|Donald Sulzen and Anna Caterina Antonacci (photo by Sarah Shatz)|
Zankel Hall made a fine home for an unusual recital by "the singer's singer" Anna Caterina Antonacci and the collaborative pianist who partners her well, measure by measure, phrase by phrase. The recital was presented by New York City Opera and the excitement began at the end when impressario and General Director Michael Capasso got down on his knee (we kid you not) to present flowers to Ms. Antonacci. Now that is something we have never seen before, but exactly right when one encounters royalty!
There were so many opera lovers wanting to hear Ms. Antonacci that we had to wait for the second night to get tickets. The recital was eagerly awaited; we don't believe Ms. Antonacci has performed in New York City since 2013 when she gave an outstanding performance of baroque music for Lincoln Center's White Light Festival. That was quite a show involving unusual staging, scenery, and costuming (review archived and available through the search bar). Last night's recital was also unusual, but unusual in a different way.
We begin by saying that our taste in music was best met by the encores. The brief piece by Girolamo Frescobaldi entitled "Se l'aura spira" thrilled us to the bone and lingers in our ears like the early 17th c. jewel that it is.
The second encore astonished us by making the familiar fresh. Ms. Antonacci sang the "Habanera" from Carmen as an intimate chanson rather than an operatic aria. One must recognize Ms. Antonacci as an idiosyncratic artist who will put her individual stamp on things!
The program itself held surprises for us. Most impressive was Francis Poulenc's major concert aria "La Dame de Monte Carlo" which is almost an entire opera in and of itself, or at the very least, a character study of a depressed widow, addicted to gambling. and down on her luck. No longer young and loved, she plans on drowning herself in the Mediterranean. Ms. Antonacci brought out every nuance of despair and bitterness.
There were further contributions from Poulenc on the program--Le Travail du Peintre is a cycle of songs, settings of text by Paul Éluard who created verbal descriptions of the famous painters of the early 20th c. Poulenc created the musical portraits and Ms. Antonacci gave us an aural tour which reminded us conceptually, but not musically, of Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Perhaps it is only coincidence that we favored the magic realism of Marc Chagall as we visualized the huge murals at the entrance to The Metropolitan Opera!
Another surprise was the nearly perfect English with which Ms. Antonacci sang Benjamin Britten's On this Island. We are not wild about W.H. Auden's text nor Mr. Britten's music but we definitely enjoyed the artist's ironic delivery of "As it is, plenty". This is a difficult text to make sense of, but she succeeded.
"Nocturne" , from the same cycle, began meditatively, grew in emphasis and power, and ended in a quiet postlude.
The program also comprised Debussy's lovely settings of Paul Verlaine's evocative text, of which our favorite was the sensuous "C'est l'extase langoureuse" in which Ms. Antonacci seemed to savor every word. This made a nice contrast to the opening "Mandoline", a frisky affair.
We have heard a great deal about Nadia Boulanger as a composition teacher to many 20th c. composers, but had never heard her own vocal compositions. "Versailles" struck us as ethereal but we preferred the melody of "Cantique", with text by Maurice Maeterlinck. "Elle a vendu mon coeur" , text by Camille Mauclair, is an affecting tale of betrayed love and consequent bitterness.
With so much French on the program, we were happy to hear some Italian. Ottorino Respighi's Deità Silvane gave Mr. Sulzen a chance to shine with some rippling figures in "Crepuscolo". However, we found the marriage of text and music most impressive in "Acqua".
We are happy indeed that New York City Opera is bringing us more than opera! We have feasted on music today and are replete.
(c) meche kroop