> Concerts and Recitals
Anna Caterina Antonacci & Donald Sulzen
NEW YORK CITY
Alice Tully Hall
Anna Caterina Antonacci's April 8 New York recital debut at Alice Tully Hall proved delightful for many reasons. Kudos to the Art of Song series for securing her — a rare accomplishment for any Stateside organization, as she has a full calendar in Europe. It also marked a breathtakingly vivid change from the Usual Suspects singing Schubert, Schumann, Debussy, Mahler and Wolf — the fare New York presenters in this genre seem to offer year in, year out.
The remarkably youthful and undeniably sexy Ferrarese singer resembles no one else in today's opera world. Commanding both mezzo and soprano assignments in a wide range of styles from Monteverdi, Baroque and bel canto on through contemporary music, she has made her name as a boldly theatrical stage and concert artist in a difficult-to-categorize repertory (Poppea, Cassandre, Carmen).
With typical outside-the-box thinking, Antonacci and her gifted (if initially somewhat too vehement) accompanist Donald Sulzen presented a French and Italian program concentrating on the belle époque. The first half contrasted two groups apiece by Fauré and Reynaldo Hahn, book-ended by Venetian-themed songs by the French and the Venezuelan composer. The initial "Cinq mélodies de Venise" found Antonacci still settling her breath support and, though capable, rather over-pronouncing the words. As soon as she returned to the stage for Hahn's charming neo-baroque "Tyndaris" and "Phyllis," she sounded more relaxed, and thereafter the voice rejoiced in multiple tone colors and great expressivity that seemed effortlessly right. Her ease increased even more with the switch to Venetian dialect for Hahn's five contrasting studies: Antonacci may be the only recitalist I've heard get as much out of the whole group as many great singers get out of the hauntingly romantic "La barcheta."
Antonacci's instrument is sui generis: a mezzo sound, comfortable in chest, topped by a rather short lyric soprano; it's not a particularly plush or resonant voice (the clearest, brightest tone is in the upper middle), but it flows freely, and her use of it is remarkable both musically and in terms of verbal expression. Her graceful hand gestures proved a recital in themselves. She can straddle that (dangerous) line between "singer" and "diseuse" with aplomb — a talent that stood her in good stead in Respighi's curious, semi-parlando "Sopra un'aria antica." This was but one of the Italian songs in the second part based on Gabriele d'Annunzio's perfumed verse, another four being Tosti's 1907 Quatro Canzoni d'Amaranta. It was salutary to hear such songs — and others by Mascagni, Cilèa and Licinio Refice — treated seriously by diva and pianist both, not with excessive "popular" flourishes and gulps and not with arty condescension. Respighi's often archaizing songs drew particularly insightful and luminous readings. Sustained, warm applause brought three vivid encores — Jiménez's "La tarántula" and more Tosti ("Marechiara") and Fauré ("Au bord de l'eau").
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