Ann, Frank, and I heard Anna Caterina Antonacci in recital at Zankel Hall on 2/20/18. The three of us heard her in a fascinating production of Monteverdi's *Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda* (and other pieces by Monteverdi, Strozzi, and Giramo) back in 2013, and the two of them heard her recital in 2015 (I wasn't able to go to that, I seem to remember something about Easter). Last fall I saw that the New York City Opera was presenting her in a recital and instantly snatched up three tickets.
Here's a cute picture of Ann and Frank outside Carnegie Hall:
She's an Italian soprano who has been bringing the house down in Europe in Italian and French operas for over thirty years. So why hasn't she sung at the Met? The story that Frank heard (and this has not been verified by divamensch.com) is that the Met approached her to play Donna Elvira in their 2011 new production of *Don Giovanni.* This would be a great role for her, and she said yes. Then they went back to her and said, "Actually, now Angela Gheorghiu [a big Met star at the time] is interested in doing this role, so we're going to buy you out of your contract. How about you do this other thing a couple of years later?" And she said, "How about you kiss my ass?" Again, this has not been verified, and I'm inventing dialogue, but it's a good story, right? For the record, Gheorghiu backed out of the show, too - - Barbara Frittoli played Donna Elvira, and I'm sure she was wonderful.
I should say what she was wearing - - a sleeveless and strapless black gown, expertly fitted in the bodice, with a full skirt and a flounce on one side. She wore a necklace that was a sort of loose choker around the neck and hung down the back, nearly to the waist. It was fun to watch her and that necklace sashay offstage. Her hair was short, possibly some red highlights. Her general appearance was skinny and SEXY. Those shoulders were to die for.
I've typed in the full program at the bottom of the review. Her extraordinary pianist was Donald Sulzen. She's a brilliant recitalist, the whole program gave the impression of being sung poetry. Every moment was direct and full of meaning and color. The word that kept coming to mind was "intelligence." I don't think I've ever heard such an intellectually stimulating voice recital.
The first Debussy songs are very familiar, but they never sounded more fresh and vibrant. She has a way with rhythm that's flexible, expressive, almost willful, but always a perfect communication of the text. Sulzen threw down the gauntlet early on, in "C'est l'extase langoureuse" - - his playing was somewhat dry, a nice change from the soupy quality one often hears in this music. He was painting a watercolor, but the brush wasn't very wet.
The Respighi songs were a revelation. I heard Domingo in recital in Chicago sometime in the late 90s, with pianist Daniel Barenboim. They opened their program with a set of Donizetti songs and I swooned, I'd never heard such Italianate singing in my life, the Italian singing style was clearly very deep in his bones. Well, Antonacci did him one better - - I'd never heard such extraordinary ITALIAN in my life. The voice was completely at the service of the text, it was thrilling to hear such precise, colorful, and idiomatic Italian. Ann noticed that she had a different color to her voice in the Italian songs, her vocal placement was more forward.
The Boulanger songs were fasinating. "Mon coeur" had a pin-drop quiet start, it was ravishing. She has a way of singing very quietly but with white hot intensity. No singing with the frosting of the voice for this woman, she is deeply rooted in her core at all times.
We were intrigued to see Britten on the program and curious to hear her sing in English. Let's say that her English is...quirky? I found her French easier to follow than her English! I was glued to the program in this set, I really needed the words. "Nocturne" was the highlight of this cycle, what a glorious song, hypnotic.
The Poulenc cycle was divine. She sings a lot of Poulenc and has just the right mix of sophistication, tartness, and sincerity. These songs, and "La dame de Monte Carlo," were full of glamour for both the singer and the pianist. And who doesn't want to be knocked out by glamour.
They did two encores. We didn't know the first, but Frank learned later that the first was "Se l'aura spira" by Frescobaldi. Again, the Italian was delectable. The final encore was the "Habañera" from *Carmen.* The pianist started that beyond famous intro and the audience went "Ah...!" Her performance of the aria was just as personal, authoritative, and satisfying as everything else on the program.
Here's a recording of Antonacci and Sulzen doing a Respighi song they didn't do on this program, a show-stopping slice of verismo called "Nebbie" ("Fog"). Listen to the Italian.
* * *
"C'est l'extase langoureuse"
"Il pleure dans mon coeur"
"Musica in horto"
"Elle a vendu mon coeur"
"Vous m'avez dit"
"C’était en juin"
*On This Island*
"Let the florid music praise!"
"Now the leaves are falling fast"
"As it is, plenty"
*Le Travail de Peintre*
"La dame de Monte-Carlo"