We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Anna Caterina Antonacci (photo by Magalie Bouchet)
At least one thousand tapers burned brightly in the background while soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci burned as brightly onstage at the Rose Theater, as part of the White Light Festival of Lincoln Center. Accompanied by soloists of the orchestra Les Siècles who offered several works by Marini before the vocal pieces, in between and afterward, Ms. Antonacci gave a performance that was visually stunning, dramatically riveting and vocally perfect.  The artistry of the staging lifted the evening way beyond the concept of a vocal recital.

The music dates back nearly four centuries but sounded fresh and original. The opening piece  Giramo's "Lamento della pazza" (the lament of a crazy woman) offered Ms. Antonacci the opportunity to express  a variety of moods suffered by a woman made mad by love. A tribute to the artistry of Ms. A. is the depth of feeling evoked by her intensity.  She appeared disheveled and barefoot, but attired in an ivory gown suggestive of the baroque period; toward the end, she upturned a series of buckets of water downstage; the water reflected the myriad lights upstage.

Following an instrumental Sinfonia, Ms. A. sang the sorrowful "Lamento d'Ariannna" by Monteverdi in which the abandoned Ariadne laments her lost love Theseus.  This is the only surviving element of Monteverdi's opera  L'Arianna and contains "Lasciatemi Morire" which would be familiar to any singer versed in the baroque repertory.  It was shattering.

Another instrumental Sinfonia was interposed before Ms. A. sang the cantata "Lagrime mie, a che vi trattenete".  What captured our interest about this work is that it was composed (and probably sung) by Barbara Strozzi; how rare it was for a woman to have her compositions published in that epoch!  Not only that but Strozzi was presenting the point of view of a man spurned by his lover.

The final work on the program involved a change of costume.  Gone was the gorgeous gown and Ms. A. appeared in a black tunic and pants, vaguely suggestive of a knight's attire.  She performed Monteverdi's "Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda" which was written for the 1624 carnival in Venice.  In this major work, with text taken from Tasso's epic poem about the First Crusade, a Christian knight unknowingly kills Clorinda, the Saracen woman he loves, who has disguised herself as a warrior.  Ms. A.  conveyed the voice of the narrator as well as the individual combatants.  Sword in hand, she enacted the pitched battle between the two.  We were spellbound.

The program notes went into quite a bit of detail about various aspects of the compositions of that period; composers created a revolutionary musical vocabulary to intensify the dramatic situation which was considered quite an innovation.  The emotionality of the works stands in stark contrast to our post-modern coolness and irony. These works are downright raw!  One could not escape feeling involved.

Era la Notte premiered in 2006 and has been performed by Ms. A. all over Europe.  This was the American premiere and we were grateful to have the opportunity to experience Ms. A.'s deeply committed artistry and intense expressivity.  The work was conceived for her by Director Juliette Deschamps with lighting by Dominique Bruguière and set design by Cécile Degos.  The evocative costuming was by Christian Lacroix.  Johannes Keller conducted from the harpsichord while Manuel de Grange played the theorbo.  Violins were bowed by Sébastien Richaud and Rachel Rowntree; viola da gamba by François Joubert-Caillet, cello by Julien Barre and contrabass by Christian Staude.

This work ran barely over an hour but left us with a feeling of having been transported to another time and place.  The rain fell onstage at the end, extinguishing most of the candles, but the feelings evoked in us could not be extinguished.  It was a memorable event.

© meche kroop

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