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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.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Year in Reviews 2017: The Best Operas

Superconductor picks the ten best opera performances of 2017. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
We end the Year of the Rooster with ten clucky I mean lucky operas.
(For Part One of The Year in Reviews 2017 click here.)
It wasn't easy.

From the opening salvo of the Prototype Festival to the year-ending scandals that engulfed the careers and sullied the reputations of two internationally famous conductors, 2017 was a turbulent year in the opera world. A lot of performances had to be picked through for the following list of ten, and we're sure that we missed a couple of worthy honorable mentions.

Chronological order, and all links go to full reviews on Superconductor.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Concert Review: Music That Goes Over Easy

The New York Philharmonic offers a three course holiday meal.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Chick Bal-Á: Detail from Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks by Natasha Turovsky,
inspired by Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. Image © 2005 Natasha Turovsky

This week, the New York Philharmonic offered two decidedly (and welcomely) secular concerts to warm a very frigid holiday week in New York City. Since the orchestra is at present without a music director, this program was entrusted to Bramwell Tovey, a conductor usually engaged for lighter fare.

The Year in Reviews: the Best Concerts of 2017

Superconductor takes aim at The Year of the Rooster.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Well, that was a year. 2017 saw Superconductor stick pretty close to home with the exception of one memorable visit to...Japan(!) and the odd trip to Philadelphia and Boston. However, the homefront yielded a great slate of news stories, scandals, protests and even the odd classical music performance. The best are listed below. All concert titles link to reviews except for the Barenboim Bruckner which links to all nine concert reviews from that memorable marathon at Carnegie Hall. Yes, I cheat sometimes. Doesn't everyone?

Here are the most memorable concert experiences of 2017 in chronological order.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Superconductor Presents: The Sausage Awards

The Very Wurst of 2017
by Paul J. Pelkonen
How sausage is made: it isn't pretty. Animated still by Gerald Scarfe
from the film Pink Floyd: The Wall © 1982 MGM/UA.

Hi everybody, it's time for the first of a series of year-end wrap-up posts as we close the books on 2017. This will forever be remembered as the year that the government of the United States decided to start undoing the hard work and social programs of the 20th century, and as the year when long-buried sex scandals in the entertainment industry finally began to come out in the light.

Here are five things that Superconductor (that is I,) did not like about 2017.

Opera Review: Fairy Tale Justice

The Met bounces back with Hansel and Gretel.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Spoon man: Kitchen witch Gerhard Siegel (center) makes magic while
Hansel (Tara Erraught, prone) and Gretel (Lisette Oropesa)  try to escape. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera
The Metropolitan Opera plans its seasons five years in advance. So when general manager Peter Gelb chose Hansel and Gretel as one of this year's two holiday presentations, there was no way that he could have predicted that this fairy tale opera, sung in English, would be just the thing that this opera company, rocked by a month of sex scandals and rumors, needed.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The St. Roger's Passion: A Pink Floyd Oratorio

An oratorio scenario inspired by Pink Floyd.
by Paul J. Pelkonen 
(with apologies to Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason)
Lo there is no dark side of the moon. Art by Paul Klee, Hipgnosis and Gerald Scarfe.
Dark Side of the Moon symbol © 1973 EMI Records
So today I was talking to a friend who is singing at the Kennedy Center tonight. She referred to it as singing "at the KC". I said, "Oh, you're singing King Crimson?" because I'm a smartass.

She said, "no the Kennedy Center. I'm singing about sheep."

It is to her I'd like to dedicate this little holiday offering, a completely made up outline for

Friday, December 22, 2017

Editorial: Falling Off Their Podiums

The changing role of the conductor in the 21st century.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Photoshop by the author.
 When you think about it conductors are held in a ridiculously high esteem. Now granted it is important for orchestras to cue in together and stay in time, and know when to start and when to stop playing. However, the idea of the conductor as celebrity, as some sort of mystic grand master of musical performance is one that is endemic to the classical music and opera business.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Broken Baton

Charles Dutoit accused of sexual misconduct, loses major conducting jobs.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit stands accused of four separate incidents of sexual misconduct.

In a detailed and harrowing story in the Associated Press, three opera singers and an orchestra musician recalled sexual advances and assaults by Mr. Dutoit. The story, by Jocelyn Gecker, shines light on four unrelated incidents. All involved the Swiss maestro. In response to the story, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic cut their ties with the 81-year-old Swiss maestro.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Concert Review: In Search of Space, Still Orbiting

The Orchestra Now plays Adams, Penderecki and Holst.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor JoAnn Falletta led The Orchestra Now on Saturday night at Alice Tully Hall.
Photo by Cheryl Gorsky © 2017 The Buffalo Philharmonic.
The Orchestra Now is still a new presence on the classical music scene in New York but it is, on the surface, a pretty good idea. Conceived by Bard College president Leon Botstein, TŌN (as they style themselves) is the renamed, re-packaged, re-marketed top-level student orchestra of that august educational institution. On Thursday night, the Bard students visited Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall to play an ambitious program under the baton of JoAnn Falletta. Ms. Falletta is the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, one of this great state's more underrated ensembles. On the program, three ambitious 20th century works that would have been a tall order even for a professional orchestra.

The Chords That Bind

Superconductor explores a connection between Tristan und Isolde and Siegfried. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Left: Ludwig and Maria Schnorr von Carolsfeld as Tristan and Isolde.
Interrupting them: Jean de Rezke as Siegfried. Most rude of him. Equally rude photoshop by the author.
In the operas of Richard Wagner, there is a sort of musical interconnectivity that exists: not just between the leitmotifs of the four operas of Der Ring des Nibelungen but between the other operas too. Certain themes recur in operas with similar ideas. (A famous example is the "Dresden Amen") which appears in both Tannhäuser and Parsifal.) This morning, while having a listen to the 2012 Decca remaster of the Georg Solti/Vienna recording of the Ring, I discovered another such musical connection. In the first act of Siegfried I found the Tristan chord.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Opera Review: The Help Strikes Back

The Metropolitan Opera revives Mozart’s Figaro.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The crowded house: Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Christiane Karg, Adam Plachetka and Luca Pisaroni
in Act II of Le Nozze di Figaro. Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
As Mozart's most popular romantic comedy, Le Nozze di Figaro is more than just the story of a crazy household in Spain getting ready for two of its servants to get hitched. Based on what was (at the time) a controversial play by Pierre de Beaumarchais, Figaro is an opera that makes the listener confront ideas of social justice and shouts of the need for equality between different classes within the microcosm of Aguas Frescas, the Almaviva estate. Looking at the opera in this way, the Met's current revival of the company's 2014 production could not be better timed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Opera Review: When the Shoe Finally Fits

MSM Opera unearths Nicolo Isouard's Cendrillon.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
What Cendrillon is all about: the shoes. 
In recent years, the Manhattan School of Music's opera program has become a cabinet of curiosities: a clearing-house for little-heard versions of familiar operatic stories by unfamiliar composers. The latest of these, seen Saturday at the school's temporary performance space, the Florence Gould Auditorium at the French Institute/Alliance Francaise is Cendrillon, in a 1810 opera-comique by the Maltese composer Nicolo Isouard.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

No Roads Lead to Rome

Sir Bryn Terfel pulls out of the new Met Tosca.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Bryn Terfel (center) has exited the Met's troubled new Tosca, opening Dec. 31.
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
First they lost their leading lady. Then the conductor. The Cavaradossi quit. And then the second conductor. Now, Sir Bryn Terfel has become the latest artist to pull out of the Metropolitan Opera's increasingly troubled new production of Puccini's Tosca.

Concert Review: The Hetaera and the Philosophers

The Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Photo © 2017 The Berlin Philharmonic.
The Philadelphia Orchestra has always occupied an important place among orchestras that visit New York. They are near neighbors, and their regular appearances at Carnegie Hall are a linchpin of that august venue's concert programming. In recent years, the announcement that Philadelphia's music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin would be assuming that same post at the Metropolitan Opera has only served to raise the profile of these concerts.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Hansel and Gretel

Cannibalism repurposed as holiday entertainment.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Delicious thoughts: A moment from Act II of Hansel and Gretel. 
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Met revives Humperdinck's fairy tale (in English) in this fractured production by director Richard Jones. More cake?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Concert Review: Conducting Well is the Best Revenge

Alan Gilbert returns the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He's back: Alan Gilbert returned to the New York Philharmonic last week.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic celebrated the 175th year of its existence this week with a traditional, decidedly 19th century program of Weber, Mozart and Beethoven. The choices on the program were clearly meant to echo those early Philharmonic days, when Uri Corelli Hill led the ensemble in concerts at the Apollo Rooms down on Broadway. Leading this pleasant but most conservative concert: former favorite son and former music director Alan Gilbert, who ended his tenure at the helm of America's oldest orchestra earlier this year.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Concert Review: The Undiscovered Countries

Leon Botstein and the ASO explore music of the Eastern bloc.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The violinist Alena Baeva played the Concerto No. 7 by Grazyna Bacewicz at Alice Tully Hall
with the American Symphony Orchestra. Photo by International Classical Artists. 
One of the biggest problems facing the classical music world in the 21st century is repetition. There are only so many times you can hear the Fifth Symphonies of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler before interest dries up and ticket sales dwindle. Luckily for New Yorkers, the compulsively curious academic Dr. Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra have forged an artistic legacy exploring music that is off the beaten path. Their efforts often lead to neglected works being heard, and sometimes even programmed elsewhere.

Concert Review: The Boys' Club

The St. Thomas Choir celebrates Handel's Messiah.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Enraged Musician. Engraving by William Hogarth from 1741,
the year of the premiere of Handel's Messiah.
Handel's Messiah is a ubiquitous event for New York music lovers, with as many as thirty different choruses and ensembles offering performances of this oratorio. On Tuesday night, New York Baroque Incorporated and the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys kicked off the Advent season  with the first of two performance this week at St. Thomas Church. Using period instruments, four soloists and an all-male chorus, this modest Messiah was as Handel himself might have heard it.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Merry Widow

Susan Graham makes a welcome and timely return to the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Susan Graham as Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera invites its attendees to have themselves a very merry...widow. The generally ebullient Susan Graham makes her one return to the Met this season in the role of Hanna Glawari, the title character of Lehar's The Merry Widow.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Concert Review: The Kids Are Alright (though one is a brat)

The Juilliard Orchestra plays Debusssy and Ravel.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Emmanuel Villaume led the Juilliard Orchestra on Monday night.
Photo by Paul Leclaire.
The combined forces of Juilliard Orchestra and Juilliard Opera students came together on Monday night to give an evening of Debussy and Ravel, a set of performances that offered a much needed beacon of musical hope in what is a particularly dark and troubled time for the arts community around Lincoln Center. The program, under the direction of French conductor Emmanuel Villaume offered a major work by each composer and a Ravel rarity to boot.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

And save thy captive...Tosca?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Rome if you want to: Emmanuel Villaume not standing atop the Castle Sant'Angelo.
The conductor will step in for the suspended James Levine in the Met's new Tosca.
Photo of Mr. Villaume by TheaterJones. Photo alteration by the author.
Tosca is an opera of violence and derring-do, of an artist and an opera singer confronted by evil and corruption and trying to save themselves from the clutches of Rome's police chief, Baron Scarpia. In a case of life imitating art, the Metropolitan Opera's troubled production of Tosca has found its savior: French conductor Emmanuel Villaume.

Concert Review: A Substitute of Substance

Edo de Waart leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Edo de Waart.
Photo from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra © 2017 by Jesse Willems.
A cancellation by a major international conductor is never an occasion for happiness. However, attendees at Thursday nights concert by the New York Philharmonic may have felt fortunate in that that august orchestra's choice of substitute. Stepping in for the indisposed Christopher von Dohnányi, Dutch conductor Edo de Waart proved to be an able and welcome substitute. To be fair, this change was announced several months ago.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Editorial: In Times Like These

Some thoughts on the James Levine scandal.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
James Levine (center right) at his return to the Met pit conducting Cosí fan tutte.
Photo by Naomi Vaughan © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
There are times when this profession, that of a full-time commentator on classical music and opera, can be the greatest in the world. I go to a lot of concerts. Occasionally I get to fly around the world. I bathe (daily in pools of aestheticism, picking over the work of great artists in an attempt to keep the fires of inspiration burning and feed the cycle of the news.

And then there are times when those fires goes out, doused by the cold waters of harsh reality.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Conductor Suspended

James Levine is under investigation for statutory rape.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Screen grab from the New York Post today, taken by the author.
The Post article ran Saturday December 2. Content of this image © The New York Post.

According to a story in The New York Times, three accusers have now come forward, accusing Metropolitan Opera music director emeritus James Levine of inappropriate sexual contact. Mr. Levine was suspended by the Met pending further investigation and his conducting schedule has been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

The story first appeared in an article in the Saturday New York Post, written by Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein, details a 2016 police report filed in Lake Forest, Illinois. In it, an unnamed Illinois victim accused the conductor of multiple sexual assaults dating from a time when Mr. Levine was 41 and his accuser was just 15.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Le Nozze di Figaro

Mozart's comedy of masters, servants and class warfare returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ildar Abdrazakov and Isabel Leonard in a moment from Le Nozze di Figaro.
Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
An opera of revolution and class warfare disguised as a comedy. Mozart's masterful Le nozze di Figaro returns to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. See it with someone you love.

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