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La Antonacci at the Kennedy Center

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Era la notte, A. C. Antonacci, Modo Antiquo, F. M. Sardelli

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Berlioz, Les Troyens, S. Graham,
A. C. Antonacci, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Théâtre du Châtelet, J. E. Gardiner
Last night featured what we predicted would be one of the highlights of the classical music season: the long-awaited Vocal Arts D.C. recital of Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. We have greatly admired her for years on DVD and CD, both for the unusual qualities of her voice -- resiny bottom, forceful middle, and light-filled top -- and for the magnetic stage presence that has electrified her performances on stage, in operas like Carmen, Les Troyens, and Medea. These things can be appreciated through the medium of recording, but nothing prepared me for the experience of hearing her in person. So much about this recital gave her performance the most extraordinary punch: exquisite French and Italian diction that comes from a love of text, incarnating what the art song is supposed to be, a heightened form of poetic recitation; excellent dramatic sense, allowing Antonacci to lose herself in each song, each character; compelling presence; and vocal and interpretative chops that made the most of a program that featured many exquisite songs, but also some rather banal music. Antonacci made all of it better by the way she sang it.

Antonacci calls this program of late 19th-century songs Echoes of the Belle Époque, and the music could indeed be the soundtrack of any number of stories about sensually minded aesthetes traveling Europe in that era. Book-ending the first half were two evocations of mythical Venice, beginning with Gabriel Fauré's Cinq mélodies de Venise, set to languid Symbolist poetry by Paul Verlaine. As Antonacci made clear, this is poetry that drips from the lips like honey, and the music has similarly sphinx-like qualities: the sultry, incense-laden air of En sourdine, the short rhymes and extravagant imagery of A Clymène. Not even a couple uncertain entrances in C'est l'extase could ruin the effect.

It was ingenious to pair those songs with Reynaldo Hahn's Venezia, a set heard from Joyce DiDonato last year, which evoke the haze and sound of Venice even more faithfully by using poems in Venetian dialect. Antonacci gave them a slightly less polished edge, akin to folk song, with the rolling rhythm of the barcarolla, an air of vocal seduction in La barcheta, and an indulgent sense of rhythmic freedom. Kudos to her otherwise sensitive accompanist, Donald Sulzen, for being able to stay with her so faithfully. In between came a series of miniatures in a range of pastel colors, with the sweet simplicity of Hahn's Phyllis and the exquisite shaping of Fauré's Diane, Séléné standing out from the rest.

Other Articles:

Joe Banno, Antonacci’s recital makes one long for a full opera (Washington Post, April 13)

Alex Baker, Antonacci Sings Fauré, Hahn, Respighi at the Kennedy Center (Wellsung, April 12)

Anthony Tommasini, An Italian Soprano’s Salon Songs (New York Times, April 9)

Olivia Giovetti, Amid Holy Days, Anna Caterina Antonacci Casts a Spell (Operavore, April 9)

Sarah Noble, Anna Caterina Antonacci (Prima la musica, April 10)

Christophe Huss, Concerts classiques - L'appel de la chair (Le Devoir, April 6)

An Italian diva in Arkansas (The City Wire, April 5)

Zachary Woolfe, A Career That Moves in Mysterious Ways (New York Times, March 30)
A second half of Italian songs was much more variable, reaching low points with the more insipid pieces by Pietro Mascagni and Paolo Tosti. Antonacci's devotion to this music raised it up in one's appreciation, as did the larger sounds she produced, in Cilèa's Nel ridestarmi and Mascagni's La tua stella. The best selections on the second half were in a set of songs by Ottorino Respighi. Pieces from the Cinque canti all'antica were in a simple style taken from Renaissance and Baroque models, a little reserved compared to the more dramatic songs Sopra un'aria antica and the haunting Nebbie. After the final song, Ombra di nube by Licinio Refice, came three encores. Antonacci gave a thrilling clatter to the rapid-fire syllables of the Zapateado La tarántula é un bicho mú malo by Giménez, with funny little squawks of pain for the spider bites, and plenty of Mediterranean mystery to the Neapolitan love song Marechiare. Responding to extended ovations, she then purred her way through Henry Mancini's delightful song Moon River, heavy accented English and all.

One recital remains in the Vocal Arts D.C. season, featuring bass-baritone Gidon Saks (May 30, 7:30 pm) in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. The organization's 2012-2013 season will include recitals by Stephanie Blythe, Christine Brewer, and Toby Spence.

The Opéra Comique, which has presented Anna Caterina Antonacci in Carmen and other operas, continues its remarkable transformation under its new director, Jérôme Deschamps. A complete renovation of the theater is under way, continuing over the course of next season, in advance of the 2015 celebration of the venue's 300th anniversary. The 2012-13 season will continue with performances, around the renovation work. The world premiere of Limbus-Limbo, an opera buffa by Italian composer Stefano Gervasoni set in 2007 when the Vatican officially reversed its teaching on Limbo, will open the season. Other highlights include John Blow's Venus and Adonis, Charpentier's David et Jonathas (with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants), Reynaldo Hahn's Ciboulette, and Anna Caterina Antonacci as Suzanne on the telephone in Poulenc's La voix humaine. Alex Ross just caught one of the performances of Auber's La Muette de Portici at the Opéra Comique during his trip to Paris. (According to Francis Carlin, who reviewed the production, we may be hearing the name of American tenor Michael Spyres soon.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another review of Antonacci's DC recital: