S.S. Enterprise (top) fires on the U.S.S. Reliant in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Image © 1982 Paramount Pictures,
The composer James Horner died yesterday when his single-engine plane crashed in California. Mr. Horner was an acclaimed film composer with a wide range of credits, from Aliens to his award-winning Celtic-influenced scores for Titanic and Braveheart. But what he will always be associated with (in the mind of this writer at least) is his two symphonic scores for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

The Season in Reviews: Fall 2014-Spring 2015

The best concerts we saw this year on Superconductor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pierre-Laurent Aimard brought exceptional Bach and Boulez to Carnegie Hall this season.
Photo © 2015 Universal Music Group/Deutsche Grammophon.
The 2014-15 season is in the books. Here's a rundown of the ten best concert performances seen this year, drawn from the exhaustive and intensive archives of Superconductor. Relive the best performances of the year...or else, find out what you missed. All quotes are from Superconductor and the reviews are in rough chronological order.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Concert Review: The Continental Returns

Charles Dutoit conducts the New York Philharmonic in Central Park.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The crowd gathers for the New York Philharmonic's Thursday night concert.
Photo from

The New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks series usually presents New Yorkers with the chance to hear its orchestra play two very different programs. On Thursday night, Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit led a sophisticated program of works centered around the music and culture of France, particularly the city of Paris.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Concert Review: Cloudy With a Chance of Bernstein

The New York Philharmonic opens Concerts in the Parks.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alan Gilbert conducts Joshua Bell (right) and the New York Philharmonic
in the opening night of Concerts in the Parks.
When you play classical music outdoors, the elements do not always cooperate.  On Wednesday night, 55,000+ New Yorkers gathered on the Great Lawn of Central Park to watch Alan Gilbert conduct a program of American classics, the opening shot of the New York Philharmonic's week-long Concerts in the Parks series. What they got was a shortened program, with long weather delays and two pieces omitted entirely from the ambitious program.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Concert Review: The Captain of Quirk

The New York Philharmonic celebrates Carl Nielsen's 150th.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He's 150! Birthday boy Carl Nielsen was féted Monday night by the New York Philharmonic.
Photo from
Sometimes the best birthday parties are the intimate ones. On Monday night, members of the New York Philharmonic gathered at SubCulture, the basement performance space on Bleecker Street, to celebrate the 150th birthday of Danish composer Carl Nielsen. The occasion also marked the conclusion of The Nielsen Project, music director Alan Gilbert's plan to record and release most of the composer's major orchestral works on the Da Capo label.

Monday, June 15, 2015

"It Must Have Been the Wagner."

Opera, eroticism and the joys of Penny Dreadful.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Decadence: Eva Greene and Reeve Carney in Penny Dreadful
Image © Showtime Network, used for promotional purposes only.

The elaborate Showtime drama Penny Dreadful is a riot: a gleeful mash-up of Gothic literary figures. Framed as a horror/adventure show and taking its title from the cheap novels of the 19th century, Dreadful combines Frankenstein's monster, werewolves, witches, vampires and a possession case similar to The Exorcist into a heady brew of horror, sex and special effects. Now in its second season, the show has become notable not only for its  intense visuals but for its incorporation of the operas of Richard Wagner into its tapestry of Victorian decadence.

DVD Review: Call in the Swiss Navy

Opernhaus Zürich presents Der Fliegende Holländer.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Heart of darkness: Bryn Terfel (center) is the Dutchman in Opernhaus Zürich's
Der Fliegende Holländer. Photo © 2013 Opernhaus Zürich/DG/UMG.
With the 1843 premiere of Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) Richard Wagner created the first of ten operas that constitute the canon of his work. He also created a serious problem for stage directors, as the romance between a ghostly ship's captain and an obsessive young woman ends with the latter hurling herself off a nearby cliff and the reunited couple "ascending to Heaven" as the opera's final bars crash home.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Portrait of P.D.Q. Bach Returned to Alleyway

The unloved last son of Johann Sebastian Bach gets dumped again.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Portrait of P.D.Q. Bach restored to its rightful place of honor.
Original image © 1978 Vanguard Records.
A portrait of the German wastrel and composer P.D.Q. Bach has returned from whence it came, to the alley behind a Leipzig eatery two streets up from the Thomaskirsche. No members of the press were present at the ceremony, which was conducted by two Leipzig garbagemen, Franz Schutzenschütz and Dieter Dietermeyer.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Opera Review: A Nightmare of Ecstasy

Jeanne d'Arc at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Marion Cotillard (center) is Joan in Jeanne d'arc au bûcher at the New York Philharmonic,
Photo by Chris Lee © 2015 The New York Philharmonic.
The first thing you saw was the stake.

There it loomed, an ugly, vertical timber mounted securely on a purpose-built wooden platform. Flanking it were wooden pew-like risers which slowly filled with robed choristers. Below the platform, the vast, arrayed orchestral forces dressed in modern concert blacks and surrounded by an acting surface that thrust into the auditorium to bring singers and actors closer the the audience. This was the set for Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher, the closing concert program of a turbulent and change-filled 2015 New York Philharmonic season. Music director Alan Gilbert led the performance, which marks the end of his sixth season as music director.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Opera Review: Learning to Fly

Lawrence Brownlee flies high in Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

(Ed. Note: the complete review of YARDBIRD appears on the website OperaPulse.)
The jazz-man testifies: Lawrence Brownlee in Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD.
Photo by Dominic Mercier © 2015 Opera Philadelphia.
The American tenor Lawrence Brownlee rose to fame singing bel canto repertory, operas that require a light and agile voice with a bright, even brassy tone. This month at Opera Philadelphia, Brownlee applies his remarkable instrument to the title role of Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD. In this new opera by Daniel Schnyder, Brownlee portays not just the famous jazz musician (who died in 1955 at just 34 years old) but his signature alto saxophone sound, using his nimble instrument to create the vocal equivalent of Parker’s bebop.

To read the whole review by Paul J. Pelkonen, visit OperaPulse.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

In Memory of Ornette Coleman

The alto saxophonist and jazz pioneer was 85 years old. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ornette Coleman. Image © Sony Entertainment
The composer, saxophonist and legendary jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman has died. In tribute, Superconductor offers a complete streamed performance of his seminal album Free Jazz, a collective improvisation for double quartet. It says more than any words could.

Opera Review: The First Close Shave

On Site Opera presents Paisiello's Barbiere di Siviglia.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Figaro (Andrew Wilkowske) and Rosina (Monica Yunus) share a moment
in Giovanni Paisiello's Il Barbiere di Siviglia.
Photo by Rebecca Fay © 2015 On Site Opera.
Giaochino Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia celebrates its bicentennial birthday next year, having trimmed beards onstage for two centuries. But when it premiered in 1816, Rossini's opera eclipsed a 1782 opera on the same subject by composer Giovanni Paisiello. On Tuesday night at the Fabbri Mansion, New York's own On Site Opera  kicked off its three year Figaro Project with an entertaining and vital performance of Paisiello's Barbiere. The Project continues in 2016 and 2017 with performances of two more operas based on lesser-known adaptations of the Beaumarchais plays: Marcos Portugal's The Marriage of Figaro and Darius Milhaud's version of The Guilty Mother.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

DVD Review: Coming Down to Earth

Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Opera take on Die Frau Ohne Schatten.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Lost in the darkness: Mlada Khudoley (left) and Avgust Amonov as the Empress and Emperor
in Richard Strauss' Die Frau Ohne Schatten.
Photo © 2011 Mariinsky Opera.
Die Frau Ohne Schatten is composer Richard Strauss' most ambitious collaboration with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. A Magic Flute-style quest (in this case for the missing "shadow" of the title) written on a Wagnerian scale, Frau has a complex libretto that requires its director to make frequent transitions between the everyday world and the realm of faerie, ruled by the merciless Keikobad. The titular Frau is  Keikobad's daughter, the Empress. She seeks to cast a shadow and bring fertility to her loveless marriage. With five leading roles and a heavyweight orchestration, it is a formidable challenge for any opera house.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Concert Review: When Two Fifths Make a Whole

The NJSO plays Beethoven, Beethoven and Beethoven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Piano man: Marc-Andre Hamelin in rehearsal.
Photo provided by Hemsing Associates.
Sometimes when you look over a chronological listing of an upcoming classical music season, it is common to circle a certain performance and make a note of its date. One such performance took place Sunday afternoon at NJPAC's Prudential Hall, where Jacques Lacombe and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra concluded their regular subscription season with a matinee concert focused exclusively on the music of Beethoven. (The orchestra has one more concert planned for next Sunday at NJPAC.)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Soundtrack Review: It's Wayne's World

Lincoln Center screens Tim Burton and Danny Elfman's Batman.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Batman (Michael Keaton, l) confronts the Joker (Jack Nicholson, right) atop
Gotham City Cathedral at the climax of Batman. 
Image for promotional purposes only © 1989 Warner Bros.
In 1989, the Hollywood superhero film was born with Tim Burton's Batman, a dark, Gothic and deadly serious adaptation of the classic DC hero. And with it came the score by Danny Elfman, the self-trained composer and former frontman of the Los Angeles art-collective-turned-new-wave band Oingo Boingo. Mr. Elfman is the subject of a six-concert retrospective at this summer's Lincoln Center Festival, focusing on his many collaborations on Mr. Burton's films.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Concert Review: Every Breaking Wave

The New York Philharmonic makes CONTACT! with Japanese music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The torii gate at Miyajima, inspiration for Olivier Messiaen's Sept haïkaï.
Photo © 2015 from Wikimedia Commons.
Since its inception in 2009, the CONTACT! series has been the New York Philharmonic laboratory for performing modern music. Staged in more intimate venues than Avery Fisher Hall around New York, the players are liberated from the typical subscription format and the compulsion of symphony orchestras to pair the avant-garde with Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner. On Friday evening, members of the orchestra gathered at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for New Music in Japan, a program celebrating the classic and cutting edge of contemporary art music in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Concert Review: Mozart and the Crash Cart

A Friday matinee turns deadly at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pianist Jeffrey Kahane conducted Mozart at the New York Philharmonic this week. 
On certain, rare occasions, the weekly routine of a New York Philharmonic subscription concert at Avery  Fisher Hall is broken by an extraordinary event. Such an event happened at Friday's 11am matinée performance. The concert featured pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane leading a thoroughly conventional program: Mozart's Symphony No. 38 sandwiched between two of his piano concertos: No. 21 in C Major and the heaven-storming No. 20 in D minor.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Festival Preview: Get Thee to a Nunnery (or Monastery)

Caramoor unveils its summer opera lineup. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Opera in concert at Caramoor's Venetian Theater.
Image © 2015 Caramoor Performing Arts Festival.
Located off a quiet suburban lane in Katonah, NY, the Rosen Estate is a gorgeous folly, an exercise in Renaissance Italian architecture slapped square in a corner of Westchester, NY. Happily, it is also home to Caramoor, a performing arts center whose annual festival features the best of opera, orchestral and chamber music.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Festival Preview: Red Bicycles, Tree-Women and Handmade Instruments

We look at the upcoming 2015 Lincoln Center Festival.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He's ba-ack: Michael Keaton as Betelgeuse in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice.
The film's score is part of a six-day Danny Elfman retrospective at this year's Lincoln Center Festival.
Photo © 1988 Warner Brothers Entertainment/Geffen Films.
Since its inception in 1996, the Lincoln Center Festival has this mammoth venue's laboratory: its chance to experiment and offer new experiences in the appreciation of Western art music. The 2015 festival offers a compelling mix of German opera, Hollywood illusion and a long overdue re-assessment of a true American master, Harry Partch.

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