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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, November 30, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Norma

The Bellini bel canto classic returns with a new cast.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Angela Meade (top) and Jamie Barton in the 2013 production of Norma at the Met.
Photo © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
Norma is one of those operas that is all about the soprano singing the title role. In this case, the Metropolitan Opera opened ts 2017-18 season with a new production by Sir David McVicar, starring Sondra Radvanovsky as the knife-wielding pagan priestess who reacts badly when she learns her boyfriend (the leader of the opposing Roman forces) is cheating on her....with her handmaiden. Now in the first revival of the show Angela Meade takes over the title role.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Concert Review: Solemnity Now

The Metropolitan Opera mounts an old-fashioned Verdi Requiem.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
James Levine in his element.
Photo © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera Press Department.
The fifty-one year-old auditorium of the Metropolitan Opera has certain drawbacks. Those became visible on Monday night as the venerable opera company presented the second performance this season of the Messa di Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi. This is a colossal setting of the Latin Mass for the Dead, the standard service for funerals in the Roman Catholic Church until 1970. (Like all the performances this week, this one was dedicated to the memory of the baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.)

Monday, November 27, 2017

Recordings Review: The Last Laugh

Dmitri Hvorostovsky takes his final curtain in Rigoletto.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto, a role he sang at the Met and Covent Garden.
Photo by Johan Persson, © Royal Opera of Covent Garden
The death of baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (from brain cancer, last week) sent an earthquake through the opera world. "Dima", as he was known was a beloved figure, for his velvety instrument and leonine stage appearance. Those qualities made him a star: an ideal leading man (in a few operas) or a bad guy you loved to root for in many others. His final recorded achievement, made earlier this year in Lithuania, is the title role in Verdi's Rigoletto
. He was well suited to play such a complex character, one who is both leading man and villain at once.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Concert Review: A Full Feast of Rare Birds

Gianandrea Noseda leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Because photos of conductors get boring, here's a set design for The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh from 1929.
The New York Philharmonic has returned from their mid-November residency at the University of Michigan, just in time to offer their listeners a slate of concerts as the city races toward the holiday season. The first of these programs opened Wednesday night as Gianandrea Noseda led a program of infrequently performed works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Saint-Saëns and Rachmmaninoff, making a good argument for more programs like this in the future.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Concert Review: Songs from a Hockey Arena

Billy Joel rocks Madison Square Garden...again.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Big Shot: Billy Joel at the piano for your dining and dancing pleasure.
Photo © 2017 LiveNation.
OK. Maybe you're waking up, opening my blog page or getting your daily e-mail and going...."Alright. That Pelkonen kid has lost it again. First that Dream Theater review. Then those guys with the three drummers...and now...Billy Joel? The piano man?" Well yes. I saw Mr. Joel's show last Saturday night at Madison Square Garden and enjoyed it thoroughly, and decided to write about it. So settle down, Beavis, pour yourself a glass from a bottle of red or a bottle of white, and let me do my thing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Obituary: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1962-2017)

The great baritone succumbs to cancer.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
His last bow: Dmitri Hvorostovsky on the Met stage in the 2017 50th Anniversary Gala.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
There is heartbreaking news in the opera world this morning. It has been announced that Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the leonine baritone whose smooth voice and good looks made him an international superstar has died at the age of 55. An announcement appeared on his Facebook page this morning. It is reproduced here:

“On behalf of the Hvorostovsky family, it is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Dmitri Hvorostovsky – beloved operatic baritone, husband, father, son, and friend – at age 55. After a two-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer, he died peacefully this morning, November 22, surrounded by family near his home in London, UK. May the warmth of his voice and his spirit always be with us.”

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Concert Review: The Return of the Smooth Kriminals

King Crimson strip the paint off the Beacon Theater.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Starless and Bible Black and white: The men of King Crimson prepare to take the stage at the Beacon Theater
Photo by Dave Salt from 
[Ed. Note: Those of you who read Superconductor regularly know that three weeks ago, we dedicated a column  to King Crimson, the seminal and long-running progressive rock band, currently on tour in support of its Radical Action live boxed set. Well, the tour came to New York's Beacon Theater and we are happy to report that we snagged tickets. So here's another review, hopefully for your enjoyment.]

King Crimson stand alone among the long-lived, still-active rock bands that rose up in the first wave of what is referred today as so-called "progressive" or "prog" rock. The band is not so much a steady working unit as a collection of committed musicians, who form themselves around the guitar wizardry of 71-year old Robert Fripp. Mr. Fripp remains a pioneer of both his chosen instrument and electronic effects. He still plays seated, and still makes more noise than a New York City garbage truck at 6 a.m.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Concert Review: You Can Go Home (But You Can't Go Back)

Dream Theater bring Images and Words to the Beacon.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dream Theater: (l.-r. John Myung, Jordan Rudels, James LaBrie, Mike Mangini, John Petrucci)
in concert Friday night at the Beacon Theater. Photo by the author.
Progressive metal mavens Dream Theater are on tour again, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of their 1992 album Images and Words. On Thursday night, the Long Island quintet brought their Images and Words and Beyond Tour to their old turf: the hallowed stage of the Beacon Theater. This was the first DT show at that venue since 2011. However, this is not the same band that staked its claim with that record so many years ago.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Concert Review: The Fires of Inspiration

Daniil Trifonov unleashes his Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Valery Gergiev (left) and pianist/composer Daniil Trifonov in Rotterdam, 2016
Photo © Gergiev Festival 2016 Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
One of the questions I get as a music critic (aside from "Do you play an instrument?" and "How do you make money?") goes something like this:

"Is there any new music that you write about?"

Yes. Yes there is.

At Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night, the Mariinsky Orchestra and pianist Daniil Trifonov offered the New York premiere of the artist's first Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Now 26, Mr. Trifonov has made a name for himself as a young and respected virtuoso, the leading example of a new generation of piano-slingers thrilling listeners around the world. This concerto, which received its New York premiere at this concert, is his shot at a whole new kind of legitimacy.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Images, Words, and Really Complicated Drum Parts

My 5ive favorite Dream Theater shows.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dream Theater celebrated twenty years at Radio City Music Hall.
Photo from the live DVD  Score copyright 2007 Atco Records. 

I've been a fan of the progressive metal band Dream Theater since 1992, when I read a Guitar World review of their second album Images and Words. I remember heading out into Manhattan on a cold wet day In December, wanting to give myself the “gift of a new band to listen to” before Christmas. I came back with the album on cassette. I loved it, playing the first side to exhaustion. One morning I put the cassette in on side 2 and heard "Metropolis Part 1: the Miracle and the Sleeper" (hey I didn't title it) for the first time. I was stunned, puzzled, impressed and utterly hooked.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Verdi Requiem

In place of the cancelled Forza, four concert performances of Verdi's thunderous Requiem.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Met Chorus and soloists in the Verdi Requiem.
Photo © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera courtesy the press department, 
Giuseppe Verdi's setting of the Messa da Requiem has been called his best opera that doesn't have a staging. Here, the Met offers this massive work as a substitute for its cancelled production of La Forza del Destino. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Concert Review: Swimming Against the Tide of Protest

The Mariinsky Orchestra (with protestors) returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen 
A sea of notes: Valery Gergiev (left) and Denis Matsuev at play.
Photo by Denis Matsuev © 2016 personal collection of the artist. 
A visit from Valery Gergiev is always an occasion for celebration...and for protest. The conductor and his Mariinsky Orchestra were met at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday by applause inside the historic venue, while the sidewalk outside the lobby filled with placard-carrying citizens, objecting the close ties between Mr. Gergiev and Vladimir Putin, the current president of the Russian Federation. However, there were no politics inside the great hall this night, only a program of 20th century Russian music.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Concert Review: Our Dancing Hath Turned to Mourning

Leonard Slatkin pays homage to Leonard Bernstein at the Philharmonic.
Leonard Slatkin. Photo by Donald Dietz.
In the history of the New York Philharmonic, no music director casts a longer shadow than Leonard Bernstein. The Lenny legend started with a breakthrough performance at Carnegie Hall when the 25-year-old assistant subbed in for an ailing Bruno Walter in a concert that was nationally broadcast. This week, the New York Philharmonic ended Bernstein's Philharmonic: A Centennial Festival on a high note indeed. This  three-week salute to its former boss (who turns 100 this year) culminated in a program conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The concert (heard Saturday night) featured Richard Strauss' Don Quixote (featured on that afternoon in 1943) paired with Bernstein's third and final symphony, Kaddish.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Opera Review: Lust in the Dust

The Met spends its money on Thaïs.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Unholy: mad monk Athanaël (Gerald Finley, right) obsesses over the tide character (Aileen Pérez) in Thaïs. 
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
Jules Massenet's Thaïs is the operatic equivalent of a rare orchid, an exotically colored, carefully cultivated hothouse plant that is brought out only when an opera company believes it has the right soprano for the difficult title part. On Saturday afternoon, the Metropolitan Opera gave the first performance of this season's revival. Here, the stars were soprano Ailyn Pérez stepping into the leading lady's gilded sandals, and baritone of the moment Gerald Finley singing Athanaël, the troubled monk whose cilice may be on a little too tight.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Concert Review: A King of Infinite Space

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Bach and Bruckner.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the fabulous Philadelphians.
Photo © 2017 The Philadelphia Orchestra.
The Philadelphia Orchestra's relationship with music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a model of modern artistic collaboration. The Quebecois conductor has brought a much-needed dose of enthusiasm and artistic integrity to the band on Broad Street, and the orchestra has responded according to its gifts with full, rich performances that remain deeply satisfying. One of those took place on Friday afternoon, in a concert at Verizon Hall that featured a true symphonic heavyweight: Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Concert Review: Who You Gonna Call? Dust-Busters!

The Israel Philharmonic ends its Carnegie Hall run.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic in flight. Photo © 2014 Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
There is a long history between conductor Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Mr. Mehta has enjoyed thirty years at the helm of this Tel Aviv-based ensemble, which continues to serve as a much-loved international musical ambassador for their home country. On Thursday night, Mr. Mehta and his players offered their third and final program at Carnegie Hall this week: an evening of overture, concerto and symphony played in the traditional order. It was not exactly a thrilling experience.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Concert Review: Taking on the World

Zubin Mehta conducts the sprawling Mahler Third.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor for life Zubin Mehta.
Photo © 2017 Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
The universe is a big place. Really big. And it is the subject matter of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 3. On Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall, Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (where he holds the post of Conductor for Life) took on this enormous, world-embracing work, which at 100 minutes (and six movements) is still the longest symphony to hold a place in the standard orchestral repertory. Performances require two choirs and a contralto soloist, making it a rarity on the concert stage.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Singing Into a Can

Some presumptive thoughts on the nature of classical recordings.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Georg Solti and producer John Culshaw at work in the Sofiensaal, Vienna.
Photo © Decca Classics/UMG.
2017 is winding down and the holiday shopping season is around the corner. That means it's time to start looking at the newest crop of recordings arriving at Superconductor Central (my Brooklyn apartment.) Before delving into these releases I wanted to hold forth (cos it's my dime) about the nature of the classical recording industry, with some,thoughts on its history, its evolution and its way forward in the 21st century.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Concert Review: A Calmer, Simpler, More Nervous Time

Alan Gilbert revisits The Age of Anxiety.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Very, very nervous: Makoto Ozone (at piano) and conductor Alan Gilbert bring The Age of Anxiety
to the New York Philharmonic. Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 New York Philharmonic.
Americans who do not live in the bubbling cauldron of New York City, claim to long for a simpler, easier time. When picket fences were white, the mail was delivered regularly, and people's lives echoed the covers of trite magazines sold in supermarket checkout lines. However, New Yorkers know different. That difference was on proud display Saturday night as Alan Gilbert led the second of three programs at the New York Philharmonic dedicated to the music of Leonard Bernstein.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Your Mind is Blank and Empty"

Or: how to review a performance of a piece you've heard too many times.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
No that is not my head. I have hair.
When you leave off the inherent challenges in being  compensated for one's creative work, the lot of the professional classical music and/or opera critic is a pretty good one. We get to hear a lot of performances, of operatic and orchestral masterpieces that have survived into the fairly small club that is known as "the repertory." Occasionally we experience delicious rarities, epicure works by composers that we've heard of but have never seen played live. And finally, we occasionally get to hear and write about something new and genuinely innovative.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Opera Review: Angels and Insects

The Met attempts to pin down Madama Butterfly.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The bad lieutenant: Pinkerton (Roberto Aronica) peeps on Butterfly (Hui He) on their wedding night.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
There is no argument with the artistic or aesthetic success of the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of Madama Butterfly. It was the first production launched under the aegis of current general manager Peter Gelb and remains the greatest success of his administration. As envisioned by the late director Anthony Minghella, it was a revaluation and revolution for the venerable opera house. The show returned Thursday night, to find a very different state of affairs in the little house in Nagasaki.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Concert Review: An Orchestra of Ten

Marc-André Hamelin returns to Carnegie Hall. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Marc-André Hamelin and his orchestra.
Photo by Canetty Clarke © 2017 Hyperion Records.
The Canadian-born Boston-based pianist Marc-André Hamelin is not the biggest star to play his instrument. He doesn’t gyrate on his bench, flail his arms or wear short skirts that scandalize traditionalists. No. On Wednesday night, he came to Carnegie Hall, programmed unbelievably difficult stuff, and then blew the audience through the back wall of Stern Auditorium.

The sad part is, this hallowed venue was only half full to hear a musician of this caliber.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Thaïs

The most famous French opera with an umlaut in the title.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
You're nobody in Alexandria unless you live in a house with a really big door.
Photo from the Met's last production of Thats by Ken Howard, courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
The Met revives Massenet's most sensuous opera as a vehicle for soprano Ailyn Pérez and stud baritone Gerald Finley. Thaïs is a lush example of Massenet using an exotic setting to tell a fairly prosaic story of love and obsession. The twist is that the "bad girl" courtesan finds true redemption while the religious, sex-obsessed monk goes down in flames.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Concert Review: An Apocalyptic Kind of Party

The mighty King Crimson thraks NJPAC.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A slightly different version of King Crimson takes Radical Action.
 Photo by Sid Smith © 2017 DGM.
From their foundation in 1968, King Crimson  have never been a typical rock band. They have eschewed a linear existence for formation and reformation over the course of half a century, with the sole constant being guitarist, electronic music warrior and philosopher Robert Fripp. On Halloween night, Mr. Fripp brought the eighth and latest edition of Crimson to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, unleashing the band's peculiar brand of cheerful insanity upon an adoring, middle-aged crowd in Prudential Hall.

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