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

Saturday, March 31, 2018

New Opera to Tell the LeBron James Story

Der Klevelandkavalier planned for 2022.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Three faces of the King: a new opera will tell the story of LeBron James in chorus and song.
All images of LeBron James © The National Basketball Association, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat.
No NBA players were approached or participated in this story, which is for parody purposes only. 
"It's about time that there was a German opera about a real American hero." That's the rationale, (if we need one) behind the new opera Der Klevelandkavalier, which premieres in a special concert version at Severance Hall in Cleveland Ohio on Feb. 30, 2022. The new opera is a co-production with the New World Symphony of Miami. It tells the story of NBA great LeBron James, his rise to fame, his harrowing journey into the depths of Miami, Florida, his friendship and personal struggles with Dwayne Wade, and his triumphant return to Cleveland, Ohio to win a championship for that lakeside city.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Comment: The Wound that Will Not Heal

Good Friday morning, Wagner's Parsifal and James Levine.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Placido Domingo and Jessye Norman as Parsifal and Kundry
in the old Met production of Wagner's Parsifal.
Photo detail from the album cover of the
1994 Deutsche Grammophon Parsifal © 1994 DG/UMG and the Metropolitan Opera.
I have a "ritual" I like to do on Good Friday morning. I like to be completely alone and have a long, meditative listen to Wagner's Parsifal. The composer's final opera concerns itself with matters of spirituality and redemption, of the idea of unimagineable, infinite suffering that is only alleviated with the arrival of a savior figure.

Opera Review: Their Reverence For This Lovely Flower

The Bayerische Staatsoper presents Der Rosenkavalier.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Table for one: Adrienne Pieczonka as the Marschallin in Der Eosenkavalier.
Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier is his most beloved opera. Strauss fused rigorous compositional technique, catchy waltzes and superb vocal writing  to a charming, sentimental libretto by his longtime collaborator Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. On Thursday night, the Bayerische Staatsoper brought this opera to the stage of Carnegie Hall under the baton of its boss Kirill Petrenko. This was the opera companys first concert performance at the New York venue in its long history.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Concert Review: Thunder From the Alps

Kirill Petrenko brings the Bayerische Staatsorchester to Carnegie Hall. 
by Paul J Pelkonen
Conductor Kirill Petrenko and the Bavarian State Orchestra.
Photo by Christoph Brech © 2018 for the Bayerische Staatsorchester.
The Bayerische Staatsorchester, based in Bavaria's capital city of Munich, lays claim to one of the oldest musical traditions in Western Europe. Their press kit states that the organization first started playing church music in the 16th century. However, the first of two concerts at Carnegie Hall this week were led by a conductor who is very much a man of the 21st century: music director Kirill Petrenko.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Devil Came From Georgia

Superconductor witnesses The Death of Stalin.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A civilizing force: Olga Kurylenko as Maria Yudina in The Death of Stalin.
The most dangerous dictator in Russian history was Josef Stalin. And unfortunately for the composers, artists and musicians who lived in the Soviet Union up until 1953, Stalin loved music. His untimely but welcome demise is the subject of the hilarious new film The Death of Stalin by director Armando Ianucci. This review is not going to focus on the film itself, which is a startling, smart and well-written black comedy. But this isn't a conventional movie review: this is Superconductor. And we're going to talk about Comrade Stalin and the music in the movie.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Strauss Project: Die Frau ohne Schatten

Mysticism, marriage and a fish dinner: Strauss' wildest opera explored.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Fish for dinner: Christine Goerke as the Dyer's Wife in the current Metropolitan Opera
production of Die Frau ohne Schatten. Photo by Ken Howard © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
Of the fifteen operas written by Richard Strauss none are more complicated, more esoteric or more demanding than Die Frau ohne Schatten. Written during the First World War and premiered in Vienna in 1916, this was the composer’s sixth opera, and his third collaboration with librettist Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. Frau or “Fr-o-sch” as the composer affectionately nicknamed it (the German word for "frog") is a fairy tale for grown-ups, told on a scale that would make Richard Wagner envious.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Opera Review: What We Got Here is a Crusader

The English Concert performs Rinaldo.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Going for baroque: Iestyn Davies (center) sings the title role in Rinaldo as Harry Bicket (seated, left) conducts.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 Carnegie Hall.
In the already esoteric world of opera performance, staging the operas of George Frederic Handel takes the anachronism to the next level. At Carnegie Hall on Sunday, conductor Harry Bicket led The English Concert in the latest of their wildly successful series of Handel operas and oratorios in concert. The latest: Rinaldo, the opera that made Handel's name in London, the city that would become that well-traveled composer's permanent home base.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Opera Review: Ghosts Busted

The Met brings back Lucia di Lammermoor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Crazy for feelin' so blue: Olga Peretyatko-Mariotti (center, covered in blood) as the bride of Lammermoor.
Photo © 2018 Richard Termine for the Metropolitan Opera. Used with permission.
Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor carries a certain sense of expectation. It is that prolific composer's most popular tragic opera, and even those who are barely familiar with the work itself have heard of its landmark Mad Scene and the image of poor, deranged Lucy Bucklaw (nee Ashton) descending a staircase on her wedding night, her white, virginal gown spattered with her husband's blood.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Luisa Miller

Placido Domingo returns (but not as the tenor lead) in Verdi's opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
We're the Millers: Sonya Yoncheva (right) is Luisa and Placido Domingo is her ill-starred father in Verdi's Luisa Miller.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera marketing department is trumpeting that this year's revival of Luisa Miller features soprano Sonya Yoncheva paired with a very familiar name: Placido Domingo. However, those materials neglect to mention that Mr. Domingo is not playing Rodolfo, the handsome young hero in Verdi's Luisa Miller, but rather the role of Luisa's father, a part usually taken by a baritone of the first rank.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Concert Review: Evil Never Dies

Judas Priest, Saxon, Black Star Riders rock Newark.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The mighty Judas Priest (l.r. Richie Faulkner, Scott Travis, Rob Halford, Andy Sneap, Ian Hill)
sacked New Jersey on Tuesday night. Photo by the author. 
Last week, I excitedly told a colleague who works in PR for Carnegie Hall that I had tickets for Tuesday night's Judas Priest concert at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. "Really? Judas Priest." I said, "yeah! I get to be 17 again!"

"Why do you like that stuff?" someone asked.

"Because," I answered with a straight face, "they write opera for teenaged boys!"

Concert Review: Follow the Bouncing Bow

Joshua Bell leads the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Joshua Bell leads his troops. Photo by Erik Kabik © 2018 Erik Kabik.
In the years before the 19th century, the conductor standing before an orchestra, baton in hand, was at best an anachronism. In choosing the American violinist Joshua Bell as its music director, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields flew in the face of that tradition. At Monday night's concert at David Geffen Hall, Mr. Bell chooses to conduct most concerts from the concertmaster's chair (in this case, a piano bench) at the front of the first violins. Alternatively, he stood and led with his instrument in hand, using the tip of his violin bow.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Theater Review: The High Price of Beauty

Farinelli and the King on Broadway.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tragic kingdom: Sam Crane and Mark Rylance in the titular roles of Farinelli and the King.
Photo © 2018 Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

Those of you who regularly read Superconductor know that the dramatic stage, that is, the one without an orchestra or singing is not the normal demesne of this publication. However, thanks to the good offices of my friend Amy M., your humble correspondent found himself at Saturday night's performance of Farinelli and the King. This play, produced by Shakespeare's Globe of London and written by that company's resident composer Claire van Kampen, opened on Broadway in December after a successful London run. (It closes at the Belasco Theater on March 25.)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Lucia di Lammermoor

The blood-stained bride returns to the Met stage.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Well, the bride was a picture in the gown that her mama wore
When she was married herself nearly twenty-seven years before
They had to change the style a little but it looked just fine
Stayed up all night, but they got it finished just in time." --Nick Lowe
Everything dies: Vittorio Grigolo and Olga Peretyatko in Lucia di Lammermoor.
Photo © 2018 Richard Termine for the Metropolitan Opera.
The Met revives Mary Zimmerman's controversial, deeply weird and really fun take on Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, for some the ultimate expression of the bel canto style. And yes, this is the opera with the blood-splattered wedding dress.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Opera Review: Mugging on the Boardwalk

The Met takes Cosí fan tutte to Coney Island.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Motel illness: Kelli O'Hara, Christopher Maltman, Adam Plachetka, Ben Bliss, Serena Melfi and Amanda Majeski
in a frantic Act I moment from Così fan tutti. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
How do you solve the problem of presenting an opera that forces men and women into the stereotypes of the 18th century to a 21st century audience? If you're director Phelim McDermott, whose dazzling new Cosí fan tutte arrived at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday night, you roll the score in glue, dip it in glitter, and hope for the best. Mr. McDermott's staging is a co-production with the English National Opera. It moves the show to Coney Island some time in the 1950s. The effect is sweet, sugary and yet strangely empty, like substituting cotton candy for your dinner after a night out on the Boardwalk.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Concert Review: Dead Man's Party

Lara St. John and Matt Herskowitz rock The Crypt Sessions.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Underground music: Matt Herskowitz and Lara St. John entombed.
Photo by Andrew Ousley for The Crypt Sessions.
At last night's installment of The Crypt Sessions, the esteemed series of chamber music and concert recitals that takes place in the sepulchre of the Church of the Intercession at W. 155th St. and Broadway, host (and curator) Andrew Ousley staked the claim that the Canadian violinist Lara St. John was a "force of nature." The violinist, in concert with her performing partner Matthew Herskowitz, was offering something special in the house of the dead. The program was Lavuta an hourlong mixtape of fiddle tunes and folk-inspired music from Eastern Europe, covering a vast triangle of land from Moscow to Jerusalem to Budapest. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Concert Review: The Toast of Two Cities

The Philadelphia Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leading the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Photo © 2018 The Philadelphia Orchestra.
There is no question that the Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is the big man on the New York classical music scene at the moment. The music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra was in town with his troops on Tuesday night, for his first Carnegie Hall appearance since being appointed the music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Throwing in the Towel

The Metropolitan Opera fires James Levine.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Facing the music: James Levine was fired by the Met today.
Photo by Naomi Vaughan © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
In a breaking story by Michael Cooper in The New York Times, the Metropolitan Opera fired longtime conductor and music director James Levine today, ending an era and a scandal at America's largest opera house.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Verdi Project: Macbeth

The composer escapes the galley with his first Shakespeare adaptation.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
In his later life, Giuseppe Verdi referred to the period from 1842 to 1850 as his "galley years". In those years, the composer applied his energies to writing thirteen operas (counting revisions) for the Italian stage as well as opera houses in London and Paris. Of these, one work stands out: his 1847 adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy Macbeth.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Concert Review: Night of the Blob

Pierre-Laurent Aimard at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pierre-Laurent Aimard and friend. Photo from the artist's website.
There is no question that the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is among the most innovative and forward thinking masters of the keyboard working today. However, Thursday night’s recital on the big stage of Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium was a bit of a puzzle, challenging to both the artist himself and the music lovers, aficionadoes and reviewers in attendance.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Così fan tutte

The Met opens the Coney Island Boardwalk a week early.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Gee. No beer, no opera dogs..." --H. Simpson
"Wann fährt der nächste Schwan?": A scene from Così fan tutti with 
Adam  Plachetka and Serena Melfi, pushed by strongman Titano Oddfellow.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera. 

The Met tries its hand at Brooklyn gentrification with a new production of Così fan tutte set on the Coney Island Boardwalk. (If the reviews are negative, the next one will be staged in lower Manhattan, presumably on Park Place.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Concert Review: Unbowed, Unbeaten, Unbroken

Sō Percussion and the JACK Quartet play new works at Zankel Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Photo of Sō Percussion by Janette Beckman. Photo of the JACK Quartet by Shervin Lainez.
Carnegie Hall, with its multiple venues and well of donors is instrumental to the contemporary music community. Starting in 2016, the historic venue celebrated its 125th year with the 125 Commissions project, offering 125 new compositions in celebration of the venue’s anniversary in 2016. On Tuesday night, the subterranean stage of Zankel Hall hosted two important contemporary ensembles: Sō Percussion and the JACK Quartet, performing a trio of these new pieces.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Concert Review: The Keys to the Cipher

The New York Philharmonic plays Brahms and Prokofiev.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Working the keys: Yuja Wang (left) and Jaap van Zweden play Brahms.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic just went on tour. However, before he orchestra caught a Saturday flight to Japan last week, they played four evening concerts under its new music director Jaap van Zweden. The program, heard Friday night, eschewed the usual tripartite musical evening for a pairing of heavyweight favorites: the D minor Piano Concerto by Johannes Brahms, and the Fifth Symphony of Serge Prokofiev.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Recordings Review: A Little Old Fashioned (But That's All Right)

Unraveling Jonny Greenwood's Phantom Thread.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
One of the hidden messages in a dress from Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread.
Image © 2017 Focus Features/Universal.
On Oscar Night 2018, the Paul Thomas Anderson film Phantom Thread won only one major award: that for costume design. While it is not surprising that a film about a 1950s London dressmaker garnered that particular Academy Award, a listen to the lush, creative and emotive soundtrack (available on Nonesuch) to that film by composer Jonny Greenwood indicated that this picture may have had a shot at Best Score as well. (That Oscar went to Alexandre Desplat and his work on The Shape of Water, and it was a well-deserved win.)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Exit: Major Winchester

Some words for actor and conductor David Ogden Stiers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
As Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, David Ogden Stiers (right)
torments his tentmates (Alan Alda and Mike Farrell) in the M*A*S*H episode The Smell of Music.
Image © 1970 20th Century FOX/CBS
We interrupt tonight's regularly scheduled Superconductor post for some sad news in the television community and the classical music world. Actor David Ogden Stiers died this morning at his Oregon home. He was 75. Mr. Stiers died peacefully in his sleep after a battle with bladder cancer, according to a report in Entertainment Weekly.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Opera Review: Her Time is Now

Christine Goerke unleashes Elektra on the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Benched: Christine Goerke and Mikhail Petrenko as Elektra and Orestes in Elektra.
Photo by Karen Almond © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
There comes a time in the career of an opera singer when they are the artist of the moment. For Christine Goerke, the American dramatic soprano starring in the title role of Elektra at the Metropolitan Opera, that time is now. Ms. Goerke has sung this part on other stages (including Carnegie Hall) to great acclaim, both here and elsewhere. However Thursday night was a watershed. It marked the dramatic soprano's long-awaited return to a major Strauss roles on America's largest operatic stage.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Concert Review: The Long and the Short of It

Mitsuko Uchida in recital at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The amazing Mutsuko Uchida.
Photo by Justin Pumfrey for Decca Classics.
Is it possible for an artist to be above criticism?

That question is necessitated by this week's schedule st Carnegie Hall, which features not one but two recitals of Schubert piano sonatas by the astounding Mitsuko Uchida. On the concert hall as well as on disc, Ms. Uchida offers a highly personal approach to these works. St the first off these concerts on Monday night, she offered three of the sonatas. These are works that Schubert had trouble getting performed in his brief lifetime. While they are firmly in the standard repertory for the solo pianist, a traversal of them is rare. The playing of three of these large-scale works on a single evening is a considerable feat.

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