Anna Caterina Antonacci / Donald Sulzen - Wigmore Hall, 5 December 2011
Cesti Intorno all’idol mio Respighi Sopra un’ aria antica Tosti Lasciami! Lascia ch'io respiri L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra In van preghi Che dici, o parola del Saggio? Cilea Serenata Nel ridestarmi Non ti voglio amar Hahn Sopra l'acqua indormenzada La Barcheta L'avertimento La Biondina in gondoleta Che pecà! Refice Ombra di nube Encore: Tosti Marechiare
The elusive Anna Caterina Antonacci spreads her bounty rather thinly these days. No wonder she still looks and sounds twenty years younger. To many she's a goddess, but clearly not of the domestic type - her gold-encrusted black column gown was divine, but the matching shawl could have done with an iron.
It's two years since her last Wigmore Hall recital, and like that one, this bargain (£12) lunchtime hour was broadcast live on Radio 3 (available on the iPlayer until 12 December and well worth a listen).
The programme was beautifully planned and 100% Italian. Titled L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra (Dawn divides the light from the shadows), it began with Cesti's gentle love song Intorno all'idol mio before plunging into darker waters with Respighi's uncharacteristically baleful Sopra un'aria antica, which lifts a brief quote from the Cesti. Respighi's text came from Gabriele d'Annunzio, as did Tosti's still darker tales of abandonment and suicide, gathered as Quattro canzoni d'Amaranta.
A gentle glow emerged with a group of Cilea songs, followed by the calculated whimsy of Reynaldo Hahn's faux-Venetian gondola songs. Refice's stately Ombra di nube ended the programme (dead on time) in glorious light. It was a challenging volume of material, and she slipped only once (the sterling Donald Sulzen leapt in with a timely prompt).
It's fair to say that the material wasn't quite first rate, but Anna Caterina made it sound as if it was. What she brought most of all was truthfulness. Some singers sound as if they're narrating; she seems to live every note and every word. It would be wrong to call her style operatic. Her diction's too good for a start, and she doesn't assume a role. It's always Anna Caterina's soul we're looking into, not somebody else's shoes she's stepped into for 3'32". But it's certainly a dramatic approach, untroubled by any academic notions of 'correct style'. Anna Caterina is rooted in the words and the notes, not the incidentals , combining intimacy with a ferocious, transfixing power.
Her voice is a very special one. Its darkness is not velvety but crisp and bitter, like the purest chocolate, and always seemingly on the very edge of control. It brings gravity to light-hearted material like Hahn's flimsy barcarolles, and a terrifying seriousness of purpose to bleaker songs.
I go to a lot of Wigmore recitals (far more than I write about here) and it's rare that I'm pinned to my seat from start to finish, but that's what Anna Caterina can do to you. Do listen on the iPlayer while you can.