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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 © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

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.

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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.