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.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Recordings Review: A Show For Our Troubled Times

Opera Saratoga unleashes The Cradle Will Rock.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The cast of Opera Saratoga's searing new recording of The Cradle Will Rock.
Image © Opera Saratoga and Bridge Classics.
There is no show in the history of New York theater with a more troubled history than The Cradle Will Rock. This hybrid between serious drama, operetta and musical comedy was written in 1937 by composer Marc Blitzstein, only to run smack dab into government bureaucracy, anti-Communist paranoia and union regulations that conspired to kybosh its planned first performance at the Maxine Eliot Theater. (The show had been sponsored by the Federal Theater and the Works Progress Administration, but the theater was padlocked four days before the scheduled premiere.) Mr. Blitzstein took the show, its actors and singers twenty-one blocks  uptown to the Phoenix Theater. There, he led the performances from a stage piano as actors, sitting in the house, sung out their parts on cue.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Concert Review: They See Perpetual Change

Yes celebrate fifty years of music on Staten Island.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The men of Yes (Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, John Davison, Jay Schellen, Alan White (obscured) and Billy Sherwood)
play "Awaken." Photo by Paul J. Pelkonen.
The membership of the seminal British progressive rock band Yes is anything but stable. Yes musicians have  entered, exited, joined, quit , rejoined, quit again and even been replaced by whole symphony orchestras in the course of a stormy and complex  narrative. Every tour is different from the one before, not just in terms of setlist but in terms of personnel. Adding to the complication: the fact that there are currently two touring bands calling themselves Yes. One of these, referred to on Facebook as "Yes Official" is playing North American theaters this summer. That lineup took the stage at the gorgeous St. George Theater on Staten Island on Sunday night. The show was a three-hour celebration, drawing music from all five decades of the band’s thorny existence.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

The state of Superconductor, July 2018.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Art from The Simpsons episode "Marge on the Lam" © 1993 Gracie Films
Hi all. Paul here. Some of you may have noticed that posts on this usually stalwart blog have gotten spotty of late, with a couple of posts a week instead of the usual steady stream of words about the classical music and opera scene in and around New York in elsewhere. We’re not pleased about this either and I thought I should lay down here what’s going on.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Recordings Review: New Maps for Topographic Oceans

Yes compile the five Steven Wilson Remixes.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from Roger Dean's cover art for Yes: The Steven Wilson Remixes.
Displayed here for promotional purposes only © 2018 Roger Dean and Yes.
In the vast catalogue of the British progressive rock band Yes, there are five studio albums that are considered (by fans and critics alike) to be the band’s height. Released between 1970 and 1974, they are: The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans and Relayer. (Only two of these records feature the same lineup.) Taken in sequence, they track a remarkable evolution, from a jazz-inflected group heavily influenced by psychedelia to pioneers exploring new oceans of sound. The five albums are now available as a luxe vinyl boxed set, a cheaper CD edition or (reviewed here) a set of high-quality .mp3 downloads at a bargain basement price.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Recordings Review: This is (Double) Jeopardy!

Boston's Shostakovich cycle with Andris Nelsons continues with No. 4 and No. 11.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Andris Nelsons at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Photo by Marco Borggreve.

Some Shostakovich symphonies are more popular than others. The Fifth (more on that in a minute) and the Tenth (a reaction to the death of Stalin) are relatively optimistic and are programmed by larger orchestras. The Seventh's reputation rests on the occasion of its birth. (It was written under fire as the Nazis attacked Leningrad.) Of the remainder, it is rare indeed to hear an orchestra tackle No. 4 and No. 11, so Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra are to be accoladed for releasing these two very different and very difficult works together as the latest entry in the conductor's ongoing project: a recorded cycle of the complete Shostakovich symphonies.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Recordings Review: When the White Gloves Come Off

Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic play Beethoven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
You like me: Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
The relationship between a conductor and an orchestra, particularly one where said conductor is signing a contract to become that ensemble's music director is a difficult thing to track. Public relations departments become surrounded by walls of silence. Questions from the media are deflected or restricted to carefully managed press conferences. With all that secrecy, one must rely on live performances and recorded documentation to assess such a relationship.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

No One is Coming to Save Elsa

Tenor Roberto Alagna pulls out of Lohengrin.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The next swan will not be arriving for Roberto Alagna, who is out of the new Bayreuth Lohengrin.

In a breaking story from the Bayreuth Festival, tenor Roberto Alagna will not be singing the title role in the company's production of Lohengrin. His excuse: insufficient rehearsal. According to the official statement on the Bayreuth Festspieleblog: "Mr. Alagna has to cancel the new  Lohengrin production because he was unable to rehearse the work sufficiently due to congestion."

Friday, June 29, 2018

Concert Review: The Return Rate of Sequels

U2 return to Madison Square Garden
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Just a small band from Dublin: Adam Clayton (right) Bono (center) and The Edge (right) rock Madison Square Garden
Photo by Susan Weinstein, who also got us the tickets.
Most giant rock tours don't get a sequel. An exception is the epic stage production by the Irish band U2, who brought their new "Experience and Innocence" tour to Madison Square Garden on Monday night. This tour is a follow-up to the band's "Innocence and Experience" trek of 2015, and is in support of their new (and thirteenth) studio record Songs of Experience. (Warning, review contains major set list spoilers.)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Turn Around and Take Me Back To the Start

Some reflections on Beethoven, the Eroica and my summer vacation.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from The Knight in Shining Armor: Pity and Ambition
by Gustav Klimt as appears on the cover of the Beethoven Symphony No. 3 recording reviewed herein.
Art and rendering © 1987 DG/UMG

Hi all. I'm back after a relaxing, grounding and enervating week in the woods of Northern Maryland. Today we are talking about Beethoven, and specifically a new to me recording of the Eroica Symphony which I am listening to as I type. This is an old (but new to me) recording of Beethoven's 'Eroica' Symphony, made in 1987 by the Vienna Philharmonic. No, that's not terribly "old" in a business with historic recordings that go back to the turn of the 20th century, but it is definitely the product of another time. The conductor is the late and brilliant Claudio Abbado, who would later record these same symphonies in his job as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic is the conductor here and there is much of interest in this performance.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Summer Festival Preview: Mostly Mozart 2018

Bigger, Better, Faster, but still Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Louis Langree (back to camera) leads the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
When the time came for Lincoln Center to choose between its two signature summer festivals, there was no question: it was Mostly Mozart that had the brand recognition. For 51 years, this month-long festival held the stage at what is now David Geffen Hall, a haven of culture for New York music lovers who were unable or unwilling to leave the city in the summer months.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Great Recitals and Concerts: Spring 2018

Superconductor breaks down the best recitals, performances and even a play.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

It's not all symphonies and operas. Here at Superconductor we also try to cover smaller and more intimate performances where you find see and hear some of the best music on offer in and around New York City. Here are the best of the spring season of 2018.

Great Concert Performances: Spring 2018

Here's the best of the best from the second half of the season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Another spring season has rolled to a close and Superconductor is here to look back at terrific symphony concerts and some scintillating and caffeinated reviews. Here's the honor roll of the best of 2018 (so far, anyway.)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Verdi Project: Aida

Love, warfare, intrigue and oh yes, the pyramids.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A performance of Aida in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, March 2018.

Throughout his career, Giuseppe Verdi was determined to follow in the footsteps of other Italian composers (most notably Rossini and Donizetti) and conquer the Parisian stage. However, his attempts at grand opera: Jerusalemme, Les vepres Sicilienes and Don Carlos were met with indifference. It was with Aida, set to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni that Verdi would incorporate the lessons of grand opera in a work that combines private anguish and public spectacle and still packs opera houses today.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Great Opera Performances: Spring 2018

Here's the best of the best from the second half of the season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

This was an incredibly busy and fascinating few months in the New York opera community. Big houses like the Met sailed forth with good efforts even as they found themselves in a swirling sea of scandal. The Prototype Festival had a strong showing, and a performance of Tristan und Isolde gave compelling reasons to travel to Cleveland, Ohio. Here's the best of 2018 so far.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Concert Review: Look, No Hands!

New York Polyphony closes out the 92nd St Y season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Geoffrey Williams, Steven Caldicott Wilson, Christopher Dylan Herbert and Craig Philips: New York Polyphony.
Photo from the artists' website.
The 92nd St. Y ended its music programming for the current and rapidly fading season last Friday, with a concert featuring the men of New York Polyphony in what the singers: Geoffrey Williams, Steven Caldicott Wilson, Christopher Dylan Herbert and Craig Philips, referred to as a rare hometown show.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Concert Review: All Within Her Hands

Kariné Poghosyan plays damned difficult stuff at Zankel Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Kariné Poghosyan in concert at Zankel Hall. Photo by Jonathan Levin. 
The season is winding down but there are still some extraordinary artists to be heard (and covered) in the pages of Superconductor. On Thursday night, it was the New York-based Armenian-born pianist Kariné Poghosyan, playing her first recital at Zankel Hall, the subterranean concert venue that sits underneath Carnegie Hall.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Concert Review: Mr. Thomas' Neighborhood

MTT conducts the MET Orchestra in the Carnegie season closer.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's a pretty Yende. Soprano Pretty Yende made her big stage debut in Stern Auditorium
on Tuesday night. Photo © 2017 Nachtigall Artists.

Carnegie Hall ended its 2017-18 season Tuesday night with the last of three concerts featuring the MET Orchestra. This year, the pit band at the Metropolitan Opera has been playing under a succession of different conductors. This one was conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The music director of the San Francisco Symphony, Mr. Thomas (or "MTT" as he is known to all) will serve next year as a Carnegie Hall Perspectives artist, and is scheduled to lead his California forces in the Opening Night concert on October 3.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Concert Review: A String of Pearls

Harlem Chamber Players celebrate a decade with Harlem Songfest.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Harlem Chamber Players (above) conductor David Gilbert
and five fine singers celebrated ten years of music at Miller Theater.
It was billed as Harlem Songfest, but the season-ending tenth anniversary concert of the Harlem Chamber Players was more in the nature of an operatic gala: albeit one on a very modest scale. The celebration, a mix of Verdi, Mozart, Bizet and other operatic favorites was held at the Miller Theater on Friday evening, celebrating the good works of this excellent community orchestra that calls northern Manhattan its home.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Concert Review: The Bare Necessities

The New York Philharmonic ends its season without a conductor....without a conductor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Concertmaster Frank Huang (center) led the New York Philharmonic this week.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.

Things are settling down at America’s oldest orchestra. Alan Gilbert left the New York Philharmonic a year ago. Jaap van Zweden arrives in a cloud of hullabaloo next September. That said, this particular review, of Friday's matinee performance of their last program of this current season was played without a conductor. This program of string pieces by Mozart and Tchaikovsky had no tuxedo-clad maestro, and there was no post-heroic beating of air with tiny sticks.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Opera Review: The Sod Couple

The New York City Opera climbs Brokeback Mountain.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Save a horse: Daniel Oklutich (right) embraces Glenn Seven Allen in a scene from Brokeback Mountain.
Photo by Sarah Shatz for New York City Opera © 2018
Ten years ago,  New York City Opera commissioned composer Charles Wuorinen to write an opera based on Anne Proulx' short story Brokeback Mountain, which had been made into a much-lauded film by Ang Lee just three years before. That version of City Opera failed and folded, and the opera premiered in Madrid in 2014. On Thursday night, Mr. Wuorinen's Brokeback Mountain (with a libretto by Ms. Proulx) finally had its North American premiere at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater, mounted by the new New York City Opera run by impresario Michael Capasso.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Concert Review: The Ghosts of Conductors Past

The MET Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda play the Mahler Fifth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gianandra Noseda in action.
Photo by Ramella and Giannese, courtesy Teatro Regio di Torino
There is no ensemble that has a bigger target on its back this spring than the MET Orchestra. After a tumultuous season at the Metropolitan Opera that included the explosion of a long-building sex scandal involving former music director James Levine, the firing of Mr. Levine (after a 47-year association) and a subsequent flurry of lawsuits that have kept the opera company in the headlines, it would be surprising if the shell-shocked players had the enthusiasm and focus for the three-concert series that ends the current Carnegie Hall season.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

All Summer Long: Superconductor Announces Festival Special

Presenting Our Summer Advertising Sale!

Here at Superconductor we have a need to report on everything that is going on in the tents, theaters and lawns of the Summer Festival Season, as we will be doing on our upcoming guide.

However, we also have another need: advertising dollars.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Concert Review: Extreme Orchestral Sports

The New York Philharmonic plays Berio and Strauss.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Oh what a mountain! The New York Philharmonic played Ein Alpensinfonie this week.

An evening (or an afternoon) at the New York Philharmonic is more than just a pleasant way to spend two hours: it is a way for the seeker to experience the razor-sharp cutting edge of musical expression. On Friday afternoon, the orchestra played the second of three concerts featuring two extreme examples of the symphonic genre: Sinfonia by Luciano Berio and Ein Alpensinfonie by Richard Strauss. This was the second of two concert programs led by guest conductor Semyon Bychkov.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Verdi Project: Don Carlos

Verdi's last opera for Paris has a complicated history.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Troubled youth: the not-so-youthful Placido Domingo as Verdi's Don Carlos.
Photo © 1982 The Metropolitan Opera.

After the experience of Un Ballo in Maschera, Giuseppe Verdi found himself increasingly withdrawn from the world of opera. His hiatus was interrupted for the commissioning and premiere of La Forza del Destino, but the problems surrounding that opera did not encourage him to continue composing. However, he received a commission for the Paris Opera, to write a five-act grand opera in French for the 1866. That opera would be Don Carlos, and its genesis would be the most difficult of any major Verdi work.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Concert Review: The Next Big Thing

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla leads the MET Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla in action. Photo by Lawrence K. Ho.
This has been a season that the Metropolitan Opera would rather forget: one where scandal, not music-making has put the opera company in the public eye. So it was with some feeling of relief that the MET Orchestra, as the company's players are billed when giving symphony concerts at Carnegie Hall, reported to the stage of that august venue for Friday night's performance. This was the first of three performances, over the next few weeks: the last concerts of the Hall's current season.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Concert Review: The Rush of Progress

Semyon Bychkov returns to the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Semyon Bychkov returned to the New York Philharmonic this week.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
Relationships between high-powered conductors and major orchestras can be a delicate thing. Which is why it was good this week to see the acclaimed Semyon Bychkov return to the podium at David Geffen Hall on Thursday night. This was the first concert in a two-week stand with the New York Philharmonic, which is in the last weeks of its season.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Verdi Project: La Forza del Destino

The one where everybody (pretty much) dies.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bang: Verdi's La Forza del Destino opens with an accidental domestic shooting.
Art by Don Falcone.
Following the premiere of Un Ballo in Maschera, Verdi received a commission from the Imperial Russian Opera in St. Petersburg. For a subject, he came up with Don Alvaro, o La Fuerza del Sino, a Spanish play by the Duke of Rivas. This would premiere in Russia in 1862 as La Forza del Destino ("The Force of Destiny.") . It was a success but performances of the opera in Italy (retitled "Don Alvaro") were met with indifference.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Operation: Maestro Drop

Superconductor looks back at the Met's 2017-2018 season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Met went through an ugly transition of power this year. Photoshop by the author.
It is impossible to write about the 2017-2018 Metropolitan Opera season without addressing the elephant in the room: the ugly transition of power between James Levine and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Mr. Levine, who had accepted the post of Music Director Emeritus a few years ago, was unceremoniously fired from the opera company that he had served for over forty years in March of this year.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Opera Review: A Shooting in the Bronx

The Bronx Opera mounts Der Freischütz.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Kaspar (Michael Nansel) tempts Max (Michael Celentano) with magic bullets
and some sort of tipple in camping mugs in a scene from Der Freischütz.
Photo by John Bruno for the Bronx Opera Company.
Shots rang out Sunday afternoon on the campus of Lehman College, located next to the Jerome Avenue subway depot in the heart of the Bronx. The occasion though was entirely aboveboard: the last of four Bronx Opera performances of Weber's Der Freischütz. The 1821 opera by Carl Maria von Weber. Der Freischütz (the title translates to "The Free-Shooter") is a regular treat in German opera houses but a rarity in the United States. It is the most important German opera of the early 19th century, establishing what German opera was and could be and pointing the way toward the mid-century operatic revolution of Richard Wagner.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Concert Review: Carry On, Mr. Bow-Ditch

Nikolaj Znaider conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cellist Jian Wang plays Elgar and Nikolaj Znaider conducted hist first concerts with the
New York Philharmonic this week. Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
On the great stage of David Geffen Hall, it is customary to see Nikolaj Znaider with a violin and bow in his capable hands. However, this weeks concert series (heard in its final performance on Saturday night) put the musician in a different role: that of conductor. These three concerts marked Mr. Znaider's podium debut with the Philharmonic, although he is firmly established oversees both as a soloist and an orchestra leader.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Verdi Project: Un ballo in Maschera

Giuseppe Verdi versus the censors of Naples.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Verdi (right) confronts an anonymous Neopolitan censor over the libretto to Un ballo in Maschera.
The original title Una vendetta in domino is visible. Image from 1857 by Delfico.
"Don't forget. I've got tickets for the opera tonight for Un ballo in maschera."
"Oh, stuff Un ballo in maschera!" -- John Mortimer

After the failure of the 1857 version of Simon Boccanegra, Verdi was looking for an easy success. He thought he had found it with Un Ballo in Maschera, a libretto by Antonio Somma that was itself an adaptation of an older libretto by Eugéne Scribe. Verdi had worked with that legendary (and well-named) Scribe on Les vepres sicillienes. The grand old man of the Paris Opera was the most successful librettist in Europe since Pietro Metastasio. What could go wrong?

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Verdi Project: Simon Boccanegra

Verdi's most political opera gets it right...eventually.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The digital Doge: Simon Boccanegra as he appears in the video game
Sid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New World. Image © 2010 Firaxis Games.
Not every great opera is a success out of the box. La Traviata is one of those major works that bombed on opening night. But that's nothing compared to the struggles that Simon Boccanegra faced on its long and torturous path into the standard operatic repertory. Verdi's eighteenth opera was a failure at its 1857 premiere. It went through heavy revisions in 1881. Those extensive revisions marked Verdi's first collaboration with librettist and composer Arrigo Boito, with whom he would later create Otello and Falstaff. The title role is one of the pillars of the baritone repertory.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Concert Review: Too Many Cookes

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the completed Mahler Tenth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Simon Rattle at study.
Photo by Monika Rittershaus for EMI Classics/WBC. 
When Gustav Mahler died on May 18, 1911, he left behind five folders of musical sketch material. There were two completed movements and three of four-stave sketches: the bones of his unfinished Symphony No. 10. On Monday night, in the concluding performance of a three-movement series, Sir Simon Rattle and his London Symphony Orchestra gave their first New York performance together of this still controversial work, in a five-movement performing edition created in 1960 by musicologist Deryck Cooke.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Concert Review: A Song of Eternity

Sir Simon Rattle leads Das Lied von der Erde.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Earth mover: Stuart Skelton (left) sings as Sir Simon Rattle conducts Das Lied von der Erde. 
Photo by Kevin Yatarola © 2018 the photographer.
The honeymoon weekend in New York continued Sunday afternoon for Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra. This was the second installment of Mahler Transcending, a three-day exploration of that composer's last three symphonies. Sunday's matinee was dedicated to the first of these works: Das Lied von der Erde. This piece, written in the summers of 1908 and 1909, is both symphony and song cycle. His penultimate completed work, he did not live to hear it performed.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Concert Review: The Darkness is in the Details

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra plays Mahler's Seventh.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
 Mariss Jansons at the helm of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Photo by Brescia and Amisano © 2017 the BBC Proms.
Gustav Mahler’s Seventh Symphony is his least played, his least loved, and for the unwary conductor or their orchestra, the most dangerous of his symphonies. This sprawling five-movement work (sometimes referred to, though never by Mahler himself, as the "Song of the Night")  is riddled with trapdoors and land mines, illusory orchestrations, unusual instrumentation (there are solos for cowbells, tambourine, mandolin and guitar) and other hazards. Messing up any of these can torpedo a performance and sink both conductor and orchestra with no survivors.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Concert Review: Meet the New Boss

Sir Simon Rattle leads the Mahler Ninth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Simon Rattle: Photo by Sebastian Grébille.
© 2018 London Symphony Orchestra.
In the hallowed confines of David Geffen Hall (OK, they're not exactly "hallowed" but they are well-used) there is no symphony that carries more weight (and more historical baggage) than Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 9. So in some ways it was the ideal choice to open Mahler Transcending, a three-night celebration of the composer's last works, played by the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of its new boss, Sir Simon Rattle.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Concert Review: Fairy Tales of New York

Manfred Honeck returns to the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Manfred Honeck returned to the New York Philharmonic this week.
Photo by Felix Broede for IMG Artists. 

He may forever be known as the Conductor that Got Away.

Manfred Honeck, who was narrowly beaten out by Jaap van Zweden for the job of music director of the New York Philharmonic returned to the podium of America's oldest orchestra this week. He brought an ambitious program, featuring two of his own arrangements of orchestral music by Dvorak and Tchaikovsky, each drawn from fairy tale works by those great Romantic composers, and the evergreen Sibelius Violin Concerto as an ample and satisfying makeweight.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Concert Review: The Bad News Brass in: Breaking Training

The Orchestra Now returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Leon Botstein leads The Orchestra Now in concert at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Jito Lee © 2017 The Orchestra Now
Life isn't easy for a training orchestra. Consider if you will The Orchestra Now, which is in its third year of existence and played Carnegie Hall on Thursday night. The idea of TON (as it is styled) is simple enough: an opportunity for grad students in music, studying at Bard College and playing a spate of professional-level gigs at New York venues every season, usually at the direction of longtime Bard president, lecturer, conductor and musicologist Leon Botstein. This year, the first class of TON is about to graduate, and this concert marked a serious and solemn occasion om the great stage of Carnegie Hall.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Verdi Project: La Traviata

Verdi breaks new ground and causes controversy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She's dying here: Angela Gheorgiu as Violetta Valéry in the Met's old La Traviata.
Photo by Ken Howard © The Metropolitan Opera.
There is so much to write about La Traviata that it's difficult to know where to begin. Verdi's 1853 adaptation of the play La Dame aux Camélias was like nothing that came beforee it: a contemporary story with a heart-rending ending that took a bold and unblinking look at a profession and a way of life that was simply not talked about in so-called "polite" society: especially not in Venice where the opera would have its premiere!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Festival Preview: They're All Over the Map

NY OperaFest 2018 brings music to the masses.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Bronx Opera staging of Sir John in Love. The company will mount Der Freischütz as part
of NY Opera Fest 2018. Photo © 2018 Bronx Opera courtesy Unison Media.
The Metropolitan Opera's spring 2018 season is in its last weeks but the opera season rolls ahead undaunted. This week marks the start of the annual NY Opera Fest, a coalition between a number of the exceptional small companies that dot New York, members all of the New York Opera Alliance.. From pyramids in South Brooklyn to a hunt through the wilderness of the North Bronx. the city resounds with a cornucopia of opera productions.

Concert Review: Joy Without (too much) Pain

Gustavo Dudamel takes on Beethoven's Ninth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Photo by Matthew Imaging
© 2018 Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Like a famous conductor on tour across America, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in d minor is a victim of its own success. The four movement symphony was the first in its genre to add human voices in the form of four soloists and a choir to an already expanded symphony orchestra. For better or worse, the main theme of its finale is culturally ubiquitous, a necessity for any orchestra or choral society. As a result, bad performances of the Ninth are legion: enthusiastic readings that do little to enhance the work’s musical worth.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Concert Review: Old Stalin's Ghost

The Los Angeles Philharmonic returns to Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gustavo Dudamel returned to Lincoln Center with the
Los Angeles Philharmonic on Friday night. Photo courtesy Lincoln Center Press Dept.
The arrival of the sensational conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic is always a cause for celebration at Lincoln Center. Mr. Dudamel remains the leading musical export of Venezuela, the proof that that country's El Sistema program is an entirely successful social experiment in producing quality musicians under difficult circumstances.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Verdi Project: Il Trovatore

Sometimes too much popularity can be a bad thing.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Metropolitan Opera does the Anvil Chorus in the David Macvicar production of Il Trovatore.
Image © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera.
There is no opera that needs defending more than Il Trovatore. Verdi's eighteenth opera burst upon thestage at the Teatro Apollo in Rome like a cannon shot in 1853. It was the second of the operas still referred to as Big Three, following Rigoletto and preceding La Traviata and it quickly earned a place as one of his most popular and reliable stage works. It has some of Verdi's best tunes. It was brilliant, terrifying and original. It played everywhere.

And then came the Marx Brothers.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Opera Review: It's Almost Like Love

The Cleveland Orchestra presents Tristan und Isolde in concert.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Walking the parapet: Gerhard Siegel and Nina Stemme as Tristan und Isolde at Severance Hall.
Below, Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Cleveland Orchestra.
Photo by Roger Mastroianni © 2018 The Cleveland Orchestra.
Tristan und Isolde is not an ordinary opera. Wagner's work stripped almost all the action and plot away from the legend of the medieval knight and the Irish queen and their illicit affair. Aside from one sword-thrust, there is very little action. Everything is internal in this mysterious opera, with turbulent swirls of chromatic orchestration bringing the psychological inner life of the characters to vivid life. In other words, as the Cleveland Orchestra proved on Thursday night, this is a perfect opera for the concert hall.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Concert Review: Listening to Ecstasy

The Cleveland Orchestra plays Messiaen.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ecstasy: Franz Welser-Möst (on podium, back to camera), Jean-Yves Thibaudet (left) and Cynthia Millar (right)
and the Cleveland Orchestra play the Turangalîla-symphonie.
Photo by Roger Mastroianni © 2018 The Cleveland Orchestra.
The music of Olivier Messiaen has never been an "easy sell" to the average concert-goer. Performances of his works remain infrequent, partially because of his own status as an outlier among the creative minds of the 20th century and partially because of the massive demands these pieces place on both performers and audience. It is a state of unfortunate neglect, one that the Cleveland Orchestra corrected on Wednesday night with a performance of Turangalîla-symphonie, the huge ten-movement piece commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1949.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Concert Review: The Next Giant Steps

Lawrence Brownlee in a fierce Liederabend at Zankel Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tenor Lawrence Brownlee explored 19th century and contemporary song at Zankel Hall on Tuesday night.
Photo by Shervin Lainez for Opera Philadelphia.
The American tenor Lawrence Brownlee has emerged in the past decade as one of the leading lights of the bel canto revival that has swept operatic stages in this young century. He is possessed of a memorable stage presence, formidable technique, a plangent, sweet tone and a powerful, nimble insrument. On Tuesday night, a packed Zankel Hall got to see a different side of Mr. Brownlee, as he led an exploration of the art of the song at the Carnegie Hall venue.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Verdi Project: Rigoletto

In which our composer creates a sensation and changes the world of opera, forever.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tito Gobbi (with Renata Scotto) looking suitably demented in a scene from Rigoletto.
There are Verdi operas and then there are those that stand as immortal pillars of the repertory. It is the opinion of this writer that the greatest of these is Rigoletto, a shattering tragedy that has captured the imagination of the public since it first took the stage in Venice in 1850. Verdi's fifteenth opera changed the art form permanently, and established him as the most beloved composer in Italy.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Verdi Project: Stiffelio

Verdi battles the censors with an opera about religion.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Preacher man: José Cura as Stiffelio at the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.
(Note: This article was originally going to be about Luisa Miller, which is a Verdi opera of some considerable interest and importance. However, with the recent Metropolitan Opera Preview and review of that work on Superconductor in recent weeks, we thought it might be interesting to look at a lesser known (but very important) Verdi work.)

There are twenty-eight canonical operas in the Verdi canon, and some of them have had to wait longer than others to be discovered and performed in the standard repertory. None waited longer than Stiffelio, the opera that Verdi composed for the stage in Trieste. Chopped by the censors and revised twice into operas with very different titles, Stiffelio finally became a stage success in 1968. (An approved critical edition of the score, drawn from Verdi's own papers did not appear until 1993, when it was staged at the Metropolitan Opera. It has been revived a few times since.)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Concert Review: Deep Space Ninth

The New York Philharmonic tours the heavens with Bruckner.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Man in motion: the conductor Christoph Eschenbach.
Photo by Chris Lee.
A good idea is a good idea. That might be the rationale between this weeks New York Philharmonic program which pairs Mozart’s charming Piano Concerto No. 22 with Anton Bruckner’s sprawling, ambitious and ultimately unfinished Symphony No. 9 under the baton of guest conductor Christopher Eschenbach. For New York’s Bruckner enthusiasts, this concert evoked memories of January 2017, when Daniel Barenboim led the Berlin Staatskapelle in a cycle of Bruckner symphonies at Carnegie Hall, pairing the shorter works with the major Mozart piano concertos. (Mr. Barenboim paired the Ninth  with Piano Concerto No. 23.)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Opera Review: A Piece of Fairy Cake

Joyce DiDonato sings a radiant Cendrillon at the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The lighting department: Joyce DiDonata as Cinderella in Massenet's Cendrillon.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
At the end of the 2014 season, the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato climbed atop a wedding cake at the end of Rossini's La Cenerentola, a role in which she caused a sensation at the Metropolitan Opera. This month, Ms. DiDonato returned to the stage of America's largest opera house--and to the ballrooms of a very familiar fairy tale--to sing the title role in Cendrillon, the 1899 adaptation of the Cinderella story by Jules Massenet.

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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.