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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.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Opera Review: The Redemption of the Dissolute

The Met finally gets Don Giovanni right.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

In the classic Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, a caddish weatherman is trapped in a small Pennsylvania town in midwinter. He is forced to relive the same events over and over until (as the trailer says) "he finally gets it right." A similar redemption came last night for the Metropolitan Opera's first Don Giovanni this season, presented in a 2012 staging by  Michael Grandage. This was the fifty-first performance of this well-worn show. Last night, it finally roared to comic life. The spark: four strong debuts, three on stage and one in the orchestra pit.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

2019-2020 Season Preview: Owed to Joy

Carnegie Hall announces a season-long celebration of all things Beethoven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Came back haunted: the spirit of Ludwig van Beethoven visits Carnegie Hall in the 2019-2020 season.
Photo courtesy Carnegie Hall, alteration by the author. 

The music of Ludwig van Beethoven, particularly the symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets, forms the central thrust of the 2019-2020 Carnegie Hall schedule. The schedule was unveiled today at the traditional yearly press conference at the historic venue. The emphasis on Beethoven is for calendar reasons: next year marks his sestercentennial or 250th birthday. (A more cynical blog than this might also add that Beethoven's music remains an evergreen source of tickets and subscriptions, but that's not something we'd ever say in print.)

Opera Review: Disenchantment

The Met revives its fairy tale twin bill of Tchaikovsky and Bartók.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Two sides of marriage. Left, Matthew Polenzani and Sonya Yoncheva in Iolanta. Right, Angela Denoke and Gerald
Finley as Mr. and Mrs. Bluebeard. Photos by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera. Collage by the author.
Part of the problem with short one-act operas is figuring out how to pair them off. On Monday night, the Met offered its second performance this season of a very unconventional double bill: Tchaikovsky's fairy tale Iolanta and Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle. The first is an idealized boy-meets-girl story, originally written to be paired with The Nutcracker. The second is Bartók's only opera: a chilling portrait of married life gone very wrong. The production, which premiered in Warsaw, is the brain-child of director Mariusz Trelinski, and this performance marks its first revival since 2015.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Superconductor Interview: Cornelius Meister

The German conductor gets ready for his Met debut with Don Giovanni.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The formation of damnation: Cornelius Meister gets ready for his Met debut with Don Giovanni.

The conductor Cornelius Meister is a fast-rising star in Europe. Having just finished a lengthy run at the helm of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, he is now the music director o the State Opera and the State Orchestra in the German city of Stuttgart.  On January 30, Mr. Meister will make his debut at the Met. His task: conducting one of Mozart's finest and darkest operas: the deliciously twisted Don Giovanni. This week, Superconductor found time to sit down with the maestro to talk all things dramma giocoso.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Concert Review: No Exits, No Escapes

The New York Philharmonic unveils Fire in my mouth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The premiere of Fire in my mouth with the Young People's Chorus of New York (left and right)
the singers of The Crossing (center) and the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Jaap van Zweden.
Photo © 2019 The New York Philharmonic.
Although the efforts of the New York Philharmonic to commission and perform new works by contemporary composers are sometimes met with chagrin by its audience, new music remains one of the most important priorities for the orchestra. This weekend marked the first performances of Fire in my mouth, a new oratorio by Julia Wolfe.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Concert Review: Break Glass for Beethoven

Jonathan Biss steps in at Carnegie Hall.
A higher state of Biss: Jonathan Biss and friend.
Photo by David Bazemann.
The piano sonata was still a relatively new form when Beethoven published his first set in 1795. In the next twenty-seven years, the composer would revolutionalize the way composers wrote for the instrument, placing ever greater technical demands not just on the stamina of performers and audiences but on the instruments that were used to play them. Today's piano, the modern concert Steinway favored at Carnegie Hall is an engine of steel, not the wooden box that Beethoven and Liszt were forced to contend with and sometimes break with the ferocity of their attack.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Concert Review: The Young Magician's Guide to the Piano

Seong-Jin Cho plays Pictures at an Exhibition.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The South Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho returned to Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night.
Photo by Harald Hartmann.
The pianist Seong-Jin Cho is a fast-rising star on the international virtuoso circuit. On Tuesday night, regular programming at Carnegie Hall resumed with Mr. Cho's second recital at that venue. He came to play, armed with a formidable program of works by Schubert, Debussy and Mussorgsky.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

At An Exhibition: The Burning Red

My visit to the works and world of Lucio Fontana.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
(Yes, this is not a music review, but the first installment in a new series about visual art, called At an Exhibition.)
No way out: the claustrophobic, unsettling work of Lucio Fontana.
Photo taken at the Met Breuer by the author, who is still feeling the retinal effect.
Writing about the visual arts is not something that this blog is particularly known for. And yet, one of the perks of doing this blog is being able to accept an occasional invitation to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to experience the opening of a new exhibit. This morning, your faithful correspondent put on two layers of clothes and sallied forth to see Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold, the new exhibit celebration work of the 20th century artist.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Concert Review: The Boss is Back

Jaap van Zweden returns to the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A storm of swords: Jaap van Zweden rallies the troops at the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2019 The New York Philharmonic.
We are at the halfway point of the New York Philharmonic's first year with music director Jaap van Zweden on the podium. Friday's morning concert could be taken as a microcosm of what that year has been so far: a marriage of sophisticated players to a conductor steeped in the European podium tradition: solid craftsmanship and a conservative-leaning musical mentality that (the orchestra hopes) will keep the seats filled at David Geffen Hall.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Recording Review: The Complications of a Family Business

Jaap van Zweden leads Siegfried in Hong Kong.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
SImon O'Neill, shown here as Siegmund in Die Walküre, sings the title role of Siegfried in Jaap van Zweden's new Hong Kong recording of the opera. Photo © The Metropolitan Opera.
Richard Wagner intended Siegfriedto be a romp. Certainly, there is a fairy-tale quality to this recording, the third installment of Jaap van Zweden's Ring, recorded in Hong Kong in 2016 with that city's Philharmonic Orchestra and an international cast. But does it do enough to help the reputation of this, the least known and least-loved of the four operas that make up this massive mythological cycle?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Don Giovanni

Mozart's libertine nobleman returns to add to his catalogue.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Peter Mattei returns to the role of Don Giovanni at the Met this year.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
Some evils never die, and some productions keep getting revived. Such is the case with the Metropolitan Opera's Michael Grandage staging of Don Giovanni. It's back, and it's going down in flames. Good thing then that it's one of the best operas ever written.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Concert Review: Yes, She Has No Bananas

Julia Bullock embodies Joséphine Baker in Perle Noire.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Julia Bullock (center) and composer-percussionist Tyshawn Sorey recreate the world of Joséphine Baker in Perle Noir
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Stephanie Berger © 2019 Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is no stranger to being used as a performance space. Operas, concerts and galas have been mounted in its galleries, atria and wide open spaces. However, Wednesday night's New York premiere of Tyshawn Sorey's Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine used an even more unusual location:  the Grand Staircase that leads upward from the entrance hall to the upper galleries of European art.  It starred the museum's current artist in residence, the powerhouse soprano Julia Bullock in a work that was part monodrama, part song cycle.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Opera Review: Something Almost Being Said

The Met revives Debussy's Pélleas et Mélisande.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Fixer-upper opportunity: Isabel Leonard and Paul Appleby in Pélleas et Mélisande.
Photo by Karen Almond © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
Claude Debussy only wrote one opera. Pélleas et Mélisande (based on a symbolist play by Maurice Maeterlinck) succeeds by destroying many of the conventions of the genre to which it belongs. On Tuesday night, the Met unveiled its revival of Pélleas, another acid test for its new music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and a younger generation of singers wandering through the hazy, maze-y woods of the mythical kingdom of Allemonde. Here, those woods are represented in a production by Jonathan Miller: a series of big chilly rooms in a manor house, using the Met turntable to cope with the shifting settings and moods.

Concert Review: Work Your Fingers to the Bone

The New York Philharmonic previews a new work by Julia Wolfe.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

On Monday night, the New York Philharmonic gathered music lovers and museum patrons at the Tenement Museum for a short program providing a first look at Fire in my mouth. This is the new oratorio by composer Julia Wolfe which premieres at the New York Philharmonic next Thursday. It is a 45-minute deep delve into the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which claimed the lives of 146 New York garment workers on March 25, 1911.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Iolanta/Duke Bluebeard's Castle

Two fairy tales of love and terror returns with new divas.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Either this is a scene from Duke Bluebeard's Castle....or the 1 train is taking forever.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
The pervading motif of young women in the throes of self-discovery and danger ties together this double-bill, one of the most eagerly anticipated revivals of the coming Met season.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Concert Review: A Folio of Femme Fatales

Jakub Hrůša returns to the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The in-demand Mr. Jakob Hrůša returned to the New York Philharmonic last week.
Photo by Andreas Herszau © 2018 Bamberger Symphoniker courtesy IMG Artists.
Rudyard Kipling once wrote that the female of the species is more deadly than the male. On Friday afternoon, conductor Jakub Hrůša tested that theory with a program of works by Janacek and Rimsky-Korsakov depicting females of cunning and wit. These orchestral showpieces flanked the Piano Concerto No. 3 of Serge Prokofiev, the most elegant, energetic and outré of the composer's five.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Opera Review: A Torrid Thespian Affair

Superconductor takes another look at Adriana Lecouvereur.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dying young: Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala light up Adriana Lecouvereur.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Opening Night was so nice that we had to see it twice. On Thursday night, my regular opera companion and I finagled rush tickets to see a second performance of Adriana Lecouvereur, the Met's current offering starring super-soprano Anna Netrebko as a famous French actress whose love for a handsome two-timer leads to her inevitable (but oh so refined) death.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Opera Review: The Final Stand of the Old Kingdom

The Met revives the Sonja Frisell Aida (probably) for the last time.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dolora Zajick (kneeling) begs for mercy in Act IV of Verdi's Aida.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.

Everything ends, even in the world of opera. On Monday night, the Metropolitan Opera opened what is most likely the final run of its thirty-year-old production of Verdi's Aida. (A new staging by Michael Mayer is planned for Opening Night in 2020.) This revival features a new Aida, the house debut of American soprano Kristin Lewis who has sung the role with some success in Vienna and Naples. Opposite her was tenor Yonghoon Lee and mezzo Dolora Zajick, who has been singing the role of the Egyptian princess Amneris in this same staging for thirty seasons.

Concert Review: A Tale of Two Brothers

Paavo Järvi leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cellist Gualtier Capuçon joined the Philharmonic last week.
Photo from the artist's website. 
The conductor Paavo Järvi comes from a proud family with a long musical tradition. Together with his father Neeme and his brother Kristjian, the Järvi family forms a triumvirate of conductors regularly heard around the world. On Friday morning, he was the replacement for Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who had to postpone her planned Philharmonic debut for medical reasons.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Pélleas et Melisande

Is it a fairy tale, or a nightmare of domestic violence?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Melisande at her well. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
Lovers of French impressionist music and post-Wagnerian drama should run, not walk to this one.  This is one of the essential revivals of the winter. Pélleas is one of the greatest French works of the 20th century and a true test of the mettle of music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Carmen

The most popular opéra-comique of all time has a bloody ending.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Oh my Darlin': Clémentine Margaine returns as Carmen.
Photo © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The throaty French mezzo Clémentine Margaìne returns to the role that marked her Met debut: the seductive title part of Carmen. This run of performances will heat up the month of January.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Aida

A new singer debuts in Verdi's grandest opera. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Met ballet corps gets one last dance in Aida.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 the Metropolitan Opera.
Verdi's "Egyptian business" complete with a huge chorus and...Kristin Lewis? The soprano takes over the first run of dates of this revival. This is your last chance to experience the worn but  treasured Sonja Frisell production, which is due for replacement in a new production by Michael Mayer. He's the Broadway director who set Rigoletto in a Vegas casino. We here at Superconductor wonder if his new staging will be set at the Sands, the Sahara or the Desert Inn?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Festival Preview: PROTOTYPE 2019

The good, the loud and the weird in avant-garde opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cellist and singer Leah Coloff stars in Thistree at this year's PROTOTYPE Festival.
Photo © 2019 HERE.
The new year is here, and January means it's time for the PROTOTYPE Festival. Now in its seventh year, this is the annual celebration of cutting edge opera and experimental theater pieces, centered around the the TriBeCa performance space HERE. The Festival opens on Jan. 5 and runs to Jan. 13 this year, offering eleven new works in venues on both sides of the East River. There's also a Festival Soirée. This year it's Jan. 9 at 6:30pm at City Winery.

Here's the slate:

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Opera Review: The Queen of Stage

With this superb new Adriana Lecouvereur, the Met finally gets it right.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Anna Netrebko (top) lashes out at her rival in Act III of Adriana Lecouvereur.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
Francesco Cilea is remembered for one opera: Adriana Lecouvereur. A frothy combination of backstage infighting and murderous romantic triangle, Adriana is only revived when a star diva decides to take on the steep challenges of the title role. On New Year's Eve 2018, the Metropolitan Opera and Anna Netrebko unveiled their new Adriana in a handsome, traditional production by Sir David McVicar that surrounded the Russian soprano with an all-star cast. Set entirely on a unit stage with a rotating theater-within-a-theater, Sir David solved some of the scenic challenges of this work and did it in a coherent and well-managed manner, just as he has done with so many operas at the Met in this decade.

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