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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Feast of Seven: The Best Opera Performances of 2018

Seven great opera performances from a strange and turbulent year.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The year that was: 2018 in opera.
What a year. James Levine was fired from The Metropolitan Opera, which also crowned a new music director. I listened to seven recordings of Carmen. And Placido Domingo tried his hand at....comedy? On to the highlights.

A Thank You

Dear readers of Superconductor: 

It's been a strange year for your favorite classical music blog. No trips to Japan (but two visits to Cleveland!) an article on yours truly singing in public (terrifying!) and too many obituary posts.

Well, we're not dead yet. There has been a recovery of numbers to some degree but also the loss of some advertising clients. However, I'd like to take this, one of the last posts of 2018 to thank those who have stepped up and supported the Patreon initiative that started this summer. If you want to keep reading this publication (and supply its author with the means to continue doing it) your contributions are invaluable.

Thank you. Let's have a great 2019, as we look forward to our TWELFTH year in business!

And now, as Mr. Kasem said, back to our countdown.

Paul Pelkonen



Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Feast of Seven: The Best Opera Recordings of 2018

Seven notable opera recordings in seven different styles.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The seven best opera recordings of 2018. Art © the respective classical music labels.
Although Superconductor mostly features coverage of live performances, recordings are and continue to be an important part of the classical music genre: the "permanent"...well...record of art that will endure in physical form for decades or even centuries after a performer has moved on to whatever awaits. I don't get to write about recordings anywhere near as often as I would like to, but that doesn't mean I don't listen to and pay attention to what is new.

To kick off our year-ending "Best of 2018" series, here are seven memorable opera recordings for 2018. Chronological order by style. And this year, there's no Wagner or Strauss!):

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Every Valley...Has Its Terrors

My first time performing Handel's Messiah.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Where's your Messiah now?
In the course of my professional career, both as the author of Superconductor and for other publications, I have written an awful lot of reviews. However, last night at the National Chorale's annual Messiah Sing-In at David Geffen Hall, the tables were turned: I found myself, along with the audience, as a choral performer, embedded among professional and vocational singers in a struggle with Handel's written work. So yesterday I did the smart thing: bought a copy of the Dover miniature score at Juilliard and sat in Starbucks, listening to a new BR Klassik recording of the oratorio and dog-earing the choral sections in the score: the sections which I would be participating in in the night's performance.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Opera Review: Going For the Throat

Stuart Skelton debuts in Otello.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

There's been a nasty cold rampaging around New York this month. It struck down your faithful correspondent last week, and also afflicted tenor Stuart Skelton, star of the Met's revival of Verdi's Otello. The tenor, acclaimed for his portrayal of Wagner heroes, was scheduled to sing the role for the first time at the Met last Friday, but it wasn't until Monday night that the big man felt well enough to appear. This revival of the Met's season-opening 2015 production featured Mr. Skelton opposite two of that show's stars: soprano Sonya Yoncheva as Desdemona and baritone Zeljko Lučić as the conniving Iago.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Adriana Lecouvreur

A new production for a New Year, with Anna Netrebko.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
All About Anna and Anita: a scene from Adriana Lecouvereur.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 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.

Wednesday, December 12, 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.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Opera Review: Oi! Oi! Oi! Oedipus!

BAM NextWave goes Greek
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Up the gunners: The cast of Greek at BAM.
Photo © Brooklyn Academy of Music and Royal Scottish Opera.

What do you get when you combine the classic tragedy Oedipus Rex with the laddish patois spoken in the East End of London? The answer might be Stephen Berkoff's 1985 play Greek which was made into an opera by Mark Anthony Turnage, the English enfant terrible whose operatic treatment of the life of Anna-Nicole Smith shocked audiences and incidentally, contributed to the quick death of the New York City Opera. This version of Greek, presented at the BAM Opera House by the Royal Scottish Opera,  showed that the universal Oedipus story still has its power to shock and distur, and the plagues of Thatcher's England are all too relevant in the strange times of today.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Concert Review: A Journey Into Mystery

Matthias Goerne at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Baritone Matthias Goerne joined the New York Philharmonic for a set of Schubert and Strauss lieder.
Photo by Caroline de Bon.
For their last program before the annual dive into holiday season concerts (carols, brass concerts, Messiah, Renée Fleming)  Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic gave their audience something unique: a song cycle created from the work of two composers and featuring the voice of Matthais Goerne, the German lieder specialist who sings Wotan on Mr. van Zweden's new recording of Wagner's Ring.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Concert Review: Salvation on Fifth Avenue

The St. Thomas Men and Boys Choir presents Handel's Messiah.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The St. Thomas Chois of Men and Boys, earlier this season performing Israel in Egypt.
Photo from St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
There are any number of ways for a chorus and orchestra to come together to perform Messiah, the 1741 oratorio that remains Handel's most popular contribution to the canon of Western classical music. For New Yorkers, one of the most satisfying and traditional Messiah experiences to be had is held each year at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, which is home to one of the few choral schools still operating in the United States.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Opera Review: Never Send Flowers

The Met uncorks its new La Traviata.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Soprano Diana Damrau and her four-legged friend in the new Metropolitan Opera
production of La Traviata. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Ask the typical Metropolitan Opera-goer which productions were liked least  in the last decade, and you'll get two answers: One, Michael Mayer's 2013 production of Rigoletto, which moved that drama to 1960s Las Vegas. Two, the 2010 La Traviata by Willy Decker, who set the opera in a sterile white space dominated by a gigantic clock, a heavy metaphor for the heroine Violetta's impending death from tuberculosis. To replace Mr. Decker's production, Met general manager Peter Gelb brought back Mr. Mayer. His assignment: to create a more congenial setting for the death of Verdi's heroine, one  would do less to offend the delicate sensibilities of the audience.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Concert Review: Waking Up From History

Jaap van Zweden leads the Leningrad Symphony.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
City fire marshal Dmitri Shostakovich, Leningrad 1942.
Photographed by a Russian news agency during the siege.
The extraordinary history of the Second World War casts a long shadow on any art music written in Europe in the 1930s and '40s. This week, the New York Philharmonic paired two of these works in a program of extraordinary intensity under music director Jaap van Zweden: a program that seemed to ask the following. Can art music, created under the shadow of extraordinary political and human event, somehow manage to transcend its origins and remain relevant to the audiences of today?

Friday, November 30, 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....

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Recordings Review: Everything Louder Than Everything Else

Jaap van Zweden releases the hounds (and more) with Die Walküre.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Stuart Skelton (left) and Heidi Melton, seen here in an English National Opera
production of Tristan und Isolde are the incestuous twins Siegmund and Sieglinde in the
new Hong Kong Philharmonic recording of Die Walküre. Photo by Catherine Ashmore © 2016 English National Opera.
The first thing you notice on the Hong Kong Philharmonic's recording of Die Walküre, released in 2016 as part of conductor Jaap van Zweden's recently completed cycle of Wagner's Ring operas, is the sheer volume. The orchestra is loud, mixed bright and forward in the crisp, clear concert acoustic. They thunder through the opening prelude with gusto, with the Wagner tubas (those hybrids between French horn and euphonium suggested, if not actually designed by the composer himself) leading the charge.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Opera Review: The Three Faces of a Composer

The Met (finally) revives Puccini's Il Trittico.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Three faces of Il Trittico: Marcelo Alvarez and Amber Wagner in Il Tabarro, Kristine Opolais
in Suor Angelica and Plácido Domingo in Gianni Schicchi. Photos by Ken Howard.
No work by Puccini has suffered more neglect and critical ignorance than Il Trittico, his "triptych" of three single act operas that premiered at the Metropolitan Opera one hundred years ago. Part of what has hurt the reputation of this work: comprised of three operas designed to be performed together and in a certain sequence, is the unfortunate habit producers have of playing these works individually, or pairing them "Cav-Pag" style with operas by other composers.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Opera Review: Heads Will Roll

Il Trovatore stuns the Lyric Opera.
by Jessie Tannenbaum with edits by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jamie Barton as Azucena in a scene from Il Trovatore.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg for Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Although I aspire to superconductive powers of teleportation, I cannot be everywhere at once. So when my good friend Jessie told me she'd be in Chicago for Il Trovatore I asked her to share some of her views on the performance. (Aside from being a fine international attorney, Ms. Tannenbaum is also a choral singer of some experience. Also, being the gracious friend that she is, she agreed.)

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Concert Review: Never Break the Chain

Emanuelle Haïm debuts with the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Emanuelle Haïm in flight.
Photo © Askonas Holt
Say the words "baroque music" and a couple of inevitable stereotypes spring to mind. One might be a covey of court musicians, tweetling elaborate fugues for the enjoyment of mincing nobles. Another might be period performance wonks gathered in rehearsal spaces, wrestling with "authentic" wooden instruments and catgut strings in a quest to discover what music sounded like three hundred years ago.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Opera Review: The King is Half-Undressed

The Met revives Bizet's The Pearl Fishers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pearl jam: Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena canoodle in Act II of Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The big story from Tuesday night's performance of Georges Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles ("The Pearl Fishers") at the Metropolitan Opera happened at the start of the second act. As the lights dimmed and conductor Emmanuel Villaume took his bow from the podium, an announcement was made from the stage.

"Mariusz Kwiecien, singing the role of Zurga has taken ill. His replacement is  Alexander Birch Elliot."

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Concert Review: The Flight of the Intruder

Andris Nelsons conducts the Mahler Fifth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Håkan Hardenberger (left) with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Photo © 2017 Boston Symphony Orchestra by Dominick Reuter.
It's amazing what a century can do.

On Monday night, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra visited Carnegie Hall to play two pieces. The first was Aerial, a 1999 trumpet concerto by Austrian enfant terrible HK Gruber.  It was paired with the Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler. However, a hundred years ago, Mahler's music was considered just as radical as Mr. Gruber's work.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Concert Review: Talkin' 'bout Their Generation

The Cleveland Youth Orchestra at Severance Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Youth movement: Conductor Vinay Parameswaran at the helm of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra.
Photo from the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra website © 2018 The Cleveland Orchestra.
For this New Yorker, it is unusual to attend a concert at Cleveland's lush, elegant Severance Hall and not see the familiar musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra on the stage. But last Friday night belonged to the next generation: the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra in one of its three subscription concerts at the venue this season.

Saturday, November 17, 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
Juan Diego Floréz and Diana Damrau in the climax of the Brindisi from Act I of La Traviata.
Image © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Michael Mayer, the director who put Verdi's Rigoletto on the Vegas strip, offers his vision of La Traviata, a staid staging of the composer's tragedy, set in good old 1853. Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Floréz star.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Concert Review: A Totalitarian Eclipse of the Heart

Jakob Hrůša leads the Cleveland Orchestra behind the Iron Curtain.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Jakob Hrůša in action.Photo by Andreas Herszau from the artist's website © 2016 Andreas Herszau. 
The music of Eastern Europe in the mid-20th century was, for the most part written in an oppressive climate of fear and government control. On Thursday night at Severance Hall, conductor Jakob Hrůša and the Cleveland Orchestra took out their crowbars and lifted the Iron Curtain with a program that shed some light on what music-making was like in a totalitarian (and proletarian) regime.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Concert Review: That Sweet Mountain Music

Teatr Wielkl brings the Voice of the Mountains to Carnegie Hall
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mountain men: Marek Mós led three different ensembles at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night.
Photo by Richard Termine © Richard Termine.
The first things you noticed were the mountains looming high above the stage of Carnegie Hall. In sober black and white, they scrolled majestically across the three plaster and gilt panels that form the rear wall of the Perelman Stage. On Wednesday night, Carnegie Hall played host to Voice of the Mountains, a multidisciplinary musical celebration of the great nation of Poland, brought by that country's national opera company Teatr Wielki. This innovative program has toured from the shores of Portugal to the steppes of Kazakhstan, and this concert marked the North American premiere of this show.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Concert Review: Fantastic Beats and When to Drop Them

Yannick and the Philadelphians bring an impressive menagerie to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Photo by Hans van Der Woerd
Before he took the job as the music director of the Metropolitan Opera, the conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin became leader of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Happily for both ensembles he appears willing and able to balance duties in both cities. On Tuesday night, the maestro and his band came to Carnegie Hall for the first of their scheduled subscription appearances this season. They brought with them an impressive centuries-spanning program that played to the many strengths of this remarkable ensemble.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Recordings Review: Trial and Eros

Naxos brings Das Wunder der Heliane back from the dead.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Freyja's Tears by Gustav Klimt, used as cover art for the Naxos release.
For every early 20th century opera that found a place in the standard repertory, there are works that are known only to conductors, musicologists and coffee-loving bloggers. One of these is Das Wunder der Heliane, the 1927 magnum opus by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, It's been recorded before, but this new budget-friendly Naxos set (made at performances and concerts in Freiburg, Germany) offers a new perspective on this controversial but beautiful opera.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Il Trittico

Played together, these three short operas form one of Puccini's most ambitious works.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Placido Domingo (seen here as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata) sings the title role in Gianni Schicchi
in the Met's revival of Puccini's Il Trittico. Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera. 

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.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Opera Review: That Ol' Devil Music

Christian van Horn is the Met's new Mefistofele.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He stole my balloons: Christian van Horn in the title role of Mefistofele at the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo by Karen Almond © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Devil always gets a bad rap. That's the premise behind Mefistofele, Arrigo Boito's lone completed opera. An ambitious setting of Goethe's Faust that retells the story from the Devil's point of view, Mefistofele used to prance its sulfur strut across the world's opera stages. But Thursday night's revival at the Metropolitan Opera was the first time that the opera had been seen, fully staged, in New York in eighteen years.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Concert Review: It Wouldn't Be in Summer

Iván Fischer conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Iván Fischer returned to the podium of David Geffen Hall on Wednesday night.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
Wednesday night's concert at the New York Philharmonic felt more like Mostly Mozart.

It wasn't just the program: a brief but satisfying blend of Beethoven and Schubert. It was the presence of frequent MM guest Iván Fischer, who, for a number of seasons has enlivened that summer festival by bringing his orchestra charges: the Budapest Festival Orchestra (an ensemble he founded and still currently leads) to play symphonies and operas at Lincoln Center. Here, Mr. Fischer found himself at the helm of the New York Philharmonic, but wasted no time in ensuring that this was a very different kind of concert.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Recordings Review: A Castle in the Air

The Naxos Ring starts with Das Rheingold.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ring leader: Jaap van Zweden at the helm of his Hong Kong forces.
Photo © 2018 Naxos Records/Hong Kong Philharmonic
There are, by this writer's count, at least thirty commercial versions of Wagner's epic Ring Cycle available to the consumer today. So what's the need for one more?

This new Ring, which was produced by Naxos Records in a series of live concerts by the Hong Kong Philharmonic marks the arrival of Jaap van Zweden as a major Wagnerian voice. The Dutch conductor is doing double duty in Hong Kong and New York as music director of both cities' respective Philharmonics, but is still building his international reputation. A complete Ring such as this (Götterdämmerung was released this month) is a major step toward music stardom and this recording of Das Rheingold, in glowing stereo sound with a bright and fresh dynamic range is a good start to the cycle.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Concert Review: The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life

The Hungarian National Opera Orchestra plays Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A conductor and a chair: Balász Kocsár. Photo © Hungarian National Opera.
The Hungarian National Opera's arrival in New York for a two week stay has been among the more interesting events of this fall season. Unfamiliar operas, unique productions and some vocal discoveries have been made at Lincoln Center. On Monday night, the Opera's orchestra, under the leadership of music director Balász Kocsár came to Carnegie Hall for a marathon concert: its one chance to display a wide variety of orchestral wares.

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.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Opera Review: Peace and Truth in Mid-Air

Satyagraha returns to Brooklyn Academy of Music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A wilderness of ramps: Leif Arun-Solen is Gandhi in Satyagraha.
 Photo by Stephanie Berger for BAM.
Once every few seasons, an opera production emerges that enables this writer to see the art form in an entirely new light. This year, that production is Satyagraha by Philip Glass, which returned to the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week. (BAM NextWave was the sight of the first New York performances of this opera in 1981.) This staging brings Philip Glass' three act meditation on the early years of Mahatma Gandhi to a literal circus, combining singing, dance, aerialism and other feats to make this cool, cerebral opera into a warm and intimate experience.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Opera Review: Raiders of the Lost Archive

The Hungarian National Opera strikes Goldmark with The Queen of Sheba.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Queen of Sheba appeals to her lover Assad in Karl Goldmark's opera of the same title.
Photo by Péter Rakóssy for the Hungarian National Opera.
If you've been following Superconductor this week, the Hungarian National Opera's festival stand at Lincoln Center has not been a huge artistic success. That changed on Friday night with The Queen of Sheba, the 1875 chestnut by composer Karl Goldmark. Once a pillar of the repertory, the Queen held the stage in Vienna and Italy for decades and was mounted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1885. This performance of the opera (the first in New York in forty years) showed that this is a living, vibrant work well worthy of frequent revival: as long as its stringent vocal demands are met.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Opera Review: We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties...

The Hungarian National Opera offers a double bill at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bass András Paleerde (in robe, left, and in suit, right) does double duty in the Hungarian
National Opera's double bill of Mario and the Magician and Duke Bluebeard's Castle.
Photo by Zsofia Palyi © 2018 Hungarian National Opera.
The most famous Hungarian opera of the twentieth century, and the only opera from that country to vault itself into the international repertory is Duke Bluebeard's Castle. Béla Bartók's lone operatic effort is a favorite around the world, although it is hard to cast and its one-hour length almost necessitates that it be performed as the heavy end of a double bill.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Concert Review: He's Ready For His Close-Up

Frank Huang takes the spotlight at the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Taking solo flight: concertmaster Frank Huang at the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic. 
The New York Philharmonic welcomed conductor Juraj Valčuha to its podium on Wednesday night. The Slovak conductor led a program which focused on the particular confluence of European and American music that characterized the first half of the 20th century, in a program of works by Korngold, Rachmaninoff and Samuel Barber.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Opera Review: Country Over Party

The Hungarian National Opera presents Bánk bán.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Which way to Gagsorszag? Bánk bán (left) and Tiborc reminisce in Act II of Bánk bán.
Photo by Attila Nágy for the Hungarian National Opera.
The musical tradition of Hungary is as rich as any other neighboring country in central Europe. However, the vocal music written by Hungarian composers has not traveled well outside its borders, hampered by the forces of history and the formidable difficulties of the Hungarian language. Of Hungarian operas, the most popular and beloved is Ferenc Erkel's 1861 Bánk bán which finally had its North American debut on Tuesday night at Lincoln Center.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Opera Review: Woman On Fire

Sondra Radvanovsky burns up the Met's Tosca.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She doesn't get mad. She gets stabby. Sondra Radvanovsky is Tosca at the Met.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
In the twenty-two years since her Met debut, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky has sung many roles, including Floria Tosca, the fiery and jealous opera soprano who is the star of the opera that bears her surname. And yet, this current run of Tosca, which had its second performance on Monday night may mark the first time that New Yorkers really got to see this great American soprano tackle this formidable part head-on.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Concert Review: It's Time to Rise

The Czech Philharmonic plays Mahler's Resurrection Symphony.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Semyon Bychkov in rapture. Photo by Chris Christodoulou.

In New York City, Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2, popularly known as the "Resurrection Symphony", is a work that is played in troubled times. It was performed by the New York Philharmonic after September 11, and on that event's tenth anniversary. So it is appropriate, given the roiling political climate in the United States in recent days, that it was the choice of the Czech Philharmonic for Sunday's concert at Carnegie Hall.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Concert Review: The Uplift War

The Czech Philharmonic celebrates a centennial at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Zip it. Semyon Bychkov in action at the Proms in 2013.
Photo by Chris Christodoulou from
The relationship between an orchestra and its music director is like a marriage under the trial period of a business contract.. For Semyon Bychkov and the Prague-based Czech Philharmonic, the honeymoons continuing into the ensemble's current North American tour.. Conductor and orchestra have released new recordings of Tchaikovsky and Dvořák. Their current jaunt is in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Czech independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is currently stopped at Carnegie Hall.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Concert Review: Steppe-ing Up Their Game

A new conductor lands at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The conductor Tughan Sokhiev.
Photo courtesy the Orchestra Nationale du Capitole de Toulouse.
Prior to this week, the  Russian conductor Tughan Sokhiev was an unknown quantity at the New York Philharmonic. Currently music director of the Bolshoi Theater and the Orchestre Nationale du Capitole de Toulouse, he made his debut on the podium at David Geffen Hall, armed with a triptych of works from his native land by Borodin, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Concert Review: A Militant Faith

The Orchestra of St. Luke's and La Chapelle de Québec get mass-ive.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
New Orchestra of St. Luke's principal conductor Bernard Labadie (center)
lead vocal soloists  (soprano Lauren Snouffer, mezzo Susan Graham, tenor Lothar Odinius and bass-baritone Philippe Sly)
 and La Chapelle de Québec (rear)in a concert at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night. Photo by Adam Stoltman © 2018 Orchestra of St. Luke's
In its 44-year history, the musical direction of the Orchestra of St. Luke's has been steered by the musician appointed to the post of Principal Conductor. The latest to take the job is Bernard Labadie, the Quebécois conductor and early music specialist. So it is unsurprising that Mr. Labadie's first concert at Carnegie Hall leading his new orchestra was sacred music: Haydn's "Nelson" Mass and the Mozart Requiem.

Saturday, October 27, 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.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Recordings Review: Babylon and On...and On

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment records Semiramide. (All of it.)
by Paul J. Pelkonen
It's good to be the queen: Albina Shagimuratova is Semiramide.
Photo courtesy Askonas Holt.
Time has not always been kind to the opera seria of Gioacchino Rossini. While his comedies, led by Il Barbiere di Siviglia are regularly presented on stages around the world, one is less likely to encounter his serious works. Among the finest of these is Semiramide, his 34th opera and his last opera written (in 1823) for an Italian theater. It is the subject of a new and exhaustive recording of the complete score, by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Sir Mark Elder. Made in the summer of 2016 at London's Henry Wood Hall, and sprawling on four discs, this four-hour Semiramide offers windows into two different operatic worlds: Rossini's own era and the boom period where studio recordings were common.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Bitter Fruit of Obsessive Love

Some thoughts on Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from a caricature of Hector Berlioz by Anton Elfinger.
The caption read: "Heureusement la salle est solide... elle résiste." © 1982 University of Chicago Press.

If you've read Superconductor since the beginning you know that this blog has spent a lot of column length on the music of Hector Berlioz. Berlioz was an author and a music critic (much like your humble narrator.) He was also a revolutionary and romantic composer who cut an eccentric but fearless path through the cutthroat world of the Paris music scene in his lifetime. His Symphonie-fantastique, which burst upon the world in 1829, was one of the reasons for the rise of program music in the 19th century. Even more revolutionary was his use of a recurring motif or idée-fixe, whose development over the course of five movements predicted the Wagnerian idea of leitmotif.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Dangers of Cutting the Foot From a Flute

An argument for performing all of Die Zauberflöte.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Photo by D. Mitchell

Die Zauberflöte, or The Magic Flute is Mozart's final opera, and one that is frequently encountered as a recommended work for those exploring the world of opera for the first time. Written in German but frequently performed (in this country at least) in English. it remains an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a bird costume: a combination of low music hall comedy, Masonic mystery play and singspiel, the German style of opera that was prevalent in the latter years of the eighteenth century.

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.

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