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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 © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Lucia di Lammermoor

The blood-stained bride returns to the Met stage.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Well, the bride was a picture in the gown that her mama wore
When she was married herself nearly twenty-seven years before
They had to change the style a little but it looked just fine
Stayed up all night, but they got it finished just in time." --Nick Lowe
Olga Peretyatko-Mariotti, seen here in a 2014 performance of I puritani, 
is the bloody bride in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo by Ken Howard © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera, 
The Met revives Mary Zimmerman's controversial, deeply weird and really fun take on Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, for some the ultimate expression of the bel canto style. And yes, this is the opera with the blood-splattered wedding dress.

What is Lucia di Lammermoor?
Gaetano Donizetti's opera is (along with Bellini's Norma) the most important, most beloved example of bel canto tragedy. Bel canto means "beautiful song," and the Donizetti style requires just that: long vocal lines, a high tessitura, and above all, a sweetness of tone and delivery, even in the most histrionic moments.

What's the plot of Lucia di Lammermoor?
Based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott, this is the story of two rival families and the secret affair between Lucia Ashton and Edgardo Ravenswood. When she is forced by her evil brother Enrico to marry Arturo Bucklaw, she goes completely cuckoo-bananas and kills her hubby dead on their wedding night. Yes, it has every operatic cliché you can think of but that's why it's so great!

What's the music like?
There's a reason that the travails of the bride of Lammermoor has held the operatic stage for almost two centuries: this is a masterpiece of construction. There is tension, there is drama, there is an amazing Act I sextet where all the plot points come boiling to the surface. If all that isn't enough the soprano has the 17-minute "Mad Scene" where a stunned, blood-splattered Lucia retreats into insanity rather than confront the fact that she's just killed her husband on their wedding night. And the fireworks aren't over.

How's the production?
Mary Zimmerman opted to set the first half of Lucia against a serie of filmed backgrounds representing the lochs, mountain crags, and natural scenery of the Scottish highlands. As Lucia descends into madness, things start to get weird. The Mad Scene is sung on a stand-alone grand staircase, beneath a giant moon. And as to the fate of the tenor, you'll just have to see for yourself.

What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
African or European swallow?
I don't know that. Ask Arturo Bucklaw.

Who's in it?
This revival features two equally formidable casts. The March run stars soprano Olga Peretyatko-Mariotti in the title role, opposite Vittorio Grigolo as her enthusiastic beau Edgardo. His rival is played by Massimo Cavalletti. The second team is soprano Pretty Yende (though Jessica Pratt will sing two performances) tenor Michael Fabiano and up and coming barihunk Quinn Kelsey.  Vitalij Kowaljow and Alexander Vinogradov sing Raimondo. All are worthy. Roberto Abbado conducts.

Why should I go see it?
The combination of singers in this much loved opera should make for a fiery and enjoyable revival. And Lucia is the sort of tragedy that can be really fun if the singing is good.

When does it open?
The show opens with the first cast on March 22, 2018. The second cast takes the stage in April.
Where can I get tickets?
Tickets are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I buy?

Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala cond. Herbert von Karajan (EMI, 1955)
Lucia: Maria Callas
Edgardo: Giuseppe di Stefano
Enrico: Rolando Panerai
Maria Callas made three recordings of Lucia: in 1953, '55, and '56. The '55 recording pairs La Stupenda with conductor Herbert von Karajan and tenor Giuseppe di Stefano. This is an exciting live recording of the opera. There are some traditional cuts, stage noises, and mono sound.

London Symphony Orchestra cond. Thomas Schippers (ABC/Westminster, 1970)
Lucia: Beverly Sills
Edgardo: Carlo Bergonzi
Enrico: Piero Cappucilli
One of the great Beverly Sills recordings of the major Donizetti operas from the 1970s, this set boasts a knockout pairing of Carlo Bergonzi and Piero Cappucilli. Sills takes more of the bel canto "songbird" approach to the role, navigating the Mad Scene with fearless control and dazzling coloratura. Back in the catalogue, thanks the the Universal Classics decision to reissue recordings from the defunct ABC label.

Orchestre de l'Opera National de Lyon cond. Evelino Pido (Virgin Classics, 2002)
Lucie: Natalie Dessay
Edgar: Roberto Alagna
Henri: Ludovic Tezier
Natalie Dessay in the role of Lucia--make that Lucie. Yes, this is the French version of the opera, and the only recording of Gaetano Donizetti's 1838 revision of the opera for the Paris stage. Featuring Roberto Alagna (who always sounds better in his native language) and Ms. Dessay's fearless assault on the Mad Scene, this set presents an engaging alternative version.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Opera Review: Mugging on the Boardwalk

The Met takes Cosí fan tutte to Coney Island.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Motel illness: Kelli O'Hara, Christopher Maltman, Adam Plachetka, Ben Bliss, Serena Melfi and Amanda Majeski
in a frantic Act I moment from Così fan tutti. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
How do you solve the problem of presenting an opera that forces men and women into the stereotypes of the 18th century to a 21st century audience? If you're director Phelim McDermott, whose dazzling new Cosí fan tutte arrived at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday night, you roll the score in glue, dip it in glitter, and hope for the best. Mr. McDermott's staging is a co-production with the English National Opera. It moves the show to Coney Island some time in the 1950s. The effect is sweet, sugary and yet strangely empty, like substituting cotton candy for your dinner after a night out on the Boardwalk.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Concert Review: Dead Man's Party

Lara St. John and Matt Herskowitz rock The Crypt Sessions.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Underground music: Matt Herskowitz and Lara St. John entombed.
Photo by Andrew Ousley for The Crypt Sessions.
At last night's installment of The Crypt Sessions, the esteemed series of chamber music and concert recitals that takes place in the sepulchre of the Church of the Intercession at W. 155th St. and Broadway, host (and curator) Andrew Ousley staked the claim that the Canadian violinist Lara St. John was a "force of nature." The violinist, in concert with her performing partner Matthew Herskowitz, was offering something special in the house of the dead. The program was Lavuta an hourlong mixtape of fiddle tunes and folk-inspired music from Eastern Europe, covering a vast triangle of land from Moscow to Jerusalem to Budapest. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Concert Review: The Toast of Two Cities

The Philadelphia Orchestra returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leading the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Photo © 2018 The Philadelphia Orchestra.
There is no question that the Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is the big man on the New York classical music scene at the moment. The music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra was in town with his troops on Tuesday night, for his first Carnegie Hall appearance since being appointed the music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Throwing in the Towel

The Metropolitan Opera fires James Levine.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Facing the music: James Levine was fired by the Met today.
Photo by Naomi Vaughan © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
In a breaking story by Michael Cooper in The New York Times, the Metropolitan Opera fired longtime conductor and music director James Levine today, ending an era and a scandal at America's largest opera house.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018-19 Great Performers Season Preview

British orchestras and chamber music are the focus of Great Performers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to New York next year to conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Photo © Philharmonia Orchestra.
When Lincoln Center was established as New York's mecca for the performing arts, it became home to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the New York City Ballet. However, it soon became apparent that there was need for an in-house performing arts series, inviting international orchestras and soloists from around the globe. The Great Performers series is no longer the flagship it once was, but it still provides the opportunity to hear international orchestras in a posh setting.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Verdi Project: Macbeth

The composer escapes the galley with his first Shakespeare adaptation.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
In his later life, Giuseppe Verdi referred to the period from 1842 to 1850 as his "galley years". In those years, the composer applied his energies to writing thirteen operas (counting revisions) for the Italian stage as well as opera houses in London and Paris. Of these, one work stands out: his 1847 adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy Macbeth.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Concert Review: Night of the Blob

Pierre-Laurent Aimard at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Pierre-Laurent Aimard and friend. Photo from the artist's website.
There is no question that the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is among the most innovative and forward thinking masters of the keyboard working today. However, Thursday night’s recital on the big stage of Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium was a bit of a puzzle, challenging to both the artist himself and the music lovers, aficionadoes and reviewers in attendance.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Così fan tutte

The Met opens the Coney Island Boardwalk a week early.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"Gee. No beer, no opera dogs..." --H. Simpson
"Wann fährt der nächste Schwan?": A scene from Così fan tutti with 
Adam  Plachetka and Serena Melfi, pushed by strongman Titano Oddfellow.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera. 

The Met tries its hand at Brooklyn gentrification with a new production of Così fan tutte set on the Coney Island Boardwalk. (If the reviews are negative, the next one will be staged in lower Manhattan, presumably on Park Place.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Concert Review: Unbowed, Unbeaten, Unbroken

Sō Percussion and the JACK Quartet play new works at Zankel Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Photo of Sō Percussion by Janette Beckman. Photo of the JACK Quartet by Shervin Lainez.
Carnegie Hall, with its multiple venues and well of donors is instrumental to the contemporary music community. Starting in 2016, the historic venue celebrated its 125th year with the 125 Commissions project, offering 125 new compositions in celebration of the venue’s anniversary in 2016. On Tuesday night, the subterranean stage of Zankel Hall hosted two important contemporary ensembles: Sō Percussion and the JACK Quartet, performing a trio of these new pieces.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Concert Review: The Keys to the Cipher

The New York Philharmonic plays Brahms and Prokofiev.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Working the keys: Yuja Wang (left) and Jaap van Zweden play Brahms.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic just went on tour. However, before he orchestra caught a Saturday flight to Japan last week, they played four evening concerts under its new music director Jaap van Zweden. The program, heard Friday night, eschewed the usual tripartite musical evening for a pairing of heavyweight favorites: the D minor Piano Concerto by Johannes Brahms, and the Fifth Symphony of Serge Prokofiev.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Recordings Review: A Little Old Fashioned (But That's All Right)

Unraveling Jonny Greenwood's Phantom Thread.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
One of the hidden messages in a dress from Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread.
Image © 2017 Focus Features/Universal.
On Oscar Night 2018, the Paul Thomas Anderson film Phantom Thread won only one major award: that for costume design. While it is not surprising that a film about a 1950s London dressmaker garnered that particular Academy Award, a listen to the lush, creative and emotive soundtrack (available on Nonesuch) to that film by composer Jonny Greenwood indicated that this picture may have had a shot at Best Score as well. (That Oscar went to Alexandre Desplat and his work on The Shape of Water, and it was a well-deserved win.)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Exit: Major Winchester

Some words for actor and conductor David Ogden Stiers.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
As Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, David Ogden Stiers (right)
torments his tentmates (Alan Alda and Mike Farrell) in the M*A*S*H episode The Smell of Music.
Image © 1970 20th Century FOX/CBS
We interrupt tonight's regularly scheduled Superconductor post for some sad news in the television community and the classical music world. Actor David Ogden Stiers died this morning at his Oregon home. He was 75. Mr. Stiers died peacefully in his sleep after a battle with bladder cancer, according to a report in Entertainment Weekly.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Opera Review: Her Time is Now

Christine Goerke unleashes Elektra on the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Benched: Christine Goerke and Mikhail Petrenko as Elektra and Orestes in Elektra.
Photo by Karen Almond © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
There comes a time in the career of an opera singer when they are the artist of the moment. For Christine Goerke, the American dramatic soprano starring in the title role of Elektra at the Metropolitan Opera, that time is now. Ms. Goerke has sung this part on other stages (including Carnegie Hall) to great acclaim, both here and elsewhere. However Thursday night was a watershed. It marked the dramatic soprano's long-awaited return to a major Strauss roles on America's largest operatic stage.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Concert Review: The Long and the Short of It

Mitsuko Uchida in recital at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The amazing Mutsuko Uchida.
Photo by Justin Pumfrey for Decca Classics.
Is it possible for an artist to be above criticism?

That question is necessitated by this week's schedule st Carnegie Hall, which features not one but two recitals of Schubert piano sonatas by the astounding Mitsuko Uchida. On the concert hall as well as on disc, Ms. Uchida offers a highly personal approach to these works. St the first off these concerts on Monday night, she offered three of the sonatas. These are works that Schubert had trouble getting performed in his brief lifetime. While they are firmly in the standard repertory for the solo pianist, a traversal of them is rare. The playing of three of these large-scale works on a single evening is a considerable feat.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Verdi Project: Ernani

The mature Verdi style emerges in the composer's fifth opera. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A post-horn: the instrument blown by Silva to remind Ernani that it is time to die.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Following the wild success of Nabucco and its follow-up I Lombardi, Verdi was on his way as an established composer of Italian opera. And yet, those operas, while having their positive points, do not yet embody the elements that one thinks of when the name "Verdi" comes to mind. Ernani changed all that. Its premiere at La Fenice, in Venice in 1844 was Verdi's first triumph away from the stage of La Scala and cemented his reputation as Italy's newest opera sensation

Monday, February 26, 2018

Concert Review: These Go to Eleven

The Vienna Philharmonic plays Ives and Tchaikovsky.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gustavo Dudamel. Photo by Sébastien Grébille.
For the last 176 years, the Vienna Philharmonic has staked its reputation on the Austro-Germanic symphonic tradition, bringing the music of composers like Schubert, Strauss and Suppe before the public with style and skill. However, Sunday's matinee concert, the third of three this weekend at Carnegie Hall, the great orchestra eschewed the Mozart and Beethoven for a refreshing focus elsewhere. For this concert, the orchestra and current guest conductor Gustavo Dudamel agreed to play symphonies by Charles Ives and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose only common thread was the unconventional and innovative nature of their work.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Concert Review: Ain't Love Grand

Gustavo Dudamel conducts Berlioz and Mahler.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Dude abides: Gustavo Dudamel at work.
Photo by Chris Lee.
The Vienna Philharmonic gave the second concert of its three-night 2019 stand at Carenegie Hall on Saturday night. The program was unusual for this venerable orchestra: the slow movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 10 paired with a Berlioz favorite, the hyper-romantic Symphonie fantastique.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Concert Review: A Cure for Pomposity

The Vienna Philharmonic returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Gustavo Dudamel (standing) at the helm of the Vienna Philharmonic.
Photo by Benedikt Dinkhauser © 2017 Vienna Philharmonic Association/Sony Classical
Last night, sitting in a coffeehouse on West 57th St., I noticed something odd about the lyrics of a song playing in the store. I turned to the gent at the next table and apropos of nothing, voiced my finding. That gent sniffed and said "Oh. That's some sort of jazz thing. I listen to classical music."

I thought, "Oh. He must be going to see the Vienna Philharmonic."

Friday, February 23, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Elektra

Christine Goerke sings the title role. Go see it.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Say hello to her little friend: Christine Goerke as Elektra in San Francisco.
Photo by Cory Weaver for the San Francisco Opera.
Soprano of the moment Christine Goerke, who has sung Elektra in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and on the stage of Carnegie Hall, takes on the towering title role in Richard Strauss' harrowing take on Greek tragedy.

Concert Review: They Dig American Music

The New York Philharmonic explores its musical legacy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The trumpets, trombones and tuba of the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
There is a perception in the world of classical music that is a fallacy: that the music created by composers born in the United States is somehow inferior or lesser than the works of those composers born on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The New York Philharmonic has a long record of fighting against that ugly prejudice, through the commission and creation of works by Yankee composers. On Thursday night America's oldest orchestra upheld that tradition with the the first of three concerts this week that focused on the brilliance and innovation of orchestral music created in this country the 20th century.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Verdi Project: Nabucco

By the waters of Babylon, Verdi's legend begins.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Historic bas-relief of the Babylonian king Nebachudnezzar, hero of Verdi's third opera Nabucco.
Nabucco put Giuseppe Verdi on the map. The composer's third opera premiered in Milan in 1842. It was an absolute smash. Its success would not only alter Verdi's fortunes, but the popularity of its message and its famous chorus "Va, pensiero" may claim some credit for reshaping the political map of Italy. It was Verdi's music and the eventual rallying cry "Viva Verdi" (code for "Vittorio Emmanuel, Re d'Italia") that would help propel that collection of nation-states toward revolution and eventual political unity.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Opera Review: Making Assyria Great Again

The Metropolitan Opera gambles on Rossini's hazardous Semiramide.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Uneasy lies the head: Angela Meade (center) in Semiramide, with Ildar Abdrazakov (right) and Ryan Speedo Green (left).
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.

Even in the rarified aviary of the Metropolitan Opera House, Gioachino Rossini's Semiramide is an exotic species. The composer's final opera for the Italian stage was written in 1823. It brought down the curtain on opera seria, the genre that had been at the heart of Italian operatic tradition for well over a century. Brought to the Met in 1892, it had to wait ninety years for a revival, only to be mothballed again for another quarter of a century On Monday night, the Met finally revived Semiramide as a vehicle for Angela Meade, the American soprano who has enjoyed some success in the current craze for bel canto repertory.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: La bohème

Death, romance and the rooftops of Paris in Puccini's timeless opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sonya Yoncheva, having survived her death-drop from the Castel Sant'Angelo, is Mîmi.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The star of this year's Tosca, soprano Sonya Yoncheva, is Mimi in this winter revival of La bohème.  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.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Concert Review: The Human Stain

Philip Glass' Music With Changing Parts at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Philip Glass.
Photo by Andras Bitesnich for Orange Mountain Music.
Is there a point, in the creation of art for the entertainment of others, where the value of that creative act has to be weighed against the limitations that the human body can endure? That question applies to both the audience and performers attending Friday night's concert at Carnegie Hall featuring the first New York concert performance in 38 years of Philip Glass' 1970 composition Music With Changing Parts. This performance formed the centerpiece of Mr. Glass' residency at the Hall this season, and of the venue's ongoing festival celebrating the music and culture of the 1960s.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Concert Review: Oceans of Love and Time

Jaap van Zweden pairs Dark Waves with Wagner.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jaap van Zweden in orchestral ecstasy.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.

When Jaap van Zweden was announced as the new music director of the Philharmonic, he was seen by pundits and punters alike as a firm, conservative voice designed to return America's oldest orchestra to its role as guardian of the standard European repertory of the 19th and 20th centuries. This week, he confirms that hope with a performance of Act I of Wagner's Die Walküre. However, the program opens with the New York premiere of Dark Waves, a masterful 2007 composition from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Opera Review: The Case for a Basket

Juilliard Opera takes on Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Falstaff in the Basket by Henry Fuseli
© Die Kunsthaus, Zurich
When Giuseppe Verdi ended his career with Falstaff, he was not the first composer to take on Shakespeare's corpulent knight as an operatic subject. In 1847, the mostly forgotten Otto Nicolai wrote Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, a singspiel of considerable flexibility and charm.  Nicolai's score, which sets Sir John's amorous adventures to an enchanting series of Viennese waltzes and florid writing for a large cast, is being staged this weekend at Juilliard, in the intimate  Willson Theateron the conservatory's third floor. It opened Wednesday night.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

2018-19 Metropolitan Opera Season Preview: Meet the New Boss

The Met crowns Yannick Nézet-Séguin as its Music Director...two years early.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads a rehearsal of Der fliegende Holländer at the Met in 2017,
unaware of the neon crown hovering overhead added by this blog's author.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2017 The Metropolitan Opera. Crown inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The Metropolitan Opera announced its schedule today for 2018-19, along with the blockbuster news that Yannick Nézet-Séguin, currently in the middle of a successful run of Wagner's Parsifal has been official crowned as the company's music director. This enthronement is two years ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2018-19 Season Preview: There Will Be (New) Blood

Jaap van Zweden and Deborah Borda take the reins at the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Welcome to the jungle: Jaap van Zweden takes over at the Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2018 The New York Philharmonic.
The New York Philharmonic has released its schedule for the upcoming season, a diverse slate that sees americas oldest orchestra dispensing with a few less popular initiatives while opening a few that will hopefully fill seats, and accelerating the orchestra’s transition from the Alan Gilbert era to the stewardship of its new music director, Jaap van Zweden.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Concert Review: Start the Massacre Without Me

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Riccardo Muti (standing) at the helm of his troops in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Photo by Todd Rosenberg © 2018 the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The life of a classical music critic (especially one who runs his own business and also freelances!) is sometimes prone to the peccadilloes of routine. As a result, I'm starting this review of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Saturday night performance ant Carnegie Hall with a confession, that, thinking that the start time of the performance was the usual 8pm (as it almost always is for shows at Stern Auditorium I arrived at 7:40--ten minutes late.

Yes. I missed the overture.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Opera Review: A Swig and a Miss

The Metropolitan Opera imbibes L’elisir d’Amore.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Country bumpkin Nemorino (Matthew Polenzani) woos Adina (Pretty Yende) in the Met's revival
of L'Elisir d'Amore. Photo by Karen Almond © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The soprano Pretty Yende is one of the more sensational discoveries at the Metropolitan Opera this decade, wowing audiences with her sweet tone and superlative bel canto technique since making her debut in the company’s January, 2013 revival of Rossini's Le comte Ory. This month, she sings Adina in the revival of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, a charming love story that maintains its front rank among the most popular Italian operatic comedies.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Concert Review: A History of Violence

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra return to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Riccardo Muti (on podium) leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine
at Carnegie Hall on Friday night. Photo © 2018 Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 
Mention the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a room of classical music cognoscenti and you are likely to get the following reactions: a sigh of pleasure, a small smile, or a comment about the sonic size and vigor of their legendary brass section, who, in a city if big shoulders, cast the widest possible shadow. That orchestra and its leader Ricardo Muti are back in New York for their semi-annual visit to Carnegie Hall, and Friday night marked the first of two New York programs this weekend.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Concert Review: Uncommon Ground

Sir Antonio Pappano visits the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sir Antonio Pappano.
Photo © Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
For a generation of classical music lovers your humble scribe included) the juxtaposition of composers Camille Saint-Saëns and Benjamin Britten with the New York Philharmonic brings a smile of nostalgia. These two composers were featured on a classic 196- album conducted by Leonard Bernstein, which used Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals and Britten’s The Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra to teach a generation the intonations of the various instruments that together make up the modern symphony.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Semiramide

Angela Meade seizes power in ancient Babylon
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Angela Meade (center) is the titular Queen Semiramide in the Met's Rossini grand opera.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera presents Semiramide, a four-act Italian grand opera by Rossini that was the composer's final opera for the stage of his native country. Angela Meade sings the daunting title role, a bravura showpiece for the soprano voice.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Concert Review: The Pointillist Procedure

Pianist Ian Hobson continues his Debussy and Ravel series at SubCulture.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist Ian Hobson is giving a six recital series at SubCulture this season.
Photo from the artist's website, courtesy Hemsing Associates.
The pianist and academic Ian Hobson may not be as well known as the flashy virtuosos who pack the schedule of major concert venues. However, sometimes the best recitals are those that are on a more intimate scale. On Wednesday night, Mr. Hobson, a veteran soloist and conductor and recording artist who also teaches music at Florida State came back to New York for the third of six recitals this season at SubCulture. Tucked downstairs on Bleecker Street, this funky downtown performance space is currently in a struggle to reclaim its spot at the front of the cutting edge of Gotham performance venues.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Concert Review: It is of Endings I Wish to Speak

Mathias Goerne and Daniil Trifonov in a liederabend at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Daniil Trifonov and Matthias Goerne brought their lieder collaboration
to Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night. Photos © the artists websites, assembly by the author.
Of all of the forms that the presentation of so-called "classical"music takes, it is the liederabend that is probably at the greatest risk. One singer, and one piano, presenting a carefully curated selection of songs by one or more composer seems quaint by the standards of this frantic century. On Tuesday night in Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, bass Matthias Goerne and pianist Daniil Trifonov demonstrated that in some ways, the old ways are best.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Opera Review: The New Kings

Parsifal offers much needed redemption at the troubled Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Local boy makes good: Klaus Florian Vogt lifts the Holy Grail as Gurnemanz (Rene Pape) looks on.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera opened its lone Wagner offering of the 2017-18 season on Monday night: a revival of the extraordinary 2013 François Girard staging of Wagner's Parsifal. This production was acclaimed when it opened, for its stunning visuals (including a lake of stage blood in Act II) and its potent, spare message. It was also the second opportunity for the Met's new maestro-designate, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, to prove his mettle with Wagner's music, this time conducting the composer's final opera.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Concert Review: Above the Stars, Below the Stairs

The Attaca Quartet plays Beethoven at The Crypt Sessions.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Silence: church in session: the Attacca Quartet in the crypt.
Photo by Tristan Cook © 2018 Unison Media.
The Church of the Intercession sits on a steeply sloped intersection, right at the southern border of Washington Heights. On Thursday night, the acclaimed series The Crypt Sessions (curated by publicist-turned impresario Andrew Ousley) opened its third season of playing concerts deep in the earth. The venue is a strange one: the stone vault that supports this historic church. Even more unusual was that this concert featured one work: Beethoven's Op. 132 String Quartet in A minor, played by the Attacca  Quartet.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Opera Review: A Show About Nothing

The Whisper Opera returns (quietly) to New York.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ross Karre hugs a bass drum in a performance of David Lang's The Whisper Opera.
Photo courtesy International Contemporary Ensemble.
For almost five hundred years, humanity has used the form of opera to express itself. And for most of those centuries the argument has always run: which is more important--the words, or the music? (There's even a couple of operas about that very subject. However, in The Whisper Opera, which premiered in 2013 at Mostly Mozart, and returns this week for a run of performances at the Skirball Center at NYU, the composer David Lang provides his own answer. Mr. Lang, who is one of the founders of Bang On A Can chooses "neither."

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Concert Review: From Serenity to Oblivion

Stephen Hough in recital at Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The always dapper Stephen Hough and friend.
Photo by Sim Canetty Clarke provided by Carnegie Hall. 
There's a three-word cliché used by tired (and too-wired) classical music journalistas to describe Stephen Hough. That cliché is the "thinking man's pianist." Cliché or no, he remains an intelligent and slightly aloof artist, who is most often heard in the concerto format. On Tuesday night, Mr. Hough, a dapper gent (who looks like he just auditioned for a certain BBC science fiction series) made his welcome return to Carnegie Hall for an evening of Debussy, Schumann and Beethoven.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Mysteries of the High Baroque

Or we could call it: “Getting a Grip on Handel” but then even less people would take it seriously.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Big mssn in s big wig: the composer George Frideric Handel.

As is the case with many of the good things in life, I came to Handel late.

Oh sure, I knew who he was. German guy who lived in England. Wore a wig. Wrote the album of flute concertos I cherished as a kid--judt about the only classical cassette I had before I turned 16. I had even visited his grave in Westminster Abbey when I was maybe 14. I was impressed!Here was the grave of a real composer, a famous one. But he remained an enigma. He had written Messiah and he was famous for that. But when I grew up, we didn't go to Messiah at Christmas and it had never occurred to my parents to take me. We sang "Hallelujah!" at Easter. Sometimes.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Parsifal

A wounded king. A community in crisis. A lake of blood. Wagner's final opera returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
It ain't ketchup: Klaus Florian Vogt (center) surrounded by flower maidens
in Act II of Parsifal. Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met brings back the most eagerly anticipated revival of the season: François Girard's staging of Wagner's medieval "Grail opera" Parsifal. This is a story of suffering, sin and redemption and this astonishing staging employs 1,250 gallons of stage blood. All at once.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Concert Review: The Man With Three Countries

Stéphane Denève brings Prokofiev back to the Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"If you want them to take you seriously you've got to have serious hair." Stéphane Denève.
Photo from the Royal Scottish Opera by Chris Christodoulou.
Sergei Prokofiev gets a bad rap.

Oh sure, he's a major composer of the 20th century, a fearless innovator whose music pushed boundaries in the areas of piano, orchestral work, opera and ballet. And yet there is something of the sidelong glance, something of the raised eyebrow among music elitists that keeps his huge catalogue from being programmed regularly outside of Russia. Sure, the works are technically difficult, but this writer would postulate that said programmers are never quite sure if the composer was being serious or was secretly laughing at his audience.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Certain Dark-Eyed Beauty of Romany Extraction

My long relationship with Bizet's Carmen.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
My Carmen collection: (clockwise from upper left: Victoria de Los Angeles (not pictured), Marilyn Horne,
Agnes Baltsa, Christa Ludwig, Teresa Berganza, Tatiana Troyanos (not pictured), Jennifer Larmore.)
Photo by the author, screen cap taken from my iTunes.
Q: "What do you call two guys driving to the opera house?"
A: "Carmen."- -Mauri E. Pelkonen
I first met her when I was nine (maybe ten) years old, in my first year of going to the New York City Opera with my parents. A dusky, dark-haired bohémienne vixen with a rich mezzo-soprano voice (it was either Judith Forst or Susanne Marsee) that seductively sang in French, a language I knew little of. And yet, for that prepubescent kid sitting in the New York State Theater with his Mom and Dad (at his fourth opera!) Carmen was already something special. The show mixed spectacle, comedy and tragedy in a dizzying brew, laughing in the orchestra even as its characters hurtled toward disaster in the fourth act. And thanks to Dad's record collection, I already knew some of the music.

Friday, January 26, 2018

2018-19 Season Preview: A Matter of Taste

The venerable Carnegie Hall has a different flavor next season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The muses dance in an early program book for Carnegie Hall.
Image from the Carnegie Hall Archives.
The announcement of Carnegie Hall's mammoth season schedule is always an occasion for celebration. This year's press conference, held upstairs in the Resnick Education Wing introduced an unorthodox slate for next year. The new schedule has programming from familiar orchestras and ensembles but one gets the sense that, like '16-'17, that this is an experimental season trying to push the venue in some bold new directions.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Concert Review: Welcome to FarmVille

The Cleveland Orchestra turns Haydn's The Seasons.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra.
Photo by Roger Mastroianni © 2017 The Cleveland Orchestra.
You don't hear the Haydn oratorios much.

The father of the symphony and the string quartet wrote two late ones for his London audiences following the success of his cycle of late symphonies. Of the two, it is the first The Creation that shows up on the occasional choral program. On Wednesday night, Franz Welser-Möst and the Cleveland Orchestra made their case for The Seasons (German title: Die Jahrezeiten) with a concert performance of the piece on the big stage at Carnegie Hall.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Concert Review: Treachery, Faith and the Great River

The Cleveland Orchestra sails into Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
White tie and tails: Franz Welser-Möst.
Photo by Michael Pöhn for IMG Artists
The River Danube flows through southeastern Europe for 1,780 miles, from its source in Germany down into the Black Sea. It has captured the imagination of composers for centuries, who have used its waters as the inspiration for their art. On Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall, the Cleveland Orchestra and its music director Franz Welser-Möst gave the first New York performance of Stromab by the young Austrian composer Johannes Maria Staud alongside the autumnal and always challenging Symphony No. 9 by Gustav Mahler.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Opera Review: We Didn't Start the Pyre

The Metropolitan Opera locks up Il Trovatore.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Azucena (Anita Rachvelishvili) pleads with Manrico (Yonghoon Lee) in Act II of Il Trovatore.
Photo by Karen Almond © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
Much as the Metropolitan Opera would have it differently, it is virtually impossible to write about performances at that house in this current season, without mentioning James Levine. The currently suspended music director emeritus looms large over everything this season, including this week's latest revival: the company's red-blooded staging of Verdi's Il Trovatore. What made this Trovatore interesting for the regular Met-goer is it also marked a sort of passing of the torch: from the Netrebko-Hvorostovsky school to a brave new world of lesser known singers taking on the opera's four difficult central roles.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Concert Review: Coming Down to Earth

The Royal Concertgebouw plays Bruch and Mahler. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Violinist Janine Jansen played the Bruch Concerto No. 1 at Carnegie Hall
on Thursday night. Photo courtesy Decca/UMG.
The second night of the Royal Concertgebouw's 2018 stand at Carnegie Hall did not scale the same dizzying heights as its first. This performance, led by music director Daniele Gatti featured the Dutch ensemble setting aside the cosmic considerations of Bruckner for the earthier world of a composer that has proved even more popular: Gustav Mahler.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Concert Review: There Are Two Paths You Can Go By

Daniele Gatti climbs Wagner and Bruckner's stairways to heaven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Daniele Gatti at the helm of his inaugural 2017 concert as music director of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Photo by Mladen Pikilic for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
The final utterance of a major composer is often an insight into their innermost thoughts. In the case of Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner, (two composers who knew each other in life) those utterances, performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night, were very different indeed. Wagner was a man of the theater turned to the mystic epic of Parsifal and the story of the Holy Grail and the Kingdom of Montsalvat. Bruckner, who revered Wagner, found his Grail in the structured form of the symphony, offering a Ninth that he would not live to finish.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.