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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, March 31, 2017

Opera Review: Nature Red in Tooth (and claw)

Manhattan School of Music presents a cunning little Vixen.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Right before the feathers fly: the Vixen Sharp-Ears (Shantal Martin, foreground)
gets ready to ravage a chorus of chickens. Photo courtesty Manhattan School of Music.
Adaptations of cartoons and comics as popular entertainment are now commonplace in popular culture. A hundred years ago, that form of entertainment was opera, and it was Moravian composer Leoš Janáček who had the idea of taking a popular children's comic strip from a Brno paper and making it into an opera. Příhody lišky Bystroušky (literally "The Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears", also known as "The Cunning Little Vixen" was way ahead of its time. On Thursday night, the Senior Opera Theater of Manhattan School of Music unveiled a new bare-bones staging of this challenging three-act opera (sung in English) with a cast of young singers applying themselves to recreating the woodland fantasy of this vivid, vital opera.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Opera Review: New Blood for the Old Kingdom

The third cast is the charm for the Met's long-running Aida.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Radàmes (Jorge de Léon, left) and Aida (Krassmira Stoyanova) in Act III of Aida
at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
Old-time opera goers love the Metropolitan Opera's Aida, for Verdi's sublime melodies and for the big, martial choruses. Tourists, who have opted for this Met's Egyptian experience over the Temple of Dendur uptown, love it for the "sandstone" sets and elaborate Egyptian palaces, adorned with heiroglyphics, and the real horses in Act II. The show balances '80s excess with economical stage design and has played successfully for almost thirty years. It is always spectacular. But at the Met, Aida isn't always...ya know, good.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Richard Strauss Project: Ariadne auf Naxos

This comedy was the first Richard Strauss opera to be about...opera. 
The Twmple of Apollo on the Greek island of Naxos.
In the world of opera not everything goes as planned.

A case in point: Richard Strauss’ sixth opera and third collaboration with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The 1912 version of Ariadne auf Naxos was meant to be performed as a pendant to a Hofmannsthal adaptation of the Moliére play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, for which Strauss had written incidental music. Ariadne (planned as a 30 minute divertissement) would be the crowning jewel of the play. Except that Strauss’ opera ran 90 minutes, and when added to the already long Moliére play, the result was an evening longer than Die Meistersinger. 

It was the pair’s first failure. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Opera Review: There's Not a Lot of Money in Revenge

New Amsterdam Opera mounts La Forza del Destino.

Face-off: Tenor Errin Brooks (in profile) confronts baritone Stephen Gaertner
in La Forza del Destino at New Amsterdam Opera. Photo by Bidrum Vabish.

I have a confession to make. Up until yesterday, I had never heard of the New Amsterdam Opera. And then, on Friday afternoon on Facebook, a colleague and fellow critic mentioned that he was going to see their concert performance of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino ("The Force of Destiny") in the theater at Riverside church that very night. So it was my great pleasure to finds out that conductor Keith Chambers and his company were tackling Verdi’s most challenging opera in a concert performance.

What’s more, they did it with style.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Richard Strauss Project: Der Rosenkavalier

Strauss' immortal comedy veers from the bedroom to the drawing-room.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from Rafal Olbinski's poster for the Opera Pacific's production of Der Rosenkavalier.
Art © Rafal Olbinski Estate and Opera Pacific
Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hoffmannsthal are one of the most famous composer-librettist teams of the early 20th century. Der Rosenkavalier ("The Knight of the Silver Rose") which walks the line between raunchy sex farce and polite comedy of manners is the most famous example of their collaboration, matching Strauss' elaborate orchestra to a comic opera that would have made Lorenzo da Ponte proud.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Eugene Onegin

La Netrebko returns opposite two substitute baritones in Tchaikovsky's drama.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Anna Netrebko in the Act I "letter scene" from Eugene Onegin.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
Anna Netrebko returns to the role of Tatiana in the production she created in 2013. Her Onegin(s) will be Mariusz Kwiecien and Peter Mattei. They are substituting for Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who has declared himself unable to perform due to cancer treatments.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Opera Review: March to the Scaffold

The Metropolitan Opera (finally) revives Fidelio.

Oh happy we: Leonore (Adrinane Pieczonka) is reunited with Florestan  (Klaus Florian Vogt) in
Act II of Fidelio. Photo by Ken Howard courtesy The Metropolitan Opera.

In the current political climate, Beethoven's Fidelio, with its call for freedom in the face of corruption and the naked abuse of power is more relevant than ever, so it is fitting that this month marks the Metropolitan Opera’s first revival of the show in eleven years. The players have changed radically, but Jürgen Flimm’s grim, unrelenting production has not. It is still set in a bare modern prison, adorned by white industrial lights, inexplicable trash heaps and sadistic  guards toting automatic rifles and nightsticks.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Opera Review: Smoke Gets in His Eyes

The Orchestra Now plays Respighi and Wolf-Ferrari.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Don't say we didn't warn you.
In his capacity as a musical archeologist, Leon Botstein unearths little-heard compositions, and leads them before the discerning ears of those who attend his orchestral concerts. In his other job, he is the president of Bard College, that bastion of liberal arts learning on the Hudson River near Peekskill. Starting last season, Dr. Botstein combined these jobs, emerging as the leader of The Orchestra Now, comprised of Bard's masters' candidates setting forth upon the concert stage. This ensemble played Carnegie Hall Friday night as part of its spring concert season, with Dr. Botstein on the podium.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Opera Review: It Ain't Exactly Shakespeare

Loft Opera mounts the Rossini Otello.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A word before you go: Otello (Bernard Holcomb) assaults Desdemona (Cecilia Lopez) in Rossini's opera.
Photo by Robert Altman for LoftOpera.
LoftOpera opened its 2017 season last night, choosing LightSpace Studio, a high-ceilinged, white-walled warehouse on Flushing Avenue in Bushwick as the venue for the company's first staging of Rossini's Otello. Yes, you read that right. There's a (now mostly forgotten) Rossini version of this Shakespeare story, written back in 1816 and a pinnacle of the repertory before it was eclipsed by the Giuseppe Verdi opera from 1887. This performance marked the first New York staging in forty years.

Concert Review: A Composer's Fancy

Alan Gilbert and Yo-Yo Ma premiere the Salonen Cello Concerto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yo-Yo Ma onstage with the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York premiere of a new concerto by a major composer is always an event. On Wednesday night at David Geffen Hall, that composer was the new music rock star Esa-Pekka Salonen, currently composer-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic. The work: his new Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. The soloist: Yo-Yo Ma, the most famous cellist in the world. Mr. Ma and Mr. Salonen played this work together on March 9, giving its world premiere in Chicago. Here, the conductor was Alan Gilbert.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Concert Review: With a Swish and a Flick

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone comes to NJPAC.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) tries out a wand at Ollivander's.
Image from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone copyright 2001 Warner Brothers Entertainment. 
The global phenomenon of Harry Potter, chronicling the struggle of an eponymous boy wizard against the forces of darkness,exists in many forms. There are the original seven books. The books have been made into eight films, nine if you count the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. There are mugs, posters, plates, scarves and theme parks. And now there’s a concert series, which made its New Jersey debut on Saturday afternoon at NJPAC. (A followup is scheduled for October 28 of this year, featuring the score for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.)

White Smoke at Lincoln Center

Deborah Borda named new President, CEO of New York Philharmonic
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The auditorium at David Geffen Hall.
Photo © 2017 Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

The uncertain future of the New York Philharmonic just got a lot clearer.

It was announced this morning that Deborah Borda will return to the historic orchestra as its new President and Chief Executive Officer. Ms. Borda will start her term on Sept. 15, 2017.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Concert Review: The Swan and the Pigeon

Tenor Mark Padmore gives a Schubertiade.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tenor Mark Padmore. Photo by Richard Termine.
No composer had it harder than Franz Peter Schubert. His greatest symphonies were locked in drawers until long after his death. His songs brought him some fame but his operas and choral works remain neglected outside his native Austria. And to top it all off, he died at 31, younger even than Mozart and Mendelssohn who each lived four years longer.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Concert Review: Memories of the Adams Administration

The New York Philharmonic presents two sides of John Adams.
The composer John Adams. Photo by Margaretta Mitchell.
John Adams is no longer the nervy young composer who rode a minimalist wave to popularity with operas like Nixon in China. He is 70 now, and his belated birthday celebration was the subject of this week's set of all-Adams concerts at the New York Philharmonic under Alan Gilbert. He was at Friday's matinee concert, a known quantity warmly greeted by an audience that is often hostile to any music written after 1910.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Opera Review: The Ghosts in the Darkness

Yannick and the Philadelphians visit Duke Bluebeard's Castle.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
What key is it in? Bluebeard and his wife.
Illustration by Gustave Dore.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin jumped to the forefront of conductors in the musical conscience of musically conscious New Yorkers last year when he became the newest music director in the history of the Metropolitan Opera. On Tuesday night, opera lovers got a taste of his abilities in that genre when he brought the Philadelphia Orchestra to Carnegie Hall for a performance of Béla Bartók's lone opera: Duke Bluebeard's Castle.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Fidelio

Beethoven's lone opera returns to the big house. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Adrienne Pieczonka in the title role of Beethoven's Fidelio.
Photo © 2014 Royal Opera House of Covent Garden.
Beethoven only wrote one opera: the strange yet stirring Fidelio. Adrienne Pieczonka plays a brave wife who dresses in drag and gets a job as a jailor in order to get her husband out of prison. This is the first Met revival in over a decade.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Opera Review: Altar'ed States

Matthew Polenzani takes on Idomeneo at the Met.
Idomeneo (Matthew Polenzani, left) contemplates sacrificing his son Idamante (Alice Coote, kneeling) in Act III of Mozart's Idomeneo.  Photo  by Marty Sohl Copyright 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.

James Levine, the Metropolitan Opera’s music director emeritus continued his tour of the great Mozart operas on Monday night with this season’s first revival of Idomeneo. This staging of the 1781 opera seria featured a cast of singers that have been groomed and nurtured under Mr. Levine's hand. Last night, the most notable of these was tenor Matthew Polenzani. He sang the title role, a part essayed on the big Met stage by both Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo in decades past.

Concert Review: Everything is Awesome!

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic plays Shostakovich.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yuri Temirkanov has led the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra since 1988.
Photo courtesy
In 1988, Yuri Temirkanov became music director of what was then the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. Russia was then the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Andrei Gromyko. Perestroika and Glasnost were just around the corner. On Saturday night, Mr. Temirkanov and his orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall, offering a devoted audience a meat and potatoes program of Brahms and Shostakovich, with the latter's Fifth Symphony among his most popular and politically motivated creations.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Concert Review: Ain't No Sunshine

Alan Gilbert takes on the Mahler Fourth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
New York Philharmonic artist-in-residence Leonidas Kavakos played a new concerto by
Lera Auerback

In the online marketing materials for this week’s series of concerts at David Geffen Hall, featuring a new violin concerto by composer Lera Auerbach and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major, the orchestra’s promotion department referred to the latter as Mahler's “sunniest” work. However, as Friday nights concert under the baton of music director Alan Gilbert showed, this concert offered very little in the way of solar illumination.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Concert Review: He's Only Just Begun

Berlioz, George Benjamin and Ravel with the BSO at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Hector Berlioz (center) and his muse Harriet Smithson as depicted on the poster for
the 1942 French film Symphonie-fantastique.
Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra concluded their three-concert stand at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night with a concert featuring the New York premiere of a major work by George Benjamin, flanked by the French music of Maurice Ravel and Hector Berlioz. Although this concert used smaller orchestral forces than Tuesday's all-out assault, this was by far the most expansive and ambitious of the three subscription programs that they had chosen to import from their 2016-17 offerings at their Huntington Avenue home.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Concert Review: The Priest of Beethoven

The BSO plays Schuller, Mozart and Beethoven's Eroica.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Andris Nelsons in flight.
Photo by Marco Borggreve for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Night Two of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's three concerts at Carnegie Hall this week featured music from three centuries, as music director Andris Nelsons showed his ease with different eras and styles of classical music.

The Unreliable Aristocrat

Jonas Kaufmann ditches Tosca at the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He's moving on: Jonas Kaufmann, shown here in the Met staging of Parsifal
in 2012, will not be appearing in Tosca later this year.

It's all just a little bit of history repeating: Jonas Kaufmann will not be singing at the Met this year. The news dropped today from Michael Cooper at the New York Times.

Opera Review: A Close Shave

Rossini's Barbiere cuts it up in Kanazawa.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This store is in Minnesota but Rossini's Barbiere was open for business in Kanazawa, Japan last month.
Gioachino Rossini’s ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia’ remains one of the most popular operas in the western canon, with a two hundred year performing tradition. On Sunday, February 20, that tradition came to the west coast of Japan, as the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa offered a semi staged, concert version of the Italian masterpiece, under the baton of Marc Minkowski. The performance, in the OEK's gorgeous, modern mid-sized concert hall, featured columnar LED titles (in Japanese) on either side of the acting area.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Concert Review: A Certain Sense of Drama

Andris Nelsons and the BSO take Leningrad.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Andris Nelsons at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Photo by Marco Borggreve © 2016 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Andris Nelsons is in his third year at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the fiery Latvian conductor has been nothing but good for this august ensemble. On Tuesday night, Mr. Nelsons led the first of three Carnegie Hall concerts this week. He opened his New York run with an ambitious pairing: a new concerto by Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina and the longest symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich: the Seventh.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A First Look: The Metropolitan Opera 2017-18

Superconductor previews the coming season at the big house.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This is why we can't have nice things: a scene from the cancelled Calixto Bielto La Forza del Destino, 
staged last summer at the London Coliseum,. Photo by Robert Workman for the English National Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera released its schedule on Feb. 15, 2016, with a curious lack of fanfare. Now that your friendly correspondent is back from Japan and no longer jet-lagged, it's time to look at the slate of operas on offer for next year.

This schedule is a dull offering from an opera company in an ever-increasing sense of crisis under general manager Peter Gelb. There are only five new productions (one of them a U.S. premiere) and just eighteen operas in the generale (I'm sorry, but staging the same Julie Taymor productions of Die Zauberflöte and (a shortened English-language) The Magic Flute do not count as separate operas! For that matter, neither do the pair of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci which will be played as per usual on the same evening.)

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Idomeneo

Power, mystery and a gigantic sea monster in Mozart's drama.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The supernatural climax of Mozart's Idomeneo.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2006 The Metropolitan Opera.
Matthew Polenzani takes on the title role in Mozart's challening drama, an opera seria thar chronicles the trials and tribulations of a Cretan king who returns from the Trojan War only to find out that the gods demand a sacrifice: his only son.

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