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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Verdi Project: Ernani

The mature Verdi style emerges in the composer's fifth opera. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A post-horn: the instrument blown by Silva to remind Ernani that it is time to die.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Following the wild success of Nabucco and its follow-up I Lombardi, Verdi was on his way as an established composer of Italian opera. And yet, those operas, while having their positive points, do not yet embody the elements that one thinks of when the name "Verdi" comes to mind. Ernani changed all that. Its premiere at La Fenice, in Venice in 1844 was Verdi's first triumph away from the stage of La Scala and cemented his reputation as Italy's newest opera sensation

Monday, February 26, 2018

Concert Review: These Go to Eleven

The Vienna Philharmonic plays Ives and Tchaikovsky.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gustavo Dudamel. Photo by Sébastien Grébille.
For the last 176 years, the Vienna Philharmonic has staked its reputation on the Austro-Germanic symphonic tradition, bringing the music of composers like Schubert, Strauss and Suppe before the public with style and skill. However, Sunday's matinee concert, the third of three this weekend at Carnegie Hall, the great orchestra eschewed the Mozart and Beethoven for a refreshing focus elsewhere. For this concert, the orchestra and current guest conductor Gustavo Dudamel agreed to play symphonies by Charles Ives and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose only common thread was the unconventional and innovative nature of their work.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Concert Review: Ain't Love Grand

Gustavo Dudamel conducts Berlioz and Mahler.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Dude abides: Gustavo Dudamel at work.
Photo by Chris Lee.
The Vienna Philharmonic gave the second concert of its three-night 2019 stand at Carenegie Hall on Saturday night. The program was unusual for this venerable orchestra: the slow movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 10 paired with a Berlioz favorite, the hyper-romantic Symphonie fantastique.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Concert Review: A Cure for Pomposity

The Vienna Philharmonic returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gustavo Dudamel (standing) at the helm of the Vienna Philharmonic.
Photo by Benedikt Dinkhauser © 2017 Vienna Philharmonic Association/Sony Classical
Last night, sitting in a coffeehouse on West 57th St., I noticed something odd about the lyrics of a song playing in the store. I turned to the gent at the next table and apropos of nothing, voiced my finding. That gent sniffed and said "Oh. That's some sort of jazz thing. I listen to classical music."

I thought, "Oh. He must be going to see the Vienna Philharmonic."

Friday, February 23, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Elektra

Christine Goerke sings the title role. Go see it.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Say hello to her little friend: Christine Goerke as Elektra in San Francisco.
Photo by Cory Weaver for the San Francisco Opera.
Soprano of the moment Christine Goerke, who has sung Elektra in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and on the stage of Carnegie Hall, takes on the towering title role in Richard Strauss' harrowing take on Greek tragedy.

Concert Review: They Dig American Music

The New York Philharmonic explores its musical legacy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The trumpets, trombones and tuba of the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
There is a perception in the world of classical music that is a fallacy: that the music created by composers born in the United States is somehow inferior or lesser than the works of those composers born on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The New York Philharmonic has a long record of fighting against that ugly prejudice, through the commission and creation of works by Yankee composers. On Thursday night America's oldest orchestra upheld that tradition with the the first of three concerts this week that focused on the brilliance and innovation of orchestral music created in this country the 20th century.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Verdi Project: Nabucco

By the waters of Babylon, Verdi's legend begins.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Historic bas-relief of the Babylonian king Nebachudnezzar, hero of Verdi's third opera Nabucco.
Nabucco put Giuseppe Verdi on the map. The composer's third opera premiered in Milan in 1842. It was an absolute smash. Its success would not only alter Verdi's fortunes, but the popularity of its message and its famous chorus "Va, pensiero" may claim some credit for reshaping the political map of Italy. It was Verdi's music and the eventual rallying cry "Viva Verdi" (code for "Vittorio Emmanuel, Re d'Italia") that would help propel that collection of nation-states toward revolution and eventual political unity.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Opera Review: Making Assyria Great Again

The Metropolitan Opera gambles on Rossini's hazardous Semiramide.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Uneasy lies the head: Angela Meade (center) in Semiramide, with Ildar Abdrazakov (right) and Ryan Speedo Green (left).
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.

Even in the rarified aviary of the Metropolitan Opera House, Gioachino Rossini's Semiramide is an exotic species. The composer's final opera for the Italian stage was written in 1823. It brought down the curtain on opera seria, the genre that had been at the heart of Italian operatic tradition for well over a century. Brought to the Met in 1892, it had to wait ninety years for a revival, only to be mothballed again for another quarter of a century. On Monday night, the Met finally revived Semiramide as a vehicle for Angela Meade, the American soprano who has enjoyed some success in the current craze for bel canto repertory.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Concert Review: The Human Stain

Philip Glass' Music With Changing Parts at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Philip Glass.
Photo by Andras Bitesnich for Orange Mountain Music.
Is there a point, in the creation of art for the entertainment of others, where the value of that creative act has to be weighed against the limitations that the human body can endure? That question applies to both the audience and performers attending Friday night's concert at Carnegie Hall featuring the first New York concert performance in 38 years of Philip Glass' 1970 composition Music With Changing Parts. This performance formed the centerpiece of Mr. Glass' residency at the Hall this season, and of the venue's ongoing festival celebrating the music and culture of the 1960s.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Concert Review: Oceans of Love and Time

Jaap van Zweden pairs Dark Waves with Wagner.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jaap van Zweden in orchestral ecstasy.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.

When Jaap van Zweden was announced as the new music director of the Philharmonic, he was seen by pundits and punters alike as a firm, conservative voice designed to return America's oldest orchestra to its role as guardian of the standard European repertory of the 19th and 20th centuries. This week, he confirms that hope with a performance of Act I of Wagner's Die Walküre. However, the program opens with the New York premiere of Dark Waves, a masterful 2007 composition from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Opera Review: The Case for a Basket

Juilliard Opera takes on Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Falstaff in the Basket by Henry Fuseli
© Die Kunsthaus, Zurich
When Giuseppe Verdi ended his career with Falstaff, he was not the first composer to take on Shakespeare's corpulent knight as an operatic subject. In 1847, the mostly forgotten Otto Nicolai wrote Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, a singspiel of considerable flexibility and charm.  Nicolai's score, which sets Sir John's amorous adventures to an enchanting series of Viennese waltzes and florid writing for a large cast, is being staged this weekend at Juilliard, in the intimate  Willson Theateron the conservatory's third floor. It opened Wednesday night.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

2018-19 Metropolitan Opera Season Preview: Meet the New Boss

The Met crowns Yannick Nézet-Séguin as its Music Director...two years early.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads a rehearsal of Der fliegende Holländer at the Met in 2017,
unaware of the neon crown hovering overhead added by this blog's author.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera. Crown inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The Metropolitan Opera announced its schedule today for 2018-19, along with the blockbuster news that Yannick Nézet-Séguin, currently in the middle of a successful run of Wagner's Parsifal has been official crowned as the company's music director. This enthronement is two years ahead of schedule.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Concert Review: Start the Massacre Without Me

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Riccardo Muti (standing) at the helm of his troops in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Photo by Todd Rosenberg © 2018 the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The life of a classical music critic (especially one who runs his own business and also freelances!) is sometimes prone to the peccadilloes of routine. As a result, I'm starting this review of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Saturday night performance ant Carnegie Hall with a confession, that, thinking that the start time of the performance was the usual 8pm (as it almost always is for shows at Stern Auditorium I arrived at 7:40--ten minutes late.

Yes. I missed the overture.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Opera Review: A Swig and a Miss

The Metropolitan Opera imbibes L’elisir d’Amore.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Country bumpkin Nemorino (Matthew Polenzani) woos Adina (Pretty Yende) in the Met's revival
of L'Elisir d'Amore. Photo by Karen Almond © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The soprano Pretty Yende is one of the more sensational discoveries at the Metropolitan Opera this decade, wowing audiences with her sweet tone and superlative bel canto technique since making her debut in the company’s January, 2013 revival of Rossini's Le comte Ory. This month, she sings Adina in the revival of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, a charming love story that maintains its front rank among the most popular Italian operatic comedies.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Concert Review: A History of Violence

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra return to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Riccardo Muti (on podium) leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine
at Carnegie Hall on Friday night. Photo © 2018 Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 
Mention the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a room of classical music cognoscenti and you are likely to get the following reactions: a sigh of pleasure, a small smile, or a comment about the sonic size and vigor of their legendary brass section, who, in a city if big shoulders, cast the widest possible shadow. That orchestra and its leader Ricardo Muti are back in New York for their semi-annual visit to Carnegie Hall, and Friday night marked the first of two New York programs this weekend.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Concert Review: Uncommon Ground

Sir Antonio Pappano visits the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Antonio Pappano.
Photo © Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
For a generation of classical music lovers your humble scribe included) the juxtaposition of composers Camille Saint-Saëns and Benjamin Britten with the New York Philharmonic brings a smile of nostalgia. These two composers were featured on a classic 196- album conducted by Leonard Bernstein, which used Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals and Britten’s The Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra to teach a generation the intonations of the various instruments that together make up the modern symphony.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Semiramide

Angela Meade seizes power in ancient Babylon
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Angela Meade (center) is the titular Queen Semiramide in the Met's Rossini grand opera.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera presents Semiramide, a four-act Italian grand opera by Rossini that was the composer's final opera for the stage of his native country. Angela Meade sings the daunting title role, a bravura showpiece for the soprano voice.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Concert Review: The Pointillist Procedure

Pianist Ian Hobson continues his Debussy and Ravel series at SubCulture.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist Ian Hobson is giving a six recital series at SubCulture this season.
Photo from the artist's website, courtesy Hemsing Associates.
The pianist and academic Ian Hobson may not be as well known as the flashy virtuosos who pack the schedule of major concert venues. However, sometimes the best recitals are those that are on a more intimate scale. On Wednesday night, Mr. Hobson, a veteran soloist and conductor and recording artist who also teaches music at Florida State came back to New York for the third of six recitals this season at SubCulture. Tucked downstairs on Bleecker Street, this funky downtown performance space is currently in a struggle to reclaim its spot at the front of the cutting edge of Gotham performance venues.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Concert Review: It is of Endings I Wish to Speak

Mathias Goerne and Daniil Trifonov in a liederabend at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Daniil Trifonov and Matthias Goerne brought their lieder collaboration
to Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night. Photos © the artists websites, assembly by the author.
Of all of the forms that the presentation of so-called "classical"music takes, it is the liederabend that is probably at the greatest risk. One singer, and one piano, presenting a carefully curated selection of songs by one or more composer seems quaint by the standards of this frantic century. On Tuesday night in Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, bass Matthias Goerne and pianist Daniil Trifonov demonstrated that in some ways, the old ways are best.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Opera Review: The New Kings

Parsifal offers much needed redemption at the troubled Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Local boy makes good: Klaus Florian Vogt lifts the Holy Grail as Gurnemanz (Rene Pape) looks on.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera opened its lone Wagner offering of the 2017-18 season on Monday night: a revival of the extraordinary 2013 François Girard staging of Wagner's Parsifal. This production was acclaimed when it opened, for its stunning visuals (including a lake of stage blood in Act II) and its potent, spare message. It was also the second opportunity for the Met's new maestro-designate, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, to prove his mettle with Wagner's music, this time conducting the composer's final opera.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Concert Review: Above the Stars, Below the Stairs

The Attaca Quartet plays Beethoven at The Crypt Sessions.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Silence: church in session: the Attacca Quartet in the crypt.
Photo by Tristan Cook © 2018 Unison Media.
The Church of the Intercession sits on a steeply sloped intersection, right at the southern border of Washington Heights. On Thursday night, the acclaimed series The Crypt Sessions (curated by publicist-turned impresario Andrew Ousley) opened its third season of playing concerts deep in the earth. The venue is a strange one: the stone vault that supports this historic church. Even more unusual was that this concert featured one work: Beethoven's Op. 132 String Quartet in A minor, played by the Attacca  Quartet.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Opera Review: A Show About Nothing

The Whisper Opera returns (quietly) to New York.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ross Karre hugs a bass drum in a performance of David Lang's The Whisper Opera.
Photo courtesy International Contemporary Ensemble.
For almost five hundred years, humanity has used the form of opera to express itself. And for most of those centuries the argument has always run: which is more important--the words, or the music? (There's even a couple of operas about that very subject. However, in The Whisper Opera, which premiered in 2013 at Mostly Mozart, and returns this week for a run of performances at the Skirball Center at NYU, the composer David Lang provides his own answer. Mr. Lang, who is one of the founders of Bang On A Can chooses "neither."

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