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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.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Theater Review: The High Price of Beauty

Farinelli and the King on Broadway.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Tragic kingdom: Sam Crane and Mark Rylance in the titular roles of Farinelli and the King.
Photo © 2018 Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

Those of you who regularly read Superconductor know that the dramatic stage, that is, the one without an orchestra or singing is not the normal demesne of this publication. However, thanks to the good offices of my friend Amy M., your humble correspondent found himself at Saturday night's performance of Farinelli and the King. This play, produced by Shakespeare's Globe of London and written by that company's resident composer Claire van Kampen, opened on Broadway in December after a successful London run. (It closes at the Belaco Theater on March 25.)

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. 

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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.