About Superconductor

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 © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Recordings Review: A Horse With No Name

John Nelson's new Les Troyens is a modern classic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Can they all fit inside the horse? John Nelsons and his chorus, orchestra and soloists record Les Troyens.
Photo from the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg © 2018 Erato/WBC
Hector Berlioz' Les Troyens remains the composer's greatest achievement, although the composer never lived to see a complete performance of the work.  With serious problems of length, casting and staging, it was not until 1921 that Les Troyens was staged complete, as intended, in five acts in a long, single evening.  This live in concert recording by John Nelson and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg brings new life and vitality to this mammoth and misunderstood masterpiece.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Concert Review: The Price of Perfection

Joshua Bell and the New York Philharmonic play The Red Violin.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Here's looking at you, kid: Samuel L. Jackson peers into The Red Violin.
Image © 1998 Mikado Pictures
Is it worth it to create the greatest instrument in the history of Western music, even if it costs you everything?

That is the question asked by the 1998 François Girard film The Red Violin, which tracks the creation, birth and long life of its titular object from a workshop in Cremona in the 16th century to an auction house in modern day Montreal. However, more notable than the film is its Academy award-winning score, which is being played this week in conjunction with the film by Joshua bell and the New York Philharmonic. Michael Stern conducted.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Tosca

Two new casts take the stage in two runs of the Puccini potboiler.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
It's good to be the chief: Željko Lučić as Scarpia in the Met's Tosca.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
On New Year's Eve 2017, the Metropolitan Opera raised the curtain on its new production of Tosca. This staging returns the opera to its original Roman setting in a budget-friendly version of one of Puccini's most opulent shows.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Concert Review: Into the Abyss, With a Return Ticket

The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique goes beyond the Fantastique.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Historian at work: Sir John Eliot Gardiner leading the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.
Photo from the official website of The Monteverdi Choir © 2018 SDG
The Symphonie-fantastique, written in 1830 by Hector Berlioz, is in some ways a victim of its own success.

It is programmed somewhere every season, allowing a large symphony orchestra to wow its faithful subscribers with Berlioz' five-movement journey into phantasmagoric landscapes. It is literally an orchestral head trip: from the passions and dreams of a young man to two nightmare movements that are (both) arguably among the greatest tour de force pieces to be written in the 19th century. On Monday night, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique put this much-loved war-horse work in context, programming it alongside its  little-known sequel Lélio for their second concert this week at Carnegie Hall.

Hold up a minute, Mr. Superconductor. There's...a sequel?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Concert Review: Some Roads Lead to Rome

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings old-style Berlioz to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Photo courtesy Carnegie Hall.
Historically informed performance isn't always pretty. However, it is the specialty of Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Founded in 1989, the O.R.R.'s purpose is to play the masterpieces of the early 19th century on the instruments available at that time. On Sunday afternoon, they played the first of two concerts at Carnegie Hall this week, dedicated to that maverick among French composers, Hector Berlioz.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Concert Review: Rising in the East (but not too early)

A morning matinée at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A man and a water tower: David Robertson returned to New York this week.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
One could not help but notice, walking into David Geffen Hall on Friday afternoon, that there were some empty seats. These were more noticeable because they had little envelopes taped to them, presumably gifts for subscribers coming to the first Friday morning program of the 2018 season. However, as this concert started with new music, the conservative types who make the biggest Philharmonic contributions were (as is their wont) late to arrive.  Here, conductor David Robertson opened with a performance of another major work by contemporary composer Louis Andriessen, the Dutch composer whose receipt of the 2016 Kravis Prize for new music has led to an in-depth Philharmonic exploration of his catalogue.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Concert Review: Monsters Under the Earth

Two operas end The Angel's Share's first season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Never turn your back on a monster! Tenor Brian Cheney (l) is menaced by Joshua Jeremiah
in Sketches from Frankenstein. Photo by Kevin W. Condon © 2018 Unison Media.
As David Byrne once said, "there is water underground." On Wednesday night, there was whiskey above it, as the final concert of The Angel's Share got underway. Presented by the enterprising Andrew Ousley's Unison Media, this is a unique music experience held in the gloomy depths of the Catacombs, deep within the leafy embrace of Green-Wood Cemetery. For the season finale, Mr. Ousley booked a surefire double bill, with two dramatic works by the promising composer-pianist Greg Kallor.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Marnie

Nico Muhly adapts Hitchcock's 1964 "suspenseful sex mystery" Marnie for the operatic stage. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She'll steal your heart: Isabel Leonard is Marnie in a new opera by Nico Muhly.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.

Nico Muhly's second opera for the Met is Marnie, the story of an obsessive relationship that leads to marriage and other interpersonal disasters.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Opera Review: A Blaze of Saddles

Eva-Maria Westbroek shines in Puccini's Golden West.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
California Love: Eva-Maria Westbroek and Yusif Eyvazov in La Fanciulla del West.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
It is a hard existence to be a lesser known work from the pen of a great opera composer, and no opera has suffered more cruel jokes than Puccini's La Fanciulla del West ("The Girl of the Golden West.") Since its premiere on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in 1910, Fanciulla has fought for survival, much like the hardscrabble gold miners that make up the bulk of its colorful cast. The opera returned to the Met this month with a good cast. On Monday night, a performance featuring tenor Yusif Eyvazov and soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek provided a much needed shot of red blood to an anemic fall season.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Concert Review: This is Why We Fight

The NJSO opens with an impassioned Beethoven's Ninth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Xian Zhang makes her point. Photo © New Jersey Symphony Orchestra
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra is at once in an enviable and difficult position, wedged next to New York City with its wealth of musical institutions. Based in downtown Newark, they  have a great venue in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center that not enough people want to visit. That situation makes Opening Night, held last Friday at NJPAC, all the more important. This year marked the third opener for their music director Xian Zhang (pronounced "she-YEN jhong"). To celebrate, this energetic conductor offered a challenging program: two works by important contemporary composers and as a capper, Beethoven's sprawling, challenging Symphony No. 9 in D minor.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Concert Review: The Axe, the King, His Wife and Her Lover

Jaap van Zweden takes his new orchestra for a swim.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Violins is no solution, but in the hands of Leila Josefowicz it's damn impressive.
Photo b Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic is settling into its new relationship with music director Jaap van Zweden, whose contract started just last month. So far the new boss has placed a heavy emphasis on modern music, with works by living composers opening the first three programs of the young season. This week marked the opening of The Art of Andriessen, a program celebrating the large-scale idiosyncratic work of composer Louis Andriessen. (Mr. Andriessen, an award-winning Dutch composer, is best known to New Yorkers for De Materie, an opera that included hovering blimps and a large flock of live sheep.)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Obituary: Montserrat Caballé, 1933-2018

The soprano and recording artist was La Superba to her fans.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
I've got a secret: the great Montserrat Caballé could sing anything.
One would argue that in opera singers of a vanished age, it was the voice and only the voice that mattered. These words would be fitting as a eulogy for Montserrat Caballé. The soprano, who passed away yesterday at the age of 85, possessed one of the largest and most flexible instruments of her age, succeeding in everything from Rossini to dramatic operas by Puccini and Strauss. The cause of death was listed as a gall bladder infection.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Opera Review: It's Seven o'clock Somewhere

The Mile Long Opera: A Biography of 7 o'clock premieres on the High Line.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Singers at an exhibition: David Lang's Mile Long Opera in performance on The High Line.
Photo by the author.
Composer David Lang is no stranger to presenting operatic and choral works in unusual locations. His latest opus, The Mile Long Opera: A Biography of 7 o'clock is  an a capella opera performed in its entirety by singers stationed on The High Line, the former elevated freight railway on the west side of Manhattan that was saved from demolition in the 2000s. In three phases, this old but structurally sound railway was converted into a public park, a narrow oasis in West Chelsea that served as a spring-point for a kind of frenzied urban development the reminds one of the game SimCity. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Concert Review: Everybody Gets Ice Cream

The San Francisco Symphony opens Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Broadway soprano Audra McDonald lit up opening night at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Autumn de Wilde.
Opening night of Carnegie Hall is a little bit...different. Men's clothes are nattier. Women's necklines dip lower. The concert is shorter, minus the usual intermission. There's an  elegant rooftop dinner for heavy donors. And there's always an A-list special guest (or two), a star attraction that one wouldn't hear on the programs reserved for mere concert-going music enthusiasts.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Fanciulla del West

Italian opera goes west...with Jonas Kaufmann.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Just a small-town girl: Eva-Marie Westbroek as Minnie in La Fanciulla del West.
Photo © 2018 Royal Opera House of Covent Garden.
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann and soprano Eva-Marie Westbroek are reunited in Puccini's boiled spaghetti Western. This is the story of a barmaid and a bandit and their forbidden love against the spectacular backdrop of the California gold rush. It premiered at the Met in 1910. Beloved by connoisseurs, Fanciulla stands as one of the great Italian operas, and a work that is only revived occasionally. See it!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Festival Preview: Hungarian National Opera

Two weeks of opera and ballet, Budapest style.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Baritone Levente Molár in a scene from Erkel's seminal Hungarian opera Bánk Bán.
Photo by Attila Nagy. Image © 2018 the Hungarian National Opera.
The Hungarians are coming! For the first time since 2010, the David Koch Theater on the south side of Lincoln Center Plaza will resound with the sound of opera as the Hungarian National Opera comes to New York for a two week festival. The company is currently facing major renovations of its own house in Budapest. So they've decided to bring the exciting and colorful variety of operas from its own country to one of the big Lincoln Center stages. All performances will feature the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra under the baton of music director  Balázs Kocsár.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Concert Review: Every Tuba Tells a Story

Jaap van Zweden conducts the Bruckner Eighth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Jaap van Zweden shows off the latest in controversial baton grips.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 for the New York Philharmonic.
When a new music director takes the helm of a major symphony orchestra, there are certain works that will be tests of his mettle and ability. These works provide the scribes that scribble accounts of their performances some clues as to how the multi-year multi-million dollar relationship between maestro and ensemble will play out. New York's critics got some useful information on that front this week, as Jaap van Zweden led the New York Philharmonic in Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 in C minor. This is a big one: a ninety-minute work that stands as that Austrian composer's final completed composition.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Richard Strauss Project: Die Ägyptische Helena

In his ninth opera, Strauss shows how to not murder your wife...even if she's Helen of Troy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Aithra (Diana Damrau) and Helen of Troy (Deborah Voigt) pose with the Omsiscent Mussel in
the Metropolitan Opera's 2007 production of Strauss' Die Ägyptische Helena.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera.
It's not always better down where it's wetter. Like Hollywood directors who ran into trouble when they decided the make motion pictures that take place underwater, a soggy fate awaited Die Ägyptische Helena ("The Egyptian Helen"), the sixth and penultimate collaboration between Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Like its mythological protagonist Helen of Troy, this opera is still remembered today as a girl with a bad reputation. It is the only Strauss-Hofmannsthal collaboration to not have a place in the standard repertory.

Friday, September 28, 2018

2018-19 Season Preview: A Matter of Taste

The venerable Carnegie Hall has a different flavor this season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The muses dance in an early program book for Carnegie Hall.
Image from the Carnegie Hall Archives.
The announcement of Carnegie Hall's mammoth season schedule is always an occasion for celebration. This year's press conference, held upstairs in the Resnick Education Wing introduced an unorthodox slate for next year. The new schedule has programming from familiar orchestras and ensembles but one gets the sense that, like '16-'17, that this is an experimental season trying to push the venue in some bold new directions.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

So...Why Mozart?

Superconductor grapples with the nature of genius and the legacy of Austria's greatest export.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mozart Writing the Requiem, Paitted in 1854 by William James Grant.
Property of the Royal College of Music, London.
Longtime readers of this blog will know that I write a lot of words, words, words about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Sure, Superconductor covers the annual Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, performances of his solo, chamber and orchestral works, and the frequent programming of the composer’s seven major operas (he actually wrote twenty-two) at the Metropolitan Opera. So this afternoon, as I was listening to a new recording of La Clemenza di Tito, it suddenly seemed a good idea to write a post asking that vital question....

What’s so great about Mozart?

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Rigoletto

Verdi's great tragedy returns for another round at the Vegas tables.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The next whiskey bar: George Gagnifze knocks one back as Rigoletto.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Verdi's tragedy of a hunchback laboring under a curse and the tyrannical rule of his philandering boss, presented here in the strange disguise of two entertainers working in a rug joint on the Las Vegas Strip. Here, the titular jester is an insult comic á la Don Rickles, and his boss is a lounge lizard singer in the mode of Frank Sinatra.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Opera Review: Falling Down

The Met opens with a disastrous Samson et Dalila.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A world of toil: Robert Alagna does hard time in Samson et Dalila.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
It wasn't just the temple that collapsed last night.

The big story coming out of Monday's season-opening performance of Camille-Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila at the Metropolitan Opera was the onstage vocal collapse of Roberto Alagna. The internationally reputed tenor, who has a quarter century of experience on the Met stage, was here saddled with the role of Samson. In the third act, shorn of his hair and blinded by Philistine thugs, the singer appeared to lose his vocal strength along with his muscles. He had very little voice for the opera's demanding final scenes.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Festival Preview: White Light Festival 2018

Lincoln Center bridges music, art, theater and spirit in its annual offering.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Image of white light hitting a compact disc.
Running from October 16 to Nov. 18, the White Light Festival is Lincoln Center's annual celebration of the human spirit as expressed through the magic of music and art. Each year has a different focus on aspects of the human condition, seeking to answer the questions of existence:

  • Why are we here?
  • What are we doing here?
  • And where around Lincoln Center can we afford to get something to eat after the show?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Fille du Régiment

Tenor Javier Camarena sails the (nine consecutive) high C's.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Javier Cammarena in La Fille du Régiment, Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
It's a winter warmer! Pretty Yende and Javier Cammarena are the leads in this lovely bel canto comedy by Donizetti.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Don Giovanni

Two casts retell the story of the great seducer who gets his comeuppance.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Luca Pisaroni (left) here as Leporello and Peter Mattei (second from right) both return to
sing the title role in Don Giovanni this season. Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.

Frolicking, fun, fire and fury. That's the world of Don Giovanni which returns to the Met for two runs of performances. It's a dull production but it's got really good singers.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Concert Review: A New Hope

The Jaap van Zweden era begins at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jaap van Zweden emerges, Orpheus-like.
Photo by Roger Neve © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
Opening night at the New York Philharmonic is a yearly tradition an occasion for fat cat donors to dine on the Promenade of Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall, and for ordinary critics (like your humble scribe) to put on suits and hobnob with each other before the performance. This year's ceremonies, held Thursday night, were also notable as it marked the long-awaited official debut of Jaap van Zweden, the orchestra's new music director.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Iolanta/Duke Bluebeard's Castle

Two fairy tales of love and terror returns with new divas.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Inset: a scene from Iolanta with Anna Neterebko. To her left, Judith, the wife
of the dastardly Bluebeard, explores her creepy new home.
All images © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
The pervading motif of young women in the throes of self-discovery and danger ties together this double-bill, one of the most eagerly anticipated revivals of the coming Met season.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Samson et Dalila

The Met opens its 2018 season with Saint-Saëns' Old Testament thumper.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mr. DeMille, they're ready for their closeup: Roberto Alagna (left) and
Elina Garança wig out in the Met's new Samson et Dalila.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The new season opens with Roberto Alagna and Elina Garança in the title roles of Samson et Dalila, the story of an implacable hero, an unstoppable anti-heroine and the most famous gravity-check in the Old Testament. Also, lots of really, really big hair!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Pélleas et Melisande

Is it a fairy tale, or a nightmare of domestic violence?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Melisande at her well. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
As of this writing, the Metropolitan Opera is doing little to promote this January revival of Debussy's only opera. This is one of the essential revivals of the winter. Pélleas is one of the greatest French works of the 20th century and a true test of the mettle of music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Bernstein Legacy: Some Americans in Paris

Looking back at a flawed but interesting 1988 La bohème.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

The catalogue of any large record company is filled with interesting failures: pricey boxed sets that get re-issued at a bargain price or in some cases quietly and suddenly dropped from the catalog, only to reappear in complete compilations of a composers or conductors works. One of those rarities is the 1988 Deutsche Grammophon recording of La bohème, made in Rome with the Orchestra of the National Academy of St. Cecilia under the baton of Leonard Bernstein.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Concert Review: A Long Trip to Jupiter

The New York Philharmonic brings back 2001.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Class in session: the man-apes and the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Image © 1968 Warner Bros. Used for promotional purposes only.
What is 2001: A Space Odyssey really about?.

Stanley Kubrick's seminal 1968 classic is now 50 years old, and remains as puzzling as ever. On Friday night, as part of this year's The Art of the Score festival, the New York Philharmonic performed the complete orchestral and choral music of 2001 as accompaniment to a large scale screening of the film at Lincoln Center.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Adriana Lecouvreur

A new production for a New Year, with Anna Netrebko.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
They swoon. They smooch. They sing! Piotr Beczala supports Anna Netrebko.
The singers return in Adriana Lecouvreur on New Year's Eve. Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Anna Netrebko stars in the title role of this wonderful but somewhat old-fashioned drama: the story of the lives, loves and demise (by truly bizarre means, more on that in a minute) of a famed Parisian stage actress. This glamorous new production pairs the diva with Piotr Beczala.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Concert Review: Journey to the Center of the Soul

The New York Philharmonic drinks our milkshake.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pipe line: Daniel Day Lewis in There Will be Blood.
Image © 2008 Ghoulardi Film Company, Paramount and Miramax.

Ten years ago, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood rumbled, whistled and roared into movie theaters, anchored by a heaven-storming performance by Best Actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis and the American sense of guilt and horror that this nation's relentless march of progress has left in its very wide wake. On Wednesday night, the New York Philharmonic opened its annual Art of the Score Festival with the orchestra's first performance of the film's complete score, a polyglot creation anchored around the music of composer Jonny Greenwood. Conductor Hugh Brunt made his podium debut.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Magic Flute

The Met brings back its sturdy Flute for another toot. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bald soprano: Kathryn Lewek tears up as the Queen of the Night
in The Magic Flute. Image © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera. 
Q: When does something become a "holiday tradition?"
A: When it's insistently and repetitively done every damn year.

In an unusual schedule repetition, the Met brings back its "family-friendly" (that's shortened, abridged and translated into English) holiday presentation of Mozart's The Magic Flute in its always impressive presentation by Julie Taymor. (It was slotted in last year to cover the cancellation of a planned La Forza del Destino.) Anyway, it's back.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Traviata

The Met appeases its audience with a new, traditional staging of Verdi's tragic masterpiece.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Costume design for Violetta, the star of La Traviata.
Image © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Michael Mayer, the director who put Rigoletto on the Vegas strip, offers his vision of La Traviata, a staid staging of the Verdi tragedy set in good old 1853.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Otello

Gustavo Dudamel makes his Met debut. There's singing, too.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Baritone Željko Lučic returns as the evil Iago from Verdi's Otello.
Photo © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Verdi's tragedy returns to the Met stage for a short run of performances. This is the first revival of the Met's 2015 production of Verdi's opera. Otello is one of the hottest tickets of the early winter, mostly because of who's conducting....

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Bernstein Legacy VII: Mahler's Seventh Symphony

The Symphony No. 7 was the first installment in Leonard Bernstein's Mahler cycle.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A nocturna; triptych: the cover art of the 1985 Mahler Seventh, the composer (right) and a feathered friend.
Art by Erte © 1985 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG

It all started here. This recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 7, made Dec. 3, 1985 with the New York Philharmonic in the dry and less than legendary acoustics of (what was then called) Avery Fisher Hall, was the first of Leonard Bernstein's final cycle of Mahler symphonies for Deutsche Grammophon, a series that the great conductor and composer would work on for the rest of his life. And it's a winner.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Il Trittico

Played together, these three short operas form one of Puccini's most ambitious works.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The three operas of Il Trittico: Il Tabarro (upper left) Suor Angelica (lower left) Gianni Schicchi (right)
All photos © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera, collage by the author.
The Met revives its 2007 presentation of three one-act operas performed in the course of a single evening. This is a centennial revival of these works, that premiered at the Met in 1918. A single production of these very different works, this is a long evening of worthy and wonderful music, which includes Puccini's only stage comedy.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

2018-19 Great Performers Season Preview

British orchestras and chamber music are the focus of Great Performers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to New York next year to conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Photo © Philharmonia Orchestra.
When Lincoln Center was established as New York's mecca for the performing arts, it became home to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the New York City Ballet. However, it soon became apparent that there was need for an in-house performing arts series, inviting international orchestras and soloists from around the globe. The Great Performers series is no longer the flagship it once was, but it still provides the opportunity to hear international orchestras in a posh setting.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

2018-19 Season Preview: There Will Be (New) Blood

Jaap van Zweden and Deborah Borda take the reins at the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Welcome to the jungle: Jaap van Zweden takes over at the Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic's upcoming season features a diverse slate that sees americas oldest orchestra dispensing with a few less popular initiatives while opening a few that will hopefully fill seats, and accelerating the orchestra’s transition from the Alan Gilbert era to the stewardship of its new music director, Jaap van Zweden.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Les Pêcheurs de Perles

Pretty Yende takes a dive as the Met revives Bizet's early opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Soprano Pretty Yende returns to the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo by Hao Zeng, originally published in Essence magazine, © 2015.

The Met revives one of its surprise hits of the 2015-16 season. Les Pêcheurs de Perles is a product of Bizet's youth but features the same blend of exoticism and solid musical construction that would make Carmen an international sensation ten years later.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Verdi Project: Falstaff

The 87-year old composer gets the last laugh with his last opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Falstaff in the Laundry Basket by Johann Heinrich Füssli, painted in 1792.
(Ed. note: This is the last installment in The Verdi Project, Superconductor's deep dive into the major operas of Giuseppe Verdi. This project started with Nabucco back in February of this year and has covered fourteen (half) of the composer's twenty-eight operas. In coming weeks, Superconductor will finish The Richard Strauss Project and then figure out what composer is next.)

Sometimes the end is the beginning and sometimes the beginning is the end. In order to understand Falstaff, Giuseppe Verdi's final opera and only successful comedy, one must look back to the year 1840 when the composer than a young man had a miserable failure at La Scala with Un Giorno di Regno, his second opera. This was a forgettable comedy of mistaken identities surrounding the royal court of Poland. Today, Un Giorno di Regno is infrequently revived, usually as part of "marathon" performances of all twenty-eight Verdi operas.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Mefistofele

Arrigo Boito retells the Faust legend, from the Devil's perspective. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mefistofele (in the red pajamas, left) faces down the heavenly hoist in Boito's opera.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
There are many operatic takes on the story of Faust, the medieval scholar who sells his soul to the Devil for the gifts of youth and the experience of love. This is the most cosmic: a struggle between good and evil that places the audience's sympathy squarely with its horned title character.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Verdi Project: Otello

Verdi's penultimate opera was also the end of his 13-year retirement.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
There aren't many great Otellos so here's a lot of images of one: Anders Antonenko.
Photo © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
Verdi’s Otello is a colossus  of the Italian repertory, and one of the finest adaptations of Shakespeare to another medium. A triumph, it was Verdi's first opera in 13 years, and announced his final great creative partnership with librettist Arrigo Boito.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Bernstein Legacy VI: Mahler's Sixth Symphony

Yes, this is "the one with the hammer."
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cover art by Erte for the Mahler 6th © 1987 Deutsche Grammophon. Photo of Daniel Druckman by Chris Lee © 2016
The New York Philharmonic. Detail from cartoon of Gustav Mahler © 1910.
When Gustav Mahler started work on his Sixth Symphony, in 1904,life was going pretty well. He had married Alma Schindler, 19 years his junior and one of the most desirable brides in Vienna. They had had two beautiful daughters. Winters were spent leading the Vienna Hofoper, summers composing by the side of a mountain lake. Things were great, but this idyll would not last.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Bernstein Legacy V: Mahler's Fifth Symphony

A journey from darkness to light
.by Paul J. Pelkonen
A triptych: Alma and Gustav Mahler  (left and right, the original is one photograph.) Center: the album art by Erte,
© 1987 Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft/UMG
With the Symphony no. 5, Gustav Mahler forged his way into uncharted territory, writing a five-movement symphony on an heroic scale. The Fifth was also pure music: Mahler's first work not to be based on previous songs, although like his earlier works, it does make use of quotations from other composers. This recording also introduced the third orchestra to Leonard Bernstein's recording project: the Vienna Philharmonic. (This live recording, made in the Musikverein on September 8, 1987 at the start of the Vienna fall season was actually Bernstein's second with the Vienna Philharmonic: a concert from 1975 is available on home video but for some reason, not on CD or LP.)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Bernstein Legacy IV: Mahler's Symphony No. 4

Superconductor probes Mahler's dark meditation on childhood.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Boy treble Helmut Wittek, the cover art for Mahler's Fourth by Erte
and a German copperplate portrait of "Freund Hein." Triptych assembled by the author.
The Symphony No. 4 is at once, one of the most popular and most misunderstood of Mahler's  works. Janus-like, it stands at the end of his Wunderhorn period while looking forward to the trilogy of instrumental symphonies that follow it. This symphony sprang to life from its fourth movement, a song-setting originally conceived as the seventh movement of the already massive Third. Mahler wrote that movement first and then created the three that precede it. On this recording, made by Leonard Bernstein with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1987, the symphony's subject matter is squarely to the fore: an attempt to reconcile the innocence of childhood with the inevitability of death.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Stairwell to Heaven

A case for the Siegfried Idyll as Wagner's best work.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The house in Tribschen (Lucerne) Switzerland where Richard and Cosima Wagner lived in 1870.
It is now the Richard Wagner Museum and you can visit its official site here.
You won't hear it in an opera house. In fact you very rarely hear it performed in a concert hall. The Siegfried Idyll, Wagner's 1869 work for chamber orchestra written as a birthday/Christmas present for his second wife is neither fish nor flesh. It is an orchestral poem that built from the same leitmotivs as the score of Der Ring des Nibelungen, and it very well might be the best thing that Wagner ever wrote.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Music on the Orient Express

Twelve suspects, two composers, one train.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Kenneth Branagh (left) and Albert Finney sport their mustaches as Hercule Poirot
in two very different versions of Murder on the Orient Express. Images © 2017 and 1974.
So in the middle of writing this year's Metropolitan Opera Preview (currently three posts done out of twenty-five) I found the time to watch Kenneth Branagh's 2017 remake of Murder on the Orient Express. And this tale of train-board derring-do gives me the opportunity to write about one of my favorite subjects: film music. In this case, we'll be discussing the scores of both the new movie and the 1974 classic, directed by Sidney Lumet. It should be noted that I approached the Branagh remake with some trepadition, as the Lumet film is one of my all-time favorite movies.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Aida

Anna Netrebko sings the title role in Verdi's grandest opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Rival princess Aida (Anna Netrebko) and Amneris (Anita Rachvelishveli)
in a scene from Aida. Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Verdi's "Egyptian business" complete with a huge chorus and...Anna Netrebko. This is the last run of the treasured Sonja Frisell production which ends thirty years of regular revivals on the Met stage.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.