An Italian Diva in Arkansas There is controversy over exactly ‘where’ Anna Caterina Antonacci's voice belongs. Mezzo? Soprano? Last night it belonged to Arkansas.
Last night (April 3) Anna Caterina Antonacci in a rare American performance astonished her audience with a remarkable voice that, according to critics, defies description. She was an elegant soprano and then suddenly she was a smoky-dark mezzo. Like a chameleon in a flower garden she tied her vocal color to the ever changing landscape of romance. She changed again and again in the blink of an eye often in mid-phrase.
She negotiated and explored the terrain of poetry and music with joyous aplomb and relished subtle inspiring cues from pianist Donald Sulzen. Her mood changed, her voice changed, her audience changed with her. Articulate coloratura pianissimos were followed, without warning, by bold dramatic mezzo-soprano fortes. For her, it seemed a joyously effortless feat. For the audience it was breathtakingly.
The one constant of the performance was this: she was always whatever the music was at that exact instant.
According to Chris Lacy, President of the John Harrison Opera Foundation and U of A’s Director of Opera, the Antonacci concert was a labor of love for everyone connected to the event. "We began exploring the possibilities of a Fayetteville concert for Ms. Antonacci back in 2008. This spring she had some engagements in America and decided to make the nearly 5 years of planning a reality."
Lacy added that it was remarkable that after years of planning and scheduling Ms. Antonacci choose to share her voice in her Arkansas debut without accepting salary or compensation. "She wanted the John Harrison Opera Foundation to raise as much scholarship money as possible…and with this concert she certainly did that. She is an extraordinary voice and she is an extraordinary person."
Harrison's daughter, Olivia, in a touching pre-concert introduction informed the audience that it was her father's birthday and "…this is the best birthday party we could ever give him."
Anna Caterina Antonacci PART II
It was ten minutes after eight o’clock. She wore a long black dress. Her raven garnet hair fell on the glittering beads of a black shawl. The pianist was in black tails. In the middle of it all was a grand Steinway and stage left, a giant spray of white flowers. It was classic. And the house was packed.
Anna Caterina Antonacci began to sing and for two and a half hours of sublime romantic music time stood still.
With Mandoline in her opening Faure song cycle, she began the evening by seducing her audience with a voice of refined, earthy elegance. Then, easing into a dreamier lyric mood, she followed Mandoline with En sourdine and that is when the audience was given their first clues that Ms. Antonicci was an artist with many vocal personalities. Midway through Green, she established her ground as a singer-actor and by the end of the Faure, she had projected an unspoken promise: she was going to be extraordinary.
Opening and closing the program’s first half were two song-cycles of Venice (Faure--Cinq melodies de Venise and Hahn--Venezia), an appropriate location for an Italian singer-actor sojourning with her audience on an evening ripe for romance. Her post-intermission Francesco Cilea curtain raiser was stunning and thrilling. The remaining second half followed suite as she radiated what must be an endless array of vocal color. Always she continued to exert her presence as a singer-actor.
In regards to her formidable singer-actor expertise, she appeared to “like” herself on stage as opposed to “loving” herself onstage. The ‘message and the music’ always remained more significant than the ‘messenger.’ There were no comedic rolling eyes, no over rehearsed grand gestures, no startling caesuras.
Instead, there was perfection: a beautiful woman, a gorgeous voice, a sensitive piano accompaniment and a performance that, from start to finish, was honest, admirable, intelligent and endearing. A performance in which Anna Caterina Antonacci, after of more than two and a half hours, left her audience screaming for more. Perfection, after all, has its rewards.
PERSONAL NOTE: Her final encore presented a sort of revelation for me. She sang Henry Mancini’s Moon River. It was not a divaesque interpretation of an American popular tune. She sang the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” theme straight and honest and it was lovely. That was no surprise since the last two and a half hours had been all about being straight and honest and lovely. But as I was driving home, I wondered if she, Anna, realized the connection between Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly and herself. Both women via true grit and determination seemed to have invented themselves in order to survive and flourish. The difference was that Holly, in fiction, could be anything she wanted to be and Anna, live and onstage, was everything we wanted her to be.
Bio Note: Anna Caterina Antonacci was born in Ferrara, Italy. Her father was a judge and her mother a psychiatrist. She began her career at the age of 19 in the Bologna opera chorus. She came to prominence a decade later via some prestigious competition wins. According to her biography she embraces both soprano and mezzo-soprano roles enabling her to perform many works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries including Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, Gluck, Mozart. She is an acclaimed interpreter of Rossini. She records for Naive in Paris. She has been awarded the'Chevalier de ll'Ordre National de la Legion d'honneur' by the French republic, which is the highest national distinction one can receive. Her recording label is Naïve. She resides in Paris with her son.