In Europe, soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci’s stage appearances are greeted with a second-coming-of-Callas level of rapture. This great singing-actress’s almost complete neglect by American opera companies is incomprehensible. But a rare Vocal Arts D.C. recital at the Terrace Theater on Wednesday gave a potent taste of Antonacci’s gifts.
The program of French belle epoque and Italian verismo songs was a far cry from Antonacci’s accustomed repertoire of early music and bel canto opera or her recent successes with Hector Berlioz and Georges Bizet. Indeed, a pair of brief Gabriel Faure song cycles seemed to interpretively constrain her. And while her forwardly placed tone and her dark-hued and expressive lower and middle registers impressed — she was a mezzo until relatively recently in her career — her upper register, at least initially, came across as generically bright and utilitarian.
But Reynaldo Hahn’s Italian-language cycle “Venezia” brought out the singer who thrills audiences on the other side of the Atlantic. Inhabiting each song like the sole character in a miniature drama and molding the vocal lines with considerable freedom, her voice took on added richness and vibrancy, and she proved mesmerizing in evoking the heartbreak and erotic frankness of the texts. Italian songs by Paolo Tosti and Pietro Mascagni drew out the previously suppressed glories of her upper voice — its gutsiness, luminous core, Italianate tang and ability to float. Her vivid engagement with the words and complete immersion in the psychological life of Ottorino Respighi’s songs “Sopraun’aria antica” and “Nebbie” revealed an incomparable artist at work.
Even her encore of “Moon River” was so artfully done, it made one yearn to experience Antonacci in fully staged opera.
Banno is a freelance writer.