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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.

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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Opera Review: Out of the Deep Freeze

Manhattan School of Music stages The Snow Maiden.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Forest from the trees: Shelén Hughes as the Snow Maiden.
Photo © 2018 courtesy Manhattan School of Music press department.
Nikolai Rimksy-Korsakov is one of the most important opera composers of 19th century Russia. A member of the "Mighty Handful", he revised works by Mussorgsky, taught Stravinsky and was a master of orchestration and melody. However, outside of a few concert works, the bulk of his music, most notably a long catalogue of operas, receives little attention. This made it all the more interesting that the Manhattan School of Music's Senior Opera Theater decided to mount The Snow Maiden, an enchanting fairy tale opera and the composer's personal favorite.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Roméo et Juliette

Charles Castronovo and Ailyn Perez are Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Everybody onstage: the masquerade ball from Roméo et Juliette.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The news is that tenor Bryan Hymel has withdrawn from this run of Romeo et Juliette, the evergreen Charles Gounod adaptation of Shakespeare's play. Charles Castronovo is his replacement, but he's been replaced by Andrea Shin in a plague that seems to only affect members of the House of Montague.  Ailyn Perez, fresh off a mostly successful run in the Massenet chestnut Thaïs, is his Juliet. Placido Domingo conducts this first revival of the Met's staging by Bart Sher.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Opera Review: Lips Inc.

The New York City Opera resurrects L'Amore di Tre Re.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Skirt thing: tenor Raffaele Abete engages in some unlikely fetishism in L'Amore di Tre Re.
Photo © 2018 The New York City Opera.
The New York City Opera exists now through a strange disguise, as a kind of hybrid company presenting a few shows each year at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater and a few others at smaller spaces around New York. This week featured the company's first production in decades of Italo Montemezzi's  L'Amore di Tre Re, in a new staging by company general manager Michael Capasso. This opera is like a collision between every great love story: Tristan, Otello and Pelleas et Melisande packed into a lean ninety-minute score.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Concert Review: They Might Not Be Giants

Yo-Yo Ma tilts windmills with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Stop that you'll only encourage him: Yo-Yo Ma (with cello) and Andris Nelsons (on podium) and
the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Stu Rosner for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra played its third and final Carnegie Hall concert on Friday night. This venerable orchestra has found its passion and spark again under the baton of music director Andris Nelsons. As an ensemble, it is moving forward in a bold and forthright manner. And yet, some of its past tendencies appeared in this concert, resulting in a curios evening of variable quality.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Concert Review: Killing Mozart

The New York Philharmonic rocks Amadeus.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He died for our sins: Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus.
Photo from the 1984 film, © The Saul Zaentz Group.
(Ed. note. Superconductor went to press last night before we had learned of the death of director Milos Forman, the man behind Amadeus. The filmmaker was 86. He will be missed.)

The New York Philharmonic's ongoing The Art of the Score initiative seeks to expand the audience of America's oldest orchestra by having them play in a darkened theater underneath movies with classic (and classical) scores. This week saw the most ambitious entry in the series yet: a set of synchronized performances of the 1984 film Amadeus that featured the musicians and the Musica Sacra choir accompanying the Oscar-winning smash. The performances marked the debut of conductor Richard Kaufman, and were enhanced with the addition of three keyboard instruments including a portative organ.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Concert Review: Tryst and Interruptus

The Boston Symphony Orchestra explores (part of) Tristan und Isolde.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Torn between two lovers: Andris Nelsons (with baton) conducts Camilla Nylund (center) and Jonas Kaufmann (right)
in Act II of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Photo by Hilary Scott © 2018 Boston Symphony Orchestra.
It might be his good looks. It might be his magnetic stage presence. It might be his voice.  Or it might be his rash of cancellations at the Metropolitan Opera in the last few seasons. Either way, tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who hasn't sung Wagner on a New York stage since 2013, has a fan following. They were out in force at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night to hear him sing opposite Camilla Nylund, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and music director Andris Nelsons in a concert performance of Act II of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Concert Review: The Coming of the Great Darkness

Andris Nelsons and the BSO arrive at Carnegie Hall
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Harvesters of sorrow: Andris Nelsons (left) and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (seated, right)  collaborate on The Age of Anxiety.
Photo from the March 23 concert at Symphony Hall © 2018 The Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra is flourishing under the leadership of music director Andris Nelsons. Ensemble and music director arrived at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night for the first of three concerts this week, fulfilling their yearly obligation to visit that historic stage and offering New Yorkers a sample of the interesting new directions pursued by this brave and ambitious conductor.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Concert Review: Another Philly Championship

Yannick and company rock Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the controls of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Photo by Jessica Griffin for the Philadelphia Orchestra © 2018 courtesy Carnegie Hall.
It's not always easy to make the cities of New York and Philadelphia see eye to eye. And yet, that was the mission of the Pennsylvania city's most famous export on Tuesday night, as the Philadelphia Orchestra and their music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (who is also the newly crowned music director of the Metropolitan Opera) played the last of this season's subscription concerts at Carnegie Hall.

Meet the New "Love Couple"

or "Whatever Anna Wants, Anna Gets."
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jump shot: Anna Netrebko and hubby Yusif Eyvazov will sing 'Tosca' together at the Met.
Photo © 2018 The Royal Albert Hall.
The Metropolitan Opera has announced yet another casting change in the company's current production of Tosca which is scheduled to return to the stage on April 26. Tenor Marcelo Alvarez is out, replaced by the tenor Yusif Eyvazov in only his fourth appearance on the Met stage. He is Ms. Netrebko's husband.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Strauss Project: Intermezzo

Keeping up with the Strausses is the subject of this "bourgeois comedy with music."
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Richard! Go compose!" Pauline and Richard Strauss in a happy moment.
Photo from the Strauss family archive, Richard Strauss-Institut Garmisch-Partkirchen.
"Believe me, I really, really needed my wife. I actu­ally have a lethar­gic tem­pera­ment, and if it were not for Pauline, I shouldn’t have done it all." --Richard Strauss

The home life of the composer Richard Strauss and his longtime wife Pauline is a regular subject of music from the composer's middle period. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the pages of his 1927 opera Intermezzo. This work plunges deep into the turbulent waters of the Strauss' long and happy marriage, providing an inside, if biased view of what life was like at a certain villa in Garmisch that, as its owner once boasted, was paid for with the proceeds from the earlier opera Salome.

Friday, April 6, 2018

They've Killed Mozart!

Mozart in the Jungle cancelled by Amazon.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Detail from The Death of Mozart (1870) by Henry O'Neill.
The popular and award-winning series Mozart in the Jungle has played its last concert. Today, announced that the series, a dramatic sitcom set in New York City that chronicled the backbiting, infighting and backstabbing of the classical music business, will not be renewed for a fifth season.

Concert Review: And Now They're Back (From Outer Space)

Esa-Pekka Salonen gets cosmic with the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Lord of darkness: Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Photo © 2018 the New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic is back on its home stage of David Geffen Hall, after an extensive tour that saw the orchestra visit multiple Asian countries in March. This week's program, seen Thursday night features a rare podium appearance from composer-conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and the premiere of a new work Metacosmos by the young composer and Kravis Prize recipient Anna Thorvaldsdottir.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Cendrillon

Joyce DiDonato stars in the Massenet version of Cinderella.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Joyce DiDonato goes to the ball in the Laurent Pelly production of Cendrillon.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera has spent the last decade enthusiastically trawling through the vast operatic catalogue of Jules Massenet, the Parisian composer who represents the last gasp of French Romanticism before the dawn of the 20th century. Here they present the company's first performances of Cendrillon Joyce DiDonato sings the title role.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Opera Review: The Passing of the Torch

The Met's Luisa Miller shows a company in transition.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Take my daughter, please: Sonya Yoncheva, Placido Domingo and Piotr Beczala in Luisa Miller.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's revival of its 2001 production of Luisa Miller looks backwards and forwards at once. It features Placido Domingo singing the latest in a line of Verdi baritone roles that the aging tenor has used to extend his already distinguished career. (It was also supposed to reunite the singer with James Levine, but the conductor's firing due to repeated accusations of sexual misconduct by multiple parties spoiled that happy event.) It looks forward in that its two leads, Piotr Beczala and Sondra Yoncheva, represent the cutting edge of a new generation of opera singers that are having their well-deserved moment in the spotlight.

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