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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.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Opera Review: Lost Vegas

<b>The Metropolitan Opera bets on Rigoletto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tapped out: George Gagnidze is a hapless protagonist in the Met's "Vegas" Rigoletto.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.

"You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." --Kenny Rogers, The Gambler.

The Metropolitan Opera's current production of Verdi's Rigoletto transposes opera's action to Las Vegas in the 1960s. In director Michael Mayer's mind, the Duke is a cabaret crooner, surrounded by a "rat pack" of buddies in snazzy lamé jackets. Rigoletto is his opening act, warming up the crowd with insult comedy. The Duke's palace is a casino-hotel, where the outside world exists only behind heavy green curtains. When it bowed in 2013, Mr. Mayer's vision of the opera seemed fresh. However, as Wednesday night's performance showed, this show's luck is running out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Lulu

William Kentridge re-imagines Alban Berg's visionary, violent opera. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Isn't she lovely: Marliss Petersen is the femme fatale in Lulu.
Photo by Kristian Schuller © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
One of the most eagerly anticipated new productions of the 2015 season is Lulu, staged by the South African artist and director William Kentridge. Mr. Kentridge's previous effort for the Met, The Nose met with critical and audience acclaim. Can he do the same for the sordid story of Lulu, the female "earth spirit" who leaves a trail of broken hearts and dead bodies in her wake?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Concert Review: His Last Bow...For Now

Valery Gergiev's last LSO tour stops at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Protest? What protest? Valery Gergiev returned to Lincoln Center on Friday night.
Photo by Alberto Venzago © 2015 Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Valery Gergiev is a colorful and divisive figure. Colorful for his podium idiosyncracies: fluttering hands, tiny batons and a knack for delivering performances that always seem right on the edge of falling apart. Divisive: for some of those same reasons--plus his close association with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, one that repeatedly draws placard-carrying protesters from New York's Ukrainian community.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Concert Review: Brahms, More Brahms, Et Cetera

The New York Philharmonic know.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Brahmsian: Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2015 The New York Philharmonic.
The modern symphony orchestra cannot survive without the music of Johannes Brahms.

On Friday morning, the New York Philharmonic and guest conductor Semyon Bychkov gave the third of four concerts this week focused almost entirely on Brahms' music. The performance opened with a modern work: the Brahms-Fantasie by contemporary German composer Detlev Glanert, followed by two major works from opposite ends of Brahms' career: the Double Concerto (which would be his last major orchestral work) and the First of his four symphonies.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Concert Review: The Prodigal and the Exile

The BSO ends its epic stand at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Prince Alexander (Nikolai Cherkasov) prepares for battle in a scene from Alexander Nevsky.
Photo © 1938 Mosfilm.
Under the baton of new music director Andris Nelsons, the Boston Symphony Orchestra has, this week, treated Carnegie Hall to some of the most exciting performances of this still young concert season. On Thursday night, conductor and players went for the throat with a thrilling one-two program of Prokofiev’s Aleksandr Nevsky and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, a daunting program for any orchestra worth their salt.

Concert Review: The Best of All Possible Worlds

Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the NJSO.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The always well-dressed Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
Photo by Hilary Scott for the Tanglewood Festival © 2015 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra exists in perpetual shadow of the classical music scene in nearby New York. And yet, those attending the orchestra’s concerts (held at NJPAC in downtown Newark and an ever-rotating series of regional arts centers and theaters in the Garden State) hear strong, snappy playing, bold brass and a gritty work ethic that matches its blue-collar home state.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Opera Review: The Revenge Business

Christine Goerke’s Elektra rocks Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
So her brother's an axe murderer:: Christine Goerke (in red) sings Elektra in concert
 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra thundering behind her.
Photo by Stu Rosner © 2015 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Richard Strauss’ Elektra is a 100-minute roller coaster, an opera where bigger-than-life mythological characters race through a collapsing house intent on murdering each other with a bloody axe. On Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall, it was the perfect concert vehicle for the rejuvinated Boston Symphony Orchestra, their sophomore music director Andris Nelsons and its leading lady: soprano Christine Goerke.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Concert Review: Happiness is the Road

The Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The most happy fella: Andris Nelsons.
Photo © 2014 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night, opening a three concert stand under the baton of their vibrant nnew music director Andris Nelsons. Tuesday’s program featured new music from composer Sebastian Currier and then this orchestra’s strength: square-shouldered and unpretentious performances of Beethoven and Brahms.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Rigoletto

A new cast takes over the Met's "Vegas" Verdi revue.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Shake it baby: Piotr Beczala goes Vegas in Rigoletto.
Photo © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
This year's revival features Simon Keenlyside's return to the Met stage in the title role. He'll be relieved by Željko Lučić who sang this production when it premiered in 2013. The Duke will be sung by original lounge lizard Piotr Beczala, who will eventually be replaced by Stephen Costello. The key role of Gilda--Rigoletto's treasured daughter and the latest object of the Duke's depredations--is sung by Olga Peretyatko, who made a splash a few seasons back in I Puritani. Nadine Sierra sings the later performances.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Concert Review: The Comet Returns

Maurizio Pollini plays with the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Smokin': Maurizio Pollini lit up the Philharmonic on Friday night.
Photo © 2015 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Group.
Most New York Philharmonic programs during any given concert season last two, three, even four nights, giving New Yorkers a chance to hear their hometown orchestra at whatever time is convenient to their busy schedules. However, Friday night's program of Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Chopin was one night only. The reason: it marked the first and only appearance by guest pianist Maurizio Pollini this season--and his first performance with the orchestra in twenty years.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Concert Review: He Died For His Art

The Ullmann Project launches at Merkin Concert Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Doomed genius: Viktor Ullmann in 1924.
Image © The Arnold Schoenberg Center, Vienna.
Some composers are remembered more for the circumstances of their demise rather than the extraordinary achievements of their respective lives. Of those, Viktor Ullmann stands out. A songwriter, a piano composer and a creator of opera, he looked death in the face and laughed, creating the anti-Nazi opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis while interred in the Theresienstadt prison camp from 1941 to 1944. A fairy tale where Death takes a much-needed vacation in the face of total war, it was quickly banned. Ullmann was then killed at Auschwitz.

Concert Review: In the Time of Their Singing

Eric Owens curates In Their Footsteps at the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Eric Owens (left) and Laquita Mitchell sing "Bess, you is my woman now"
at the New York Philharmonic as Thomas Wilkins (right) conducts.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2015 The New York Philharmonic.
Eric Owens has become an unlikely star of this young century, anchoring the grandest operas with his rock-solid bass-baritone and powerful, passionate delivery. This year he is Artist-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic. As the first of his duties, he assembled In Their Footsteps: Great African American Singers and Their Legacy, a concert celebrating the long history of African-American singing in the United States heard Wednesday night at David Geffen Hall.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Concert Review: Of Trolls, Swans and Indeterminate Obstacles

The Philadelphia Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
That's right! Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Photo © 2015 by Chris Lee.
This was a concert that almost didn't happen.

On Monday night, the Philadelphia Orchestra agreed to a new one-year contract for its musicians, just one night before they were scheduled to play their first concert of the 2015 season at Carnegie Hall. With a 3% pay raise on the books and light at the end of a decade marked by bankruptcy and labor disputes, the ensemble arrived at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, to offer a refreshing if old-fashioned program of Grieg, Bartók and Sibelius under music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Tosca

Yes, it's the Met's Luc Bondy production...thankfully for the last time.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
With furniture like this, you might jump too.
Act II of Tosca in the Met's current Luc Bondy production.
Photo © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Add together four sopranos, three tenors, two conductors and one of the most godforsaken opera productions in recent memory at the Metropolitan Opera, and whaddya get? Tosca! With a new production (by Sir David McVicar) scheduled to premiere on Dec. 31, 2017, this is the final, flying leap for the Luc Bondy version of Puccini's most blood-curdling opera. The title role will be split four ways, between sopranos Oksana Dyka, Angela Gheorghiu, Maria Guleghina and  Liuydmila Monastyrska.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Opera Review: To Venus and Back

Wagner's Tannhäuser returns to the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Meeting Venus: the goddess (Michelle DeYoung, left) seduces Tannhäuser
(Johan Botha, right) in the first act of Richard Wagner's opera Tannhäuser. 
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
On Thursday night, the Metropolitan Opera revealed its lone Wagner offering of the current season, a revival of the company's worn but much loved 1977 production of Tannhäuser from the team of Otto Schenk and Gunther Schneider-Siemssen. The problem child among Wagner's thirteen operas, Tannhäuser is the story of an itinerant minstrel knight (the title character, played here by tenor Johan Botha) caught between his love for the saintly Elisabeth and his erotic obsession with the goddess Venus and her underground pleasure palace, a plot element that led Wagner to consider naming the work Der Venusberg, or "The Mountain of Venus." Eventually, good taste prevailed.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Concert Review: This Used To Be Their Playground

The New York Philharmonic returns to Carnegie Hall for its 2015 gala.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Evgeny Kissin played the opening gala of Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Bette Marshall for Sony Classics.
Opening night at Carnegie Hall is a festive occasion each year. This year, the famed venue turns 125 years old, and celebrated that birthday with a program that looked back upon golden moments in its venerated history. The guests though were from up the street: the New York Philharmonic. America's oldest orchestra called the Carnegie stage home for 70 years before upping roots to Lincoln Center.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Five Scariest Scenes in Opera

We look at harrowing moments in honor of Halloween.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The man who came to dinner: John Tomlinson as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni.
Image from the 1984 film Amadeus © The Saul Zaentz Company/Orion Pictures.
Opera is more than just pretty voices against an orchestra: it is an art form that has fascinated listeners for five centuries. And ever since Monteverdi's >i>L'Incoronazione di Poppea
, composers have gleefully shown bloodshed, murder, rape and (in the case of Hansel und Gretel) cannibalism.
In honor of the month of October and the approach of Halloween Superconductor offers a list of five operatic moments that make us clutch our arm-rests: the most nail-biting, terrifying, out-right harrowing scenes from five famous operas.

(Note to our readers: If you haven't seen Elektra, Rigoletto or Tosca yet (and they're all on the Metropolitan Opera's schedule this season) beware: there be spoilers after the jump.)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Recordings Review: Building A Better Pyramid

Antonio Pappano's new studio Aida from Rome.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Studio warrior: Jonas Kaufmann recording Aida in Rome.
Photo © 2015 Warner Brothers Classics.
The classical recording industry of the 21st century is a pale reflection of that which went before: an era where recordings are issued to little fanfare in the non-music press and even the record store is an anachronism in the urban landscape. So it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the newly merged Warner Brothers Classics had recorded and would issue a new studio recording of Verdi's Aida in an era where cost cuts and singers' schedules dictate that most operas are now recorded at live performances. A perennial and much-loved show at the most munificent opera companies, Aida is also a small-scale love story and an intimate family drama. That combination has proved to be an elusive one to capture on disc.

Friday, October 2, 2015

He-Dropped a Lulu, It Was His Baby

James Levine pulls out, we don't mean maybe.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's dangerous: Marliss Peterson's Lulu has claimed her first victim.
Photo by Kristian Schuller © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Lulu, the Alban Berg tale of a femme fatale who leaves a trail of bodies in her wake has claimed its first victim: music director James Levine.

Concert Review: A Covey of Concertos

The New York Philharmonic plays Brahms and Marc Neikrug.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A man and his instrument: Emanuel Ax at the piano.
The early weeks of this young New York Philharmonic season are heavily focused on the concerto, that peculiar yet popular form that pits a solo artist against an orchestra in a struggle of will and ability. This week’s program featured two pieces by Johannes Brahms (the Tragic Overture and the Second Piano Concerto) flanking the world premiere of a new work (commissioned by the Philharmonic in 2014) by contemporary composer Marc Neikrug.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gotham Chamber Opera Folds

Company ceases operations, effective today.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

It ended not with a bang, or a whimper, but with a press release.

The Gotham Chamber Opera, which was among the front rank of New York opera companies not based at Lincoln Center, has closed its doors and ceased operations.

Opera Review: Ice, Ice, Princess

Christine Goerke reigns in the Met's Turandot.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A love supreme: Christine Goerke as Turandot.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
One of the problems with the Metropolitan Opera's 20-year-old production of Turandot is that audiences come not for the singing, but for the sumptuous sets, elaborately costumed choruses and a fantastical vision of legendary China as seen through the Italianate lenses of composer Giacomo Puccini and producer Franco Zeffirelli. This year, though, things are different, and not just in the opening crowd scene and refreshed choreography.

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