Cher Public


I would happily go hear Anna Caterina Antonacci sing the phone book, or even a list of donors to the New York City Opera, which sponsored the soprano’s only U.S. appearances this season in a recital last night in Zankel Hall, repeated tonight

Hers was a connoisseur’s program of Debussy, Respighi, Britten, Poulenc, and Nadia Boulanger, but without the intellectual reinforcement of program notes. She’s the sort of singer who demands that you come to the music unprotected, as she does, so that familiar as well as rare pieces are startlingly fresh, immediate, and affecting.

She explored the dark and pensive side of each song, even those that appear lighthearted, beginning with Debussy’s “Mandoline,” which was inflected with a strong Mediterranean beat and a menacing “la, la, la” refrain. These weren’t washy, dreamy readings, and although Antonacci’s richly colored voice can handle languid phrases, the clarity of her diction—along with the uvular “r” and a slightly dry chest voice—brought a cabaret-singer’s immediacy to “C’est l’extase langoureuse,” and “Il pleure dans mon coeur,” while “Green” was delivered in one long line of urgency and coiled eroticism.

The first half of the recital seemed to be all about trembling sadness among decaying leaves and statues of nymphs, with Respighi’s lush Deità Silvane posing an Italian answer to Debussy’s Verlaine settings. The cycle is far from straightforward, and needs a singer and pianist capable or subtle colorings to handle the sweeping yet elusive melodic lines and dense, twisting harmonies. Antonacci brought both tenderness and bite to the perfumed nostalgia of Antonio Rubino’s poetry–Pan sleeps in an abandoned garden, shadows flicker, and forests are alive with music and dance.

Murmurs of appreciation greeted the artists’ brilliantly convincing performance of a group of songs by Nadia Boulanger. While a superb pedagogue, Boulanger was the first to admit that her compositions were mediocre, and once her sister Lili began to compose, Nadia gamely abandoned her own work. I have tried to program these songs without success. Pieces that begin promisingly quickly lose focus, while harmonic structure, so important to Boulanger in her teaching, seems unsteady.

Yet Antonacci dug deeply into these pieces, seven in all, with colorings and vocal shadings that seemed a logical progression from the earlier pieces, and with startling commitment. “Versailles,” on a text by Albert Victor Samain, is marred by formulaic piano rippling, yet Antonacci entered into the nostalgic world of the park on a pale afternoon with intensity and uncommon communicative power.

The steady pulsing of “Cantique” highlights its hymn-like nature, while “Elle a vendu mon coeur” projects a strange, Spanish quality. The soprano’s quiet, intense reading of “Mon coeur” highlighted its mysterious, repressed sexuality and she and pianist Donald Sulzen made the ambitious, awkward “C’était en juin,” on a poem by Émile Verhaeren, work brilliantly.

Antonacci’s singing is remarkably beautiful for one who clearly doesn’t make that a top priority.

On this Island is one of Britten’s few major vocal works not conceived for Peter Pears, so its vocal line is uncompromising and its youthful ardor, along with the composer’s deep connection with Auden’s texts, make for an appealing and effective work. Antonacci’s English perfectly suited the brittle sensuality of these pieces, beginning with the trumpet-like lines of “Let the florid music praise!” and its florid, baroque “Shine on, shine on.”

She captured the sing-song, incantatory nature of “Now the leaves are falling fast” and the dance-hall cheeziness of the concluding “As it is, plenty. “Nocturne” highlighted Sulzen’s beautiful, understated playing, and Antonacci caressed the repetitive patterns of the elegiac text with hypnotic intensity.

Poulenc’s Le Travail du Peintre presents musical portraits of the work of seven painters in texts by Paul Éluard. Here again, Antonacci found bitterness and anger in the texts, pointing an accusing finger at Picasso, waltzing dementedly with Chagall, mirroring the longing of Georges Braque’s art, approaching Juan Gris with hushed awe, and facing Paul Klee defiantly.

Poulenc’s edgy, complex writing is a good match for Antonacci’s probing artisty and sophisticated musicality, and the recital’s concluding piece, “La dame de Monte Carlo,” grew out of the darkness and despair she had been exploring all evening. It’s easy to breeze through Cocteau’s monologue with an arch, ex-beauty-queen glamour, but here a quick tempo highlighted the anguish and desolation of a suicidal woman. Antonacci’s perfect French captured even the boulevardier lines with appropriate hysteria.

Frescobaldi’s lilting “Se l’aura spira” and Carmen’s Habanera reminded the audience of Antonacci’s genius at highlighting the familiar in startlingly expressive readings.

Photo: Sarah Shatz

  • Camille

    Thank you. I’m glad it was you reviewing.

    Somehow, I’ll pass this one on to another potential ticket holder. As hard as I have tried, I still remain unconvinced. Not quite sure what it is….

    • ER

      I too am torn-- the voice, at least on youtube, doesn’t entice me and I have to confess I’m unfamiliar with much of the repertoire she’s programmed.

      To my surprise, there’re lots of seats still available. May be it’s because it hasn’t been advertised profusely, or that she’s more a connoisseur’s curio than a wide-appeal artiste.

      On another note, Camille, I must thank you. For all the fun and entertainment that Parterre provides, I also find it-- largely due to posters like yourself, with your wealth of knowledge--
      enormously educational and inspiring. You should be a commentator on the MET broadcasts!

      • Camille

        You are too kind, but alas and alack, I am 198 years old this coming year and may no longer show my face in public as I scare small children and opera lovers.

        I would say this: if you have no other reference to Signora Antonacci other than on youtube, by all means, go—at the very least you will be supporting the NYCO Renaissance (cough, cough, ahem), and you may determine your OWN thoughts in the matter, and which is what I encourage and stress all to do in every instance of public performing. There are many, many here on parterre and elsewhere, I am sure and is not a fraud.

        • ER

          “You are too kind, but alas and alack, I am 198 years old this coming year ”

          How very Emilia Marty of you!

          • Camille

            “Ah yes!!! I remember it well…!”

          • Juicy Bjoerling

            how mrs. claggart of you!

            • Camille

              oh NO! Why, she’ll SLAP me if she gets wind of this!! Thanks for pointing that one out as I’ll have to forthwith abandon it!

            • ER

              Who is this elusive Mrs Claggart? She keeps getting mentioned on this site but I have yet to figure out who she is.

            • Armerjacquino

              It was the nom-de-plume (or perhaps nom de guerre would be more appropriate?) of a playwright and opera expert who posted a lot on this site over the years but is sadly no longer with us.

            • Ivy Lin

              It was the internet nickname of Albert Innaurato, who passed away last year. He posted a lot at parterre and also had his own blog.

            • Camille

              If you care to, Mrs. Claggart has a blog which you may go to by clicking on the link up on the right under Elsewhere:, entitled “MRS JOHN CLAGGART’S SAD LIFE”.

              If you are offended by raw language, well then, don’t go there. If you want to learn a thing or three about music-making, well then pass the go sign.

              As well, there are a few reviews under the name of Albert Innaurato listed herein, or there were. Several of the latter ones are reviews of Philadelphia Opera productions. There are many reviews/interviews/etc. in Opera News from the 1990’s and you may go over to opera-l and find many, many postings dating back at least fifteen years. Mr Innaurato was a musician and a lifelong mélomane whose knowledge was vast and comprehensive on many levels, if his party manners were minimal to nil. You take the good with the bad, or you don’t. May he rest in peace.

      • CwbyLA

        I agree with what you said about Camille. Thank you from me to Camille as well. He is sharp tongued and rightfully opinionated because of years of opera-going and listening experience. Even in this environment when things can get heated, I have never seen him lose his temper. More importantly, he is very generous in sharing his knowledge and I learn a lot from him.

        • ER

          so well said.

          Although I’m embarrassed to admit, Camille, I assumed, given your username, that you were a Lady! But glad to be corrected.

          • Camille

            BOYS, I may now have a moustache, and have long been rendered sexless as I’m past even post-post-post menopause, but I still enter the LADIES room, either Self-Identified, or Not. I’m certain that La Cieca will be chortling about all this.

            When one gets to my age one doesn’t worry about gender issues much any more — it’s all such a moot point!! Sex is ephemeral…music is eternal.

            And, as it is, the name Camille is a perfect name for parterre, and one of those given me by my Carabosse at my christening! Here in the United States it IS generally associated with the Garbo movie and the figure of Marguérite Gautier, and regarded as a feminine name. Whereas, in la belle France it is, or WAS in the nineteenth century, given to many a male of the species, cf. Camille Saint-Saëns. In my instance, I was named for Camille Moke, the innamorata of H. Berlioz, as my mother loved to play piano and wished that grim fate upon me, and so at least a part of that wish came true. Camille Moke actually married another Camille, Camille Pleyel. She was actually named Marie, but was known also as Camille. So, it gets confusing!!!

            So, it is one of the few truly ambi-gendered names. As well there is in Italian, Camillo, a variant which is usually seen in last century names and among a little more aristocratic set, generally speaking. The name of Camillo Borghese springs to mind, an important priest and member of that family.

            Und so weiter…..!

            • jackoh

              “Sex is ephemeral… music is eternal.” But, perhaps, music is simply a way of expressing sex in another way (a different “language”). And that may be what makes music “eternal,” since it articulates and makes present that which is most definitely “eternal” to the human species (if it is to survive), sex.

        • trevor

          Hear Hear!!

  • PCally

    Seeing this tonight! Couldn’t be more excited. Even with reduced resources she’s just the best. One of my formative divas.


    I love Antonacci I think above nearly all singers currently performing and long to see her live. She is fierce and so completely honest. I see her on video and she just ‘is’ with little artifice (or it’s exceedingly well hidden). The voice is not particularly beautiful and never was and frankly neither is she. But she has a mystery I revel in.

    • PCally

      Antonacci not beautiful? I only hope I look that stunning when I’m her age (56).

      • Dame Kenneth

        And is 56 now so old? Heavens!

        • Armerjacquino

          Since when does ‘I’d like to look like her when I reach her age’ equal ‘She’s so old’? ;-)

          • Dame Kenneth

            It doesn’t. I was teasing.

            • Armerjacquino

              This could go on for ever, but so was I. I even put a winking smiley in to prove it, like a millenial…

            • Dame Kenneth

              But I’m so old, I didn’t even know what that winking smiley face was! ???? (Kidding, of course.) Another round?

    • In Paris (plus Brussels) we’ve been lucky to have had the chance of seeing her quite often. She’s one of a a small number of singers I acually set out to catch. I’ve booked to see Gloriana in Madrid in April. Intrigued to see how it goes: it’s a heavy part.

      (I hope this posts. I’ve had trouble with posts being marked by Disqus as “spam” and unpublished).

  • CCorwinNYC

    Amazing Antonacci! Magnificent Malafronte!

    ACA is one of the most transfixing artists I have experienced in the opera house/concert hall beginning with her NYC debut 19 years ago at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    There aren’t a lot of commercial recordings or DVDs so I’ve posted (so far) two Antonacci features on “Trove Thursday”

    (Same picture, different musical offerings!)

    • Thank you for these links. I remember the frst, but will be happy to listen again.

  • Porgy Amor

    I love me some A-Cat. I’m presently transfixed by one of her Cassandres, and I really would hear her sing anything she chooses to sing.

    • You do get the feeling if she’s singing something it’s really because she has something to “say” about it and has deliberately chosen to sing it.

      I’ve seen her as Cassandra twice, in Paris under Gardiner, then in London.

  • ER

    According to facebook, tonight’s program is not a repeat of yesterday’s; it’s a different set. Will see what people who are there say.

  • CwbyLA

    Was anyone in Larry Brownlee’s recital in Philadelphia a few days ago? He premiered a new song cycle called “Cycles of my being.” I was not there but would love to know what Parterriani thought.

  • What a terrific review. Thank you.

    I hope to have the chance to experience A-Cat live one day.

    • ducadiposa

      She actually sang a recital in Montreal maybe 3-4 years ago. I regret not having made the effort to go. Her exploration of the early twentieth century French sing rep is so intriguing.