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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.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Verdi Project: Falstaff

The 87-year old composer gets the last laugh with his last opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Falstaff in the Laundry Basket by Johann Heinrich Füssli, painted in 1792.
(Ed. note: This is the last installment in The Verdi Project, Superconductor's deep dive into the major operas of Giuseppe Verdi. This project started with Nabucco back in February of this year and has covered fourteen (half) of the composer's twenty-eight operas. In coming weeks, Superconductor will finish The Richard Strauss Project and then figure out what composer is next.)

Sometimes the end is the beginning and sometimes the beginning is the end. In order to understand Falstaff, Giuseppe Verdi's final opera and only successful comedy, one must look back to the year 1840 when the composer than a young man had a miserable failure at La Scala with Un Giorno di Regno, his second opera. This was a forgettable comedy of mistaken identities surrounding the royal court of Poland. Today, Un Giorno di Regno is infrequently revived, usually as part of "marathon" performances of all twenty-eight Verdi operas.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Verdi Project: Otello

Verdi's penultimate opera was also the end of his 13-year retirement.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
There aren't many great Otellos so here's a lot of images of one: Anders Antonenko.
Photo © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
Verdi’s Otello is a colossus  of the Italian repertory, and one of the finest adaptations of Shakespeare to another medium. A triumph, it was Verdi's first opera in 13 years, and announced his final great creative partnership with librettist Arrigo Boito.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Bernstein Legacy VI: Mahler's Sixth Symphony

Yes, this is "the one with the hammer."
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cover art by Erte for the Mahler 6th © 1987 Deutsche Grammophon. Photo of Daniel Druckman by Chris Lee © 2016
The New York Philharmonic. Detail from cartoon of Gustav Mahler © 1910.
When Gustav Mahler started work on his Sixth Symphony, in 1904,life was going pretty well. He had married Alma Schindler, 19 years his junior and one of the most desirable brides in Vienna. They had had two beautiful daughters. Winters were spent leading the Vienna Hofoper, summers composing by the side of a mountain lake. Things were great, but this idyll would not last.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Bernstein Legacy V: Mahler's Fifth Symphony

A journey from darkness to light
.by Paul J. Pelkonen
A triptych: Alma and Gustav Mahler  (left and right, the original is one photograph.) Center: the album art by Erte,
© 1987 Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft/UMG
With the Symphony no. 5, Gustav Mahler forged his way into uncharted territory, writing a five-movement symphony on an heroic scale. The Fifth was also pure music: Mahler's first work not to be based on previous songs, although like his earlier works, it does make use of quotations from other composers. This recording also introduced the third orchestra to Leonard Bernstein's recording project: the Vienna Philharmonic. (This live recording, made in the Musikverein on September 8, 1987 at the start of the Vienna fall season was actually Bernstein's second with the Vienna Philharmonic: a concert from 1975 is available on home video but for some reason, not on CD or LP.)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Bernstein Legacy IV: Mahler's Symphony No. 4

Superconductor probes Mahler's dark meditation on childhood.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Boy treble Helmut Wittek, the cover art for Mahler's Fourth by Erte
and a German copperplate portrait of "Freund Hein." Triptych assembled by the author.
The Symphony No. 4 is at once, one of the most popular and most misunderstood of Mahler's  works. Janus-like, it stands at the end of his Wunderhorn period while looking forward to the trilogy of instrumental symphonies that follow it. This symphony sprang to life from its fourth movement, a song-setting originally conceived as the seventh movement of the already massive Third. Mahler wrote that movement first and then created the three that precede it. On this recording, made by Leonard Bernstein with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1987, the symphony's subject matter is squarely to the fore: an attempt to reconcile the innocence of childhood with the inevitability of death.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Stairwell to Heaven

A case for the Siegfried Idyll as Wagner's best work.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The house in Tribschen (Lucerne) Switzerland where Richard and Cosima Wagner lived in 1870.
It is now the Richard Wagner Museum and you can visit its official site here.
You won't hear it in an opera house. In fact you very rarely hear it performed in a concert hall. The Siegfried Idyll, Wagner's 1869 work for chamber orchestra written as a birthday/Christmas present for his second wife is neither fish nor flesh. It is an orchestral poem that built from the same leitmotivs as the score of Der Ring des Nibelungen, and it very well might be the best thing that Wagner ever wrote.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Music on the Orient Express

Twelve suspects, two composers, one train.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Kenneth Branagh (left) and Albert Finney sport their mustaches as Hercule Poirot
in two very different versions of Murder on the Orient Express. Images © 2017 and 1974.
So in the middle of writing this year's Metropolitan Opera Preview (currently three posts done out of twenty-five) I found the time to watch Kenneth Branagh's 2017 remake of Murder on the Orient Express. And this tale of train-board derring-do gives me the opportunity to write about one of my favorite subjects: film music. In this case, we'll be discussing the scores of both the new movie and the 1974 classic, directed by Sidney Lumet. It should be noted that I approached the Branagh remake with some trepadition, as the Lumet film is one of my all-time favorite movies.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La bohème

Death, romance and the rooftops of Paris in Puccini's timeless opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He ain't got nobody: Vittorio Grigolo returns to the role of Rodolfo in La bohème.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera markets Puccini's fourth opera as "the most popular opera of all time." That may be debatable, but the show returns this year in Franco Zefirelli's elaborate and constantly rehabilitated production. As usual it is a proving ground for a young soprano as Nicole Car takes on the role of Mìmì.

Mahler in Space

An exploration of classical music on Star Trek.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

(This is a classic Superconductor post from 2008 that has been revised and updated, ten years after it first ran! Happy anniversary to me!)
Captain Jean-Luc-Picard (Patrick Stewart) records Mozart aboard the Enterprise-D.
In the fifty years that Star Trek has been on (and off) the air, classical music, pop music and opera have been an integral part of the franchise's journey. The original show featured space ballads written for the series and sung by Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). Several episodes showcased the skill of Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) on the "Vulcan lyre." Albums were released featuring the (questionable) vocal talents of Nimoy (who released five records!) and series star William Shatner, whose 1968 album The Transformed Man regularly makes all-time "worst" lists.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Concert Review: Dancing Against the Current

The Mark Morris Dance Group returns to Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Members of the Mark Morris Dance Group.
Photo © Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts/Mostly Mozart Festival.
Dance is not my beat.

I have never written about ballet. I know little of jazz dance and less of modern choreography other than the occasional gyration the punctuate the grand operas of the 19th century. However last Thursday night at mostly Mozart I was lucky enough to attend a performance by the Mark Morris Dance Group, that was accompanied by three excellent chamber and vocal music performances.

The Verdi Project: Messa di Requiem

Verdi takes on the cosmos and the Church.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
It could be argued that the Verdi Requiem is his most...monumental achievement.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Following the triumphant reception of Aida,, Giuseppe Verdi had no more worlds to conquer. Aida marked the culmination of a long ambition to create a successful fusion between his own style and the grand spectacles that dominated the stage at theaters like the Paris Opera. Aida, with its blend of private anguish and public spectacle, fulfilled all of those requirements.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Festival Preview: The Met Live in HD Summer Festival 2018

The Met Live in HD festival Marx the spot with ten operas and a classic screwball comedy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
That ain't peanuts: Groucho is open for business in a scene from A Night at the Opera
© 1935 Universal Pictures.
As a celebration of opera (and an opportunity for marketing the Metropolitan Opera to the city at large) you can't beat the Met's Live in HD Film Festival. This eleven-evening free event has become a hallmark of the Peter Gelb era at the Met. It allows the revisiting of old favorites or the experience, for the bold opera novice, of something entierey new.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Opera Review: The Start of Something Beautiful

Will Crutchfield's Teatro Nuovo tackles Tancredi.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Warrior woman: Tamara Mumford as Tancredi confronts the chorus.
Photo by Steven Pisano for Teatro Nuovo courtesy Unison Media.
For the past twenty years, Will Crutchfield brought the sound of bel canto opera to the Caramoor Festival. Now, in 2018, the conductor and musicologist has turned impresario, launching Teatro Nuovo, a new series of opera performances held in the less sylvan but more sturdy environs of the Arts Center at the State University of New York at Purchase. An ugly brick block-house on the outside, the Purchase venue is everything Caramoor is not: acoustically live, air conditioned and endowed with theatrical basics (like a proscenium arch and orchestra pit) that are not readily available at the Venetian Theater.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Bernstein Legacy III: Mahler's Symphony No. 3

Leonard Bernstein takes on the world according to Gustav Mahler, in six movements.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Art for the original release of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 by Erte. 
Of the wild and unpredictable early symphonies of Gustav Mahler, it could be argued that the composer’s Third, heard here as played by  Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in 1987, is the wildest. It is certainly the longest, a sprawling six-movement work whose outer movements are each longer than most Beethoven compositions. The Third charts a cosmological course, starting with the the upthrust and upheaval of primeval mountain ranges and culminating in a slow finale that looks the Almighty square in the eye.

Friday, August 3, 2018

No Nukes is Good Nukes

The Metropolitan Opera reaches an agreement with its orchestra.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
This protest is fake news. Also its art is © Comedy Central and South Park.
Although there are no performances of the John Adams opera Doctor Atomic on the schedule of the Metropolitan Opera this season. opera goers at North America's busiest opera company don't have to worry about labor negotiations blowing up the 2018-19 season.

Thursday, August 2, 2018


Noted conductor canned in Amsterdam
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Daniele Gatti con pomodori. Original publicity photo by Marco Borggreve, photo editing by the author.

Another famous conductor's career has bit the proverbial dust. This time it's Daniele Gatti, the Italian maestro with a scoreless, seat-of-the-pants podium style who has been dismissed from his duties as Chief Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

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