Anna Caterina Antonacci (left). I was fortunate enough to see her on three occasions during my four years in Europe. The first was in a searing portrayal of Medea in Cherubini's opera which opened the season in Torino in November of 2008. Though I had reservations, serious reservations, about the production about Antonacci herself I had none - I loved her.
The second was a semi-staged performance of Gluck's Alceste with Gregory Kunde in Athens the following October. My dear Fotis had insisted I fly over for it and as well as it being an opportunity to see him and visit my beloved Greece it allowed me to experience another facet of Antonacci's art. Her grasp of the French style was masterful and the gentle nobility and sacrifice of Alceste - which can often seem, if terribly admirable, also terribly dull dull - had all the doubt and anguish that bargaining with death for the life of a loved one would draw from a human. It was a remarkable evening made more so by the perfect interplay between Antonacci and Kunde.
It was made even more remarkable because Fotis led me backstage to say hello and congratulation both Mr Kunde and - gasp! - Anna Caterina - her ardent admirers often refer to her as AnnaCat, but as much as I adore her I can't bring myself to call her that. Now I have a history of being less than tactful when meeting famous opera singers - I still have nightmares about the Marilyn Horne episode in 1986 - and this meeting was no exception. In my stumbling efforts to say something other than "I adore you!" I muttered that I really hadn't liked Hugo D'Ana's production in Torino - not her mind you but the production, which it turned out she liked very much!!!! But Signora Antonacci, ignoring my awkward attempts at retrieval, flashed me her wonderful smile and said that she would make it up to me by adding me to the guest list for an upcoming private concert in Rome at the American Academy.
And so I found myself wandering the beautiful grounds of Villa Aurelia on the Juniculum Hill on a cool but pleasant December evening; having coffee and chatting about Rossini with Philip Gossett , one of the leading authorities on 19th century opera; and sitting with him and 40 other people in the gilt and white grand salon listening to Anna Caterina accompanied by Donald Sulzen in Echi della Belle Époque, a programme of songs by Fauré, Tosti, Cimara, Toscanini, Respighi and Zandonai. It is an evolving programme that she and Sulzen have now presented in Europe and North America including a rare and much heralded appearance at New York's Lincoln Centre last month. The programme had been well-thought out and beautifully performed with the Tosti English songs and Resphighi's Cinque canti all'antica as the highlights.
I have only been able to find five of the six songs posted by yukio84 on YouTube; they are taken from a concert in Firenze this past March. It may seem like quite a few videos but believe me they are worth it - I only wish that Primavera, the final song was available.
Sopra l'acqua indormenzata - Asleep on the water
A young lady is invited to accompany her lover on a gondola ride on the lagoon in the moonlight. Her inamorata is afraid that the moon will be jealous of her beauty - a beauty that is only enhanced by the gentle movement of the waves. But he does warn her that "Tears will come soon enough, so now is the time for laughter and for love."
La barcheta - The Little Boat
Another lovesick swain takes his Ninetta out in the evening air in a gondola piloted by the silent, and obviously discreet, Toni. So discreet that the lover assures his beloved Ninetta that should the evening breezes cause her veil to lift and reveal her lovely breasts, that Toni is much too intent on plying his oar to pay any attention. Why he tells her, its almost like we are along here and anything could happen!
L'avertimento - The Warning
The lovely Nana has obviously broken the singer's heart. Ah yes there are roses in her cheeks, her breasts are milky white and her voice gentle and sweet "but.. but.. but.. the lovely Nana has the heart of a tiger!"
La Biondina in gondoleta
As their gondola glides across the lagoon the lover rhapsodizes over the beauty of his "blonde" as she lays sleeping, her golden tresses floating in the water. But he arouses her - from slumber and in other ways also it would appear as he declaims "God what wonderful things I said, what lovely things I did! Never again was I to be so happy in all my life."
Che pecà! - What a shame!
The gentleman assures the still-lovely (and one feels perhaps loved?) Nina that his days of seeing only her are long since gone. After all she is only a woman - and a fickle one at that so who really cares? But all the same "what a shame!"
That big sigh you heard was me - Anna Caterina and Venice! Two of my treasured memories!
10 May - 1849: Astor Place Riot: A riot breaks out at the Astor Opera House over a dispute between actors Edwin Forrest and William Charles Macready, killing at least 25 and injuring over 120.