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About Superconductor

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.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Feast of Seven: The Best Opera Performances of 2018

Seven great opera performances from a strange and turbulent year.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The year that was: 2018 in opera.
What a year. James Levine was fired from The Metropolitan Opera, which also crowned a new music director. I listened to seven recordings of Carmen. And Placido Domingo tried his hand at....comedy? On to the highlights.

A Thank You

Dear readers of Superconductor: 

It's been a strange year for your favorite classical music blog. No trips to Japan (but two visits to Cleveland!) an article on yours truly singing in public (terrifying!) and too many obituary posts.

Well, we're not dead yet. There has been a recovery of numbers to some degree but also the loss of some advertising clients. However, I'd like to take this, one of the last posts of 2018 to thank those who have stepped up and supported the Patreon initiative that started this summer. If you want to keep reading this publication (and supply its author with the means to continue doing it) your contributions are invaluable.

Thank you. Let's have a great 2019, as we look forward to our TWELFTH year in business!

And now, as Mr. Kasem said, back to our countdown.

Paul Pelkonen



Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Feast of Seven: The Best Opera Recordings of 2018

Seven notable opera recordings in seven different styles.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The seven best opera recordings of 2018. Art © the respective classical music labels.
Although Superconductor mostly features coverage of live performances, recordings are and continue to be an important part of the classical music genre: the "permanent"...well...record of art that will endure in physical form for decades or even centuries after a performer has moved on to whatever awaits. I don't get to write about recordings anywhere near as often as I would like to, but that doesn't mean I don't listen to and pay attention to what is new.

To kick off our year-ending "Best of 2018" series, here are seven memorable opera recordings for 2018. Chronological order by style. And this year, there's no Wagner or Strauss!):

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Every Valley...Has Its Terrors

My first time performing Handel's Messiah.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Where's your Messiah now?
In the course of my professional career, both as the author of Superconductor and for other publications, I have written an awful lot of reviews. However, last night at the National Chorale's annual Messiah Sing-In at David Geffen Hall, the tables were turned: I found myself, along with the audience, as a choral performer, embedded among professional and vocational singers in a struggle with Handel's written work. So yesterday I did the smart thing: bought a copy of the Dover miniature score at Juilliard and sat in Starbucks, listening to a new BR Klassik recording of the oratorio and dog-earing the choral sections in the score: the sections which I would be participating in in the night's performance.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Opera Review: Going For the Throat

Stuart Skelton debuts in Otello.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

There's been a nasty cold rampaging around New York this month. It struck down your faithful correspondent last week, and also afflicted tenor Stuart Skelton, star of the Met's revival of Verdi's Otello. The tenor, acclaimed for his portrayal of Wagner heroes, was scheduled to sing the role for the first time at the Met last Friday, but it wasn't until Monday night that the big man felt well enough to appear. This revival of the Met's season-opening 2015 production featured Mr. Skelton opposite two of that show's stars: soprano Sonya Yoncheva as Desdemona and baritone Zeljko Lučić as the conniving Iago.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Adriana Lecouvreur

A new production for a New Year, with Anna Netrebko.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
All About Anna and Anita: a scene from Adriana Lecouvereur.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
Anna Netrebko stars in the title role of this wonderful but somewhat old-fashioned drama: the story of the lives, loves and demise (by truly bizarre means, more on that in a minute) of a famed Parisian stage actress. This glamorous new production pairs the diva with Piotr Beczala.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: The Magic Flute

The Met brings back its sturdy Flute for another toot. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bald soprano: Kathryn Lewek tears up as the Queen of the Night
in The Magic Flute. Image © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera. 
Q: When does something become a "holiday tradition?"
A: When it's insistently and repetitively done every damn year.

In an unusual schedule repetition, the Met brings back its "family-friendly" (that's shortened, abridged and translated into English) holiday presentation of Mozart's The Magic Flute in its always impressive presentation by Julie Taymor. (It was slotted in last year to cover the cancellation of a planned La Forza del Destino.) Anyway, it's back.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Opera Review: Oi! Oi! Oi! Oedipus!

BAM NextWave goes Greek
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Up the gunners: The cast of Greek at BAM.
Photo © Brooklyn Academy of Music and Royal Scottish Opera.

What do you get when you combine the classic tragedy Oedipus Rex with the laddish patois spoken in the East End of London? The answer might be Stephen Berkoff's 1985 play Greek which was made into an opera by Mark Anthony Turnage, the English enfant terrible whose operatic treatment of the life of Anna-Nicole Smith shocked audiences and incidentally, contributed to the quick death of the New York City Opera. This version of Greek, presented at the BAM Opera House by the Royal Scottish Opera,  showed that the universal Oedipus story still has its power to shock and distur, and the plagues of Thatcher's England are all too relevant in the strange times of today.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Concert Review: A Journey Into Mystery

Matthias Goerne at the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Baritone Matthias Goerne joined the New York Philharmonic for a set of Schubert and Strauss lieder.
Photo by Caroline de Bon.
For their last program before the annual dive into holiday season concerts (carols, brass concerts, Messiah, Renée Fleming)  Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic gave their audience something unique: a song cycle created from the work of two composers and featuring the voice of Matthais Goerne, the German lieder specialist who sings Wotan on Mr. van Zweden's new recording of Wagner's Ring.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Concert Review: Salvation on Fifth Avenue

The St. Thomas Men and Boys Choir presents Handel's Messiah.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The St. Thomas Chois of Men and Boys, earlier this season performing Israel in Egypt.
Photo from St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
There are any number of ways for a chorus and orchestra to come together to perform Messiah, the 1741 oratorio that remains Handel's most popular contribution to the canon of Western classical music. For New Yorkers, one of the most satisfying and traditional Messiah experiences to be had is held each year at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, which is home to one of the few choral schools still operating in the United States.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Opera Review: Never Send Flowers

The Met uncorks its new La Traviata.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Soprano Diana Damrau and her four-legged friend in the new Metropolitan Opera
production of La Traviata. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Ask the typical Metropolitan Opera-goer which productions were liked least  in the last decade, and you'll get two answers: One, Michael Mayer's 2013 production of Rigoletto, which moved that drama to 1960s Las Vegas. Two, the 2010 La Traviata by Willy Decker, who set the opera in a sterile white space dominated by a gigantic clock, a heavy metaphor for the heroine Violetta's impending death from tuberculosis. To replace Mr. Decker's production, Met general manager Peter Gelb brought back Mr. Mayer. His assignment: to create a more congenial setting for the death of Verdi's heroine, one  would do less to offend the delicate sensibilities of the audience.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Concert Review: Waking Up From History

Jaap van Zweden leads the Leningrad Symphony.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
City fire marshal Dmitri Shostakovich, Leningrad 1942.
Photographed by a Russian news agency during the siege.
The extraordinary history of the Second World War casts a long shadow on any art music written in Europe in the 1930s and '40s. This week, the New York Philharmonic paired two of these works in a program of extraordinary intensity under music director Jaap van Zweden: a program that seemed to ask the following. Can art music, created under the shadow of extraordinary political and human event, somehow manage to transcend its origins and remain relevant to the audiences of today?

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