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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, November 30, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Otello

Gustavo Dudamel makes his Met debut. There's singing, too.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Baritone Željko Lučic returns as the evil Iago from Verdi's Otello.
Photo © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Verdi's tragedy returns to the Met stage for a short run of performances. This is the first revival of the Met's 2015 production of Verdi's opera. Otello is one of the hottest tickets of the early winter, mostly because of who's conducting....

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Recordings Review: Everything Louder Than Everything Else

Jaap van Zweden releases the hounds (and more) with Die Walküre.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Stuart Skelton (left) and Heidi Melton, seen here in an English National Opera
production of Tristan und Isolde are the incestuous twins Siegmund and Sieglinde in the
new Hong Kong Philharmonic recording of Die Walküre. Photo by Catherine Ashmore © 2016 English National Opera.
The first thing you notice on the Hong Kong Philharmonic's recording of Die Walküre, released in 2016 as part of conductor Jaap van Zweden's recently completed cycle of Wagner's Ring operas, is the sheer volume. The orchestra is loud, mixed bright and forward in the crisp, clear concert acoustic. They thunder through the opening prelude with gusto, with the Wagner tubas (those hybrids between French horn and euphonium suggested, if not actually designed by the composer himself) leading the charge.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Opera Review: The Three Faces of a Composer

The Met (finally) revives Puccini's Il Trittico.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Three faces of Il Trittico: Marcelo Alvarez and Amber Wagner in Il Tabarro, Kristine Opolais
in Suor Angelica and Plácido Domingo in Gianni Schicchi. Photos by Ken Howard.
No work by Puccini has suffered more neglect and critical ignorance than Il Trittico, his "triptych" of three single act operas that premiered at the Metropolitan Opera one hundred years ago. Part of what has hurt the reputation of this work: comprised of three operas designed to be performed together and in a certain sequence, is the unfortunate habit producers have of playing these works individually, or pairing them "Cav-Pag" style with operas by other composers.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Opera Review: Heads Will Roll

Il Trovatore stuns the Lyric Opera.
by Jessie Tannenbaum with edits by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jamie Barton as Azucena in a scene from Il Trovatore.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg for Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Although I aspire to superconductive powers of teleportation, I cannot be everywhere at once. So when my good friend Jessie told me she'd be in Chicago for Il Trovatore I asked her to share some of her views on the performance. (Aside from being a fine international attorney, Ms. Tannenbaum is also a choral singer of some experience. Also, being the gracious friend that she is, she agreed.)

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Concert Review: Never Break the Chain

Emanuelle Haïm debuts with the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Emanuelle Haïm in flight.
Photo © Askonas Holt
Say the words "baroque music" and a couple of inevitable stereotypes spring to mind. One might be a covey of court musicians, tweetling elaborate fugues for the enjoyment of mincing nobles. Another might be period performance wonks gathered in rehearsal spaces, wrestling with "authentic" wooden instruments and catgut strings in a quest to discover what music sounded like three hundred years ago.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Opera Review: The King is Half-Undressed

The Met revives Bizet's The Pearl Fishers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pearl jam: Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena canoodle in Act II of Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The big story from Tuesday night's performance of Georges Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles ("The Pearl Fishers") at the Metropolitan Opera happened at the start of the second act. As the lights dimmed and conductor Emmanuel Villaume took his bow from the podium, an announcement was made from the stage.

"Mariusz Kwiecien, singing the role of Zurga has taken ill. His replacement is  Alexander Birch Elliot."

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Concert Review: The Flight of the Intruder

Andris Nelsons conducts the Mahler Fifth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Håkan Hardenberger (left) with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Photo © 2017 Boston Symphony Orchestra by Dominick Reuter.
It's amazing what a century can do.

On Monday night, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra visited Carnegie Hall to play two pieces. The first was Aerial, a 1999 trumpet concerto by Austrian enfant terrible HK Gruber.  It was paired with the Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler. However, a hundred years ago, Mahler's music was considered just as radical as Mr. Gruber's work.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Concert Review: Talkin' 'bout Their Generation

The Cleveland Youth Orchestra at Severance Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Youth movement: Conductor Vinay Parameswaran at the helm of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra.
Photo from the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra website © 2018 The Cleveland Orchestra.
For this New Yorker, it is unusual to attend a concert at Cleveland's lush, elegant Severance Hall and not see the familiar musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra on the stage. But last Friday night belonged to the next generation: the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra in one of its three subscription concerts at the venue this season.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La Traviata

The Met appeases its audience with a new, traditional staging of Verdi's tragic masterpiece.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Juan Diego Floréz and Diana Damrau in the climax of the Brindisi from Act I of La Traviata.
Image © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Michael Mayer, the director who put Verdi's Rigoletto on the Vegas strip, offers his vision of La Traviata, a staid staging of the composer's tragedy, set in good old 1853. Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Floréz star.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Concert Review: A Totalitarian Eclipse of the Heart

Jakob Hrůša leads the Cleveland Orchestra behind the Iron Curtain.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Jakob Hrůša in action.Photo by Andreas Herszau from the artist's website © 2016 Andreas Herszau. 
The music of Eastern Europe in the mid-20th century was, for the most part written in an oppressive climate of fear and government control. On Thursday night at Severance Hall, conductor Jakob Hrůša and the Cleveland Orchestra took out their crowbars and lifted the Iron Curtain with a program that shed some light on what music-making was like in a totalitarian (and proletarian) regime.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Concert Review: That Sweet Mountain Music

Teatr Wielkl brings the Voice of the Mountains to Carnegie Hall
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Mountain men: Marek Mós led three different ensembles at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night.
Photo by Richard Termine © Richard Termine.
The first things you noticed were the mountains looming high above the stage of Carnegie Hall. In sober black and white, they scrolled majestically across the three plaster and gilt panels that form the rear wall of the Perelman Stage. On Wednesday night, Carnegie Hall played host to Voice of the Mountains, a multidisciplinary musical celebration of the great nation of Poland, brought by that country's national opera company Teatr Wielki. This innovative program has toured from the shores of Portugal to the steppes of Kazakhstan, and this concert marked the North American premiere of this show.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Concert Review: Fantastic Beats and When to Drop Them

Yannick and the Philadelphians bring an impressive menagerie to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Photo by Hans van Der Woerd
Before he took the job as the music director of the Metropolitan Opera, the conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin became leader of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Happily for both ensembles he appears willing and able to balance duties in both cities. On Tuesday night, the maestro and his band came to Carnegie Hall for the first of their scheduled subscription appearances this season. They brought with them an impressive centuries-spanning program that played to the many strengths of this remarkable ensemble.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Recordings Review: Trial and Eros

Naxos brings Das Wunder der Heliane back from the dead.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Freyja's Tears by Gustav Klimt, used as cover art for the Naxos release.
For every early 20th century opera that found a place in the standard repertory, there are works that are known only to conductors, musicologists and coffee-loving bloggers. One of these is Das Wunder der Heliane, the 1927 magnum opus by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, It's been recorded before, but this new budget-friendly Naxos set (made at performances and concerts in Freiburg, Germany) offers a new perspective on this controversial but beautiful opera.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Il Trittico

Played together, these three short operas form one of Puccini's most ambitious works.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Placido Domingo (seen here as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata) sings the title role in Gianni Schicchi
in the Met's revival of Puccini's Il Trittico. Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera. 

The Met revives its 2007 presentation of three one-act operas performed in the course of a single evening. This is a centennial revival of these works, that premiered at the Met in 1918. A single production of these very different works, this is a long evening of worthy and wonderful music, which includes Puccini's only stage comedy.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Opera Review: That Ol' Devil Music

Christian van Horn is the Met's new Mefistofele.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He stole my balloons: Christian van Horn in the title role of Mefistofele at the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo by Karen Almond © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.

The Devil always gets a bad rap. That's the premise behind Mefistofele, Arrigo Boito's lone completed opera. An ambitious setting of Goethe's Faust that retells the story from the Devil's point of view, Mefistofele used to prance its sulfur strut across the world's opera stages. But Thursday night's revival at the Metropolitan Opera was the first time that the opera had been seen, fully staged, in New York in eighteen years.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Concert Review: It Wouldn't Be in Summer

Iván Fischer conducts the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Iván Fischer returned to the podium of David Geffen Hall on Wednesday night.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2017 The New York Philharmonic.
Wednesday night's concert at the New York Philharmonic felt more like Mostly Mozart.

It wasn't just the program: a brief but satisfying blend of Beethoven and Schubert. It was the presence of frequent MM guest Iván Fischer, who, for a number of seasons has enlivened that summer festival by bringing his orchestra charges: the Budapest Festival Orchestra (an ensemble he founded and still currently leads) to play symphonies and operas at Lincoln Center. Here, Mr. Fischer found himself at the helm of the New York Philharmonic, but wasted no time in ensuring that this was a very different kind of concert.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Recordings Review: A Castle in the Air

The Naxos Ring starts with Das Rheingold.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ring leader: Jaap van Zweden at the helm of his Hong Kong forces.
Photo © 2018 Naxos Records/Hong Kong Philharmonic
There are, by this writer's count, at least thirty commercial versions of Wagner's epic Ring Cycle available to the consumer today. So what's the need for one more?

This new Ring, which was produced by Naxos Records in a series of live concerts by the Hong Kong Philharmonic marks the arrival of Jaap van Zweden as a major Wagnerian voice. The Dutch conductor is doing double duty in Hong Kong and New York as music director of both cities' respective Philharmonics, but is still building his international reputation. A complete Ring such as this (Götterdämmerung was released this month) is a major step toward music stardom and this recording of Das Rheingold, in glowing stereo sound with a bright and fresh dynamic range is a good start to the cycle.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Concert Review: The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life

The Hungarian National Opera Orchestra plays Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A conductor and a chair: Balász Kocsár. Photo © Hungarian National Opera.
The Hungarian National Opera's arrival in New York for a two week stay has been among the more interesting events of this fall season. Unfamiliar operas, unique productions and some vocal discoveries have been made at Lincoln Center. On Monday night, the Opera's orchestra, under the leadership of music director Balász Kocsár came to Carnegie Hall for a marathon concert: its one chance to display a wide variety of orchestral wares.

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Les Pêcheurs de Perles

Pretty Yende takes a dive as the Met revives Bizet's early opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Soprano Pretty Yende returns to the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo by Hao Zeng, originally published in Essence magazine, © 2015.

The Met revives one of its surprise hits of the 2015-16 season. Les Pêcheurs de Perles is a product of Bizet's youth but features the same blend of exoticism and solid musical construction that would make Carmen an international sensation ten years later.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Opera Review: Peace and Truth in Mid-Air

Satyagraha returns to Brooklyn Academy of Music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A wilderness of ramps: Leif Arun-Solen is Gandhi in Satyagraha.
 Photo by Stephanie Berger for BAM.
Once every few seasons, an opera production emerges that enables this writer to see the art form in an entirely new light. This year, that production is Satyagraha by Philip Glass, which returned to the stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week. (BAM NextWave was the sight of the first New York performances of this opera in 1981.) This staging brings Philip Glass' three act meditation on the early years of Mahatma Gandhi to a literal circus, combining singing, dance, aerialism and other feats to make this cool, cerebral opera into a warm and intimate experience.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Opera Review: Raiders of the Lost Archive

The Hungarian National Opera strikes Goldmark with The Queen of Sheba.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Queen of Sheba appeals to her lover Assad in Karl Goldmark's opera of the same title.
Photo by Péter Rakóssy for the Hungarian National Opera.
If you've been following Superconductor this week, the Hungarian National Opera's festival stand at Lincoln Center has not been a huge artistic success. That changed on Friday night with The Queen of Sheba, the 1875 chestnut by composer Karl Goldmark. Once a pillar of the repertory, the Queen held the stage in Vienna and Italy for decades and was mounted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1885. This performance of the opera (the first in New York in forty years) showed that this is a living, vibrant work well worthy of frequent revival: as long as its stringent vocal demands are met.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Opera Review: We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties...

The Hungarian National Opera offers a double bill at Lincoln Center.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bass András Paleerde (in robe, left, and in suit, right) does double duty in the Hungarian
National Opera's double bill of Mario and the Magician and Duke Bluebeard's Castle.
Photo by Zsofia Palyi © 2018 Hungarian National Opera.
The most famous Hungarian opera of the twentieth century, and the only opera from that country to vault itself into the international repertory is Duke Bluebeard's Castle. Béla Bartók's lone operatic effort is a favorite around the world, although it is hard to cast and its one-hour length almost necessitates that it be performed as the heavy end of a double bill.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Concert Review: He's Ready For His Close-Up

Frank Huang takes the spotlight at the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Taking solo flight: concertmaster Frank Huang at the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic. 
The New York Philharmonic welcomed conductor Juraj Valčuha to its podium on Wednesday night. The Slovak conductor led a program which focused on the particular confluence of European and American music that characterized the first half of the 20th century, in a program of works by Korngold, Rachmaninoff and Samuel Barber.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Opera Review: Country Over Party

The Hungarian National Opera presents Bánk bán.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Which way to Gagsorszag? Bánk bán (left) and Tiborc reminisce in Act II of Bánk bán.
Photo by Attila Nágy for the Hungarian National Opera.
The musical tradition of Hungary is as rich as any other neighboring country in central Europe. However, the vocal music written by Hungarian composers has not traveled well outside its borders, hampered by the forces of history and the formidable difficulties of the Hungarian language. Of Hungarian operas, the most popular and beloved is Ferenc Erkel's 1861 Bánk bán which finally had its North American debut on Tuesday night at Lincoln Center.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Opera Review: Woman On Fire

Sondra Radvanovsky burns up the Met's Tosca.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
She doesn't get mad. She gets stabby. Sondra Radvanovsky is Tosca at the Met.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
In the twenty-two years since her Met debut, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky has sung many roles, including Floria Tosca, the fiery and jealous opera soprano who is the star of the opera that bears her surname. And yet, this current run of Tosca, which had its second performance on Monday night may mark the first time that New Yorkers really got to see this great American soprano tackle this formidable part head-on.

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