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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.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Opera Review: Just a Small Town Girl

Emmeline takes off at Manhattan School of Music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Living in her lonely world: Blair Cagney as Emmeline.
Photo by Carol Rosegg for the Manhattan School of Music.
Composer Tobias Picker returned to his alma mater,  the Manhattan School of Music last week bringing a new staging of his first opera, Emmeline. A searing re-telling of the Oedipus myth among the hardscrabble folks of a small New England town, this opera helped put the Santa Fe Opera Festival on the map. Here, the work received a new staging from director Thaddeus Strassberger, and an update to the libretto to better reflect the troubled 21st century. Touches like home shopping channel footage and even texting (used brilliantly in the projected titles at one point made the whole show a reflection on the current screwed-up state of affairs in this country.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Dialogues des Carmélites

Francis Poulenc's dark opera combines religion, politics and history to devastating effect.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Isabel Leonard is Sister Blanche de la Force in Dialogues des Carmélites.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera. 
The Met ends its season with this grim and brilliant 20th century opera, in its justifiably famous staging by John Dexter. Three performances only.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Concert Review: The Bigger Bang Theory

The New York Philharmonic premieres Thomas Larcher's Kenotaph.
A bigger bang: Semyon Bychkov, on podium leads the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2019 The New York Philharmonic.
In his Symphony No. 2, "Kenotaph", the Austrian composer Thomas Larcher employs a bewildering variety of percussion instruments. Ranging from conventional drums to items found in kitchens and garages, this battery serves as the harsh and unyielding reminder of the cruelty and misery running rampant on our globe in this still-young century. On Thursday night at the New York Philharmonic, this young work was paired with a symphony of great intellectual rigor, the Fourth by Johannes Brahms. This was the second of four scheduled performances this week at David Geffen Hall.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Opera Review: He Sleeps With the Fishes (and Everyone Else)

The Juilliard Opera mounts Don Giovanni.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Take my wife, please. Masetto (Gregory Feldman, right) looks on as the Don (Hubert Zapiór)
woos Zerlina (Jessica Niles) in a scene from Act I of Don Giovanni.
Photo by Richard Termine.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's music is timeless. But are the ribald, sexist opera libretti of Lorenzo da Ponte still workable on the stage in this era of #metoo? That is the question asked by the Juilliard Opera and director Emma Griffin. Her new staging of Don Giovanni bowed Wednesday night at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. In its two acts, Ms. Griffin sought to turn this opera, the story of a rabid sexual predator at play in the streets of Seville, Spain on its head and deliver a message about today's sexual ethics.

She partly succeeded.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Festival Preview: New York Opera Festival 2019

The multi-borough opera festival is back, and bigger and better than ever.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
We will be swiping our way to the opera next month as the multi-borough
New York Opera Festival kicks into high gear.
This current opera season is in its endgame but that doesn't mean we're done yet. Starting Saturday, the New York Opera Festival  launches for its fourth year. featuring performances all around the city of familiar operas, oratorios, chamber operas and new contemporary works focusing on women's and LGBT issues. This exciting slat is bewildering to behold but Superconductor is here to walk you through it even though we're not going to plan your schedule for you.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Concert Review: A Night Out With Your Old Boss

Pablo Heras-Casado returns to the Orchestra of St. Luke's.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pablo Heras-Casado (standing) seen here leading the Orchestra of St. Luke's
returned to Carnegie Hall last Thursday night. Photo by Ferrando Sancho from the conductor's website. 
The tenure of Pablo Heras-Casado, for the first seven years of this decade at the helm of the Orchestra of St. Luke's was, by and large a positive one. It boosted the reputation of this excellent New York orchestra and gave the young conductor a chance to be heard on the biggest stages of New York. On Thursday night, Mr. Heras-Casado returned to the podium at Carnegie Hall to conduct the OSL in a program that looked forward and back, embracing the best of 20th century neo-classicism and continuing the ensemble's ongoing deep dive into the major works of Franz Joseph Haydn.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Götterdämmerung

The Ring comes to a curiously old-fashioned conclusion.
The three Norns (Elizabeth Bishop, Ronnita Miller, and Wendy Bryn Harmer) weave the rope of
destiny as the Machine "looms" above. Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
The last and longest chapter of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Götterdammerung (”The Twilight of the Gods”) also had the longest gestation period. (Wagner wrote this libretto first, but the music was the last part of the project to be completed.) This opera demands commitment, even from the most fervent Wagnerian. A performance is six hours with intermissions but it goes by with the speed of a bullet train.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Opera Review: The Empire Doesn't Strike Back

The Metropolitan Opera brings back Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conspirators: Vitellia (Elza van den Heever) and Sesto (Joyce DiDonato)
plot as Publio (Christian Van Horn) looks on in a scene from La Clemenza di Tito.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
In past seasons at the Metropolitan Opera, revivals of the company's 1984 Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito were often done out of a sense of obligation to the composer's reputation. However, this spring run, under the baton of new broom conductor Lothar Koenigs,  has been particularly inspired. On Tuesday night, in the penultimate performance of this opera this season, the cast, featuring soprano Elza van den Heever and mezzo Joyce DiDonato made the case for this work being one of the composer's strongest efforts.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Concert Review: Dark Wood and Silver Linings

The London Philharmonic Orchestra returns to Lincoln Center.
The violinist James Ehnes was the featured soloist on Monday night with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Photo by Benjamin Eolovega courtesy Lincoln Center.
One of the foibles in covering orchestra concerts in New York City is differentiating the five permanent orchestras based in London, England. It is necessary to keep these bands straight from one another in one's own mind, especially since most of them are regularly rotated visitors on the big stage of Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall.  This week it was the turn of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, not to be confused with the London Symohony Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra or the others. Their appearance was part of this spring's Great Performers at Lincoln Center schedule.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Opera Review: Zapped!

Handel’s shocking Semele strikes Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Lightning rod: Brenda Rae as Semele at Carnegie Hall
Photo by Steve J. Sherman for Carnegie Hall.
One does not always think of Georg Friedrich Handel as a paragon of musical experimentation. On Sunday afternoon, the English Concert, (which is in the middle of presenting an annual cycle of Handel masterpieces at Carnegie Hall) struck down that thesis. This year’s entry is Semele, a hybridization of opera and oratorio. Unusual in that it uses the oratorio formula and an English text (by the poet William Congreve) to tell a mythological tale, Semele flopped in 1744. Today, this work is regarded as one of the composer’s boldest and most impressive achievements. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Opera Review: The Boy Nobody Wanted

As Siegfried, Stefan Vinke triumphs at the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Anvil, no chorus: Stefan Vinke makes his debut in Wagner's Siegfried.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2019 The Metropolitan Opera.
For even the most dedicated Wagnerian, Siegfried is a challenge. The third chapter of the Ring is almost never performed as a stand-alone work, but only in the context of the other three operas. It is too often treated as an obligation by both performers and audiences. Siegfried is often the easiest Ring opera to get a ticket for, and is viewed as a long (but necessary) bridge between the glories of Die Walküre and the drama of Götterdämmerung. However, Saturday's season premiere of the opera at the Metropolitan Opera showed what a great and underrated opera this is.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Concert Review: Murder, Mayhem and Major Key Transitions

Dream Theater returns to Metropolis at the Beacon.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Dream Theater: (l.-r. Jordan Rudess, Mike Mangini (on drums) John Myung,
James LaBrie, John Petrucci) returned to the Beacon Theater on Friday night. Photo by the author.
(This review is respectfully dedicated to my friend and colleague Peter Danish, who got us the tickets. Thanks again, man.)

The progressive rock band Dream Theater has enjoyed its long existence by following two rules: doing what they want to do as musicians and ignoring sniffing rock critics. (Critics have responded to this indifference by pretty much ignoring the band: their reputation rests on word of mouth.) Since I'm a classical music critic, I went to see them (for the sixteenth time since 1993) at the Beacon Theater on a night when the band was celebrating its return to its hometown of New York and I was celebrating my forty-sixth spin around the sun.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Concert Review: A Very Unexpected Journey

Simone Young leads the New York Philharmonic in the Mahler Sixth.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Big Bang: Daniel Druckman swings the hammer at the climax of the Mahler Sixth.
Photo by Caitlin Ochs © 2019 The New York Philharmonic.
Nobody expected that this would be the week that Simone Young would make her long-awaited return to the New York Philharmonic. The Australian conductor, acclaimed for her work with the Hamburg Philharmonic, had not taken the podium at David Geffen Hall in twenty-one years. (However. she is on the schedule for next season, leading Elgar and Strauss.)  Ms. Young is no stranger to New York audiences, but most of her conducting engagements in this city have been at the Metropolitan Opera, and this is her first appearance with the orchestra since her debut in 1998.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Concert Review: A Stream of Knots and Crosses

Andrew Rudin celebrates his 80th birthday at Bargemusic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Andew Rudin with the Moog synthesizer and at his current workstation.
The composer turned 80 last night and celebrated with a birthday concert at Bargemusic.
The composer Andrew Rudin celebrated his birthday on Thursday night, with an intimate concert of his  works at Bargemusic. Mr. Rudin, a pioneer in who wrote the first large-scale work for the Moog synthesizer, is now 80 years old. The program focused exclusively on piano and chamber works for acoustic instruments.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Concert Review: Symphonies Built for Two

Yuja Wang and Gautier Capuçon at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pierre Capuçon and Yuja Wang came together to play at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night.
Photo from Medici.TV.
When one thinks of the great composers of the late Romantic era, the mind turns to massive string sections, full-throated choirs of brass and a kettle-drummer thundering out the rhythms of the cosmos. None of these things were present at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night, when pianist Yuja Wang gave a concert featuring herself paired with cellist Gautier Capuçon. This is one of several concerts Ms. Wang has given this year as part of her Perspectives residency at the venue, with varying degrees of artistic success. This proved to be a collaboration that bore the most succulent of fruit.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Recordings Review: Shiver Me Timbers

A Guide to The Flying Dutchman on disc.
The Flying Dutchman prepares to battle the Silver Surfer.
Art by Jack Kirby from Silver Surfer Vol. 1 No. 8, © 1969 Marvel Comics

Wagner's first "hit" opera, Der Fliegende Höllander captures the imagination from its salt-soaked opening bars. A lot of conductors have committed the Dutchman to disc. Some of them opt for the harp-drenched "happy ending" version. Some break the score into three acts instead of playing it straight through with no intermission. Here's a quick buyer's guide for getting your own coal-black ship with ghostly, blood-red sails....

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Heavy Hammer of Fate

At the New York Philharmonic, Jaap van Zweden is on the disabled list.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Members of the New York Philharmonic brace for impact as Daniel Druckman
(with hammer) delivers the death blow during the Mahler Sixth. Photo by Chris Lee.
With the force of a gigantic hammer, a serious blow hit landed on the New York Philharmonic this week. The orchestra is playing Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in three concerts this week. The Sixth is Mahler's most pessimistic symphony, climaxing in its fourth movement with a series of enormous blows delivered by a wooden hammer. However, this week Philharmonic music director Jaap van Zweden was the one to get the bad news.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Concert Review: Darkness, Light and Opera

The Budapest Festival Orchestra returns to New York.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Iván Fischer has led the Budapest Festival Orchestra since founding it in 1983.
Photo by Marco Borggreve.
The stately arches of Carnegie Hall are often witness to the most solemn of musical occasions. There is something ritualistic about the white plaster walls, the gold filigree and the elaborate columns evoking the sense of occasion. This weekend however, two concerts by the Budapest Festival Orchestra were among the most enjoyable and raucous at that storied venue. The music at each was that of Béla Bartók, Hungary's greatest composer of the 20th century.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Concert Review: Time Standing Still

efim Bronfman returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yefim Bronfman, shown here in performance at the 92nd St Y,
returned to Carnegie Hall this week. Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
One of the pleasurable difficulties in covering so-called “classical” music concerts is encountering an artist for whom the word “criticism should not be too stringently applied. Such an artist is the pianist Yefim Bronfman, who returned to Carnegie Hall on Thursday night for a solo recital of Debussy, Schumann and Schumann. All the works chosen were executed at a very high level indeed.

Well, that was easy, wasn't it? Ok. Maybe a little more.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Siegfried

The third and least-loved part of the Ring has some of its most sublime music.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Badger, badger, badger, badger....the dragon Fafner emerges in Act II of Siegfried.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
What's more than five hours long and has very few women in it? The answer for opera lovers is Siegfried, the third segment of Wagner's massive tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung. The Met offers three performances this spring.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Recordings Review: Rome, Built in Eighteen Days

Yannick Nézet-Séguin drives his Mozart cycle into La Clemenza di Tito.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
What's an assassination between friends?
Rolando Villazón (left) goofs with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who conducts him in this new
La Clemenza di Tito. Photo © 2018 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Group.
There are some operas in the repertory that owe their prominence not to the quality of their music but due to the circumstances of their creation. Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito ("The Clemency of Titus") is a leading example. The last opera he started (but not the last he finished) in his short time, it is an old-fashioned opera seria that was created in a great big hurry, with the composer racing to have the work ready in time for a coronation ceremony in the city of Prague. Legend is that he wrote the opera in eighteen days.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Concert Review: Songs For An Empty Pocket

Musicians gather at Symphony Space to celebrate John Eaton's birthday.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson pays tribute to the late John Eaton, using the sound-box
of a Steinway piano as a natural onstage amplifier. Photo by Jeremy Tressler.
It was part birthday party, and part wake for a composer who died in 2015. On Saturday night, composers, music lovers and the curious gathered at the Leonard Nimoy Theater at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side to commemorate what would have been the 84th birthday of John Eaton: composer, inventor and iconoclast.  Mr. Eaton was a well-loved teacher and creator of the "Pocket Opera" series, which offered quirky, chamber-sized stagings on the little downstairs stage at Symphony Space. He was a kind, gentle and towering figure and his students came forward to create this evening of their work. The concert, "Celebrating John Eaton's Legacy" was presided over by the composer's widow Nelda Nelson-Eaton.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Across Oceans of Sand

The Met's new Aida takes Verdi back to Las Vegas.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Opened in 1993, the Luxor Las Vegas hotel is an inspiration for Michael Mayer's
second Verdi production to be set in America's playground.
Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta for Wikipedia Commons.
Even as the Metropolitan Opera bids farewell to its classic production of Verdi's Aida, expectations are high for its successor which is planned for opening night of the 2020 season. Details have leaked to Superconductor regarding the staging, which will be the third Verdi opera directed at the Met by Michael Mayer. Mr. Mayer, the director who moved Verdi's earlier opera Rigoletto to Las Vegas, Nevada in the 1960s (with the Duke reimagined as a casino entertainer and the title character as his opening act, a Don Rickles-style insult comic) will return to Sin City next year. His plan: move Verdi's Egyptian drama to the flashy modern casinos of that city's current Strip.

A Treasure Hidden in the Earth

A fifth chapter of Wagner's Ring has been found...and authenticated.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Siegfried battles Fafner in Arthur Rackham's classic drawings based on Wagner's Ring.
Researchers digging through a hidden sub-basement in Schloss Neuschwanstein in south-western Bavaria have discovered a hidden archive belonging to the castle's owner, King Ludwig II. In that archive was found a leather folio of sheet music: the complete score of a previously unheard chapter of Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. The discovery sent shock waves through the halls of Wagner scholarship.

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