I've been waiting a while for my chance to see Anna Caterina Antonacci, but the city of New York has had to wait even longer than that. For me it's only been six years, the time since I fell under the spell of her CD "Era la notte". Anna Caterina, however, has been in the business for decades and yet the recital she gave at Alice Tully Hall on Sunday was her New York début. Amazing.
And she was amazing. A better substitute for chocolate on Easter Sunday I can hardly imagine. She's famous for her shapeshifting voice: mezzo here, soprano there; inky black at one end and white gold at the other, with a scintillating spectrum in between. I've read about her versatility and distinctive sound (not to mention her captivating presence) countless times, but these things aren't quite real until experienced in person. Now I'm a true believer.
Fauré's Cinq mélodies "de Venise" were a delectable gateway to this celebration of the belle époque, but it was when Antonacci reached the open sea – quite literally, with Fauré's L'horizon chimérique – that she went from merely wonderful to downright thrilling. I was hooked – a little more decisively with every song – and when she switched to Italian for Hahn's Venetian songs, well, I was more or less in the palm of her hand. To think I nearly missed this concert – a technical glitch on the Lincoln Center website convinced me she had deservedly sold out, and it was only by chance that I checked again just a couple of days before the recital.
The second half was at least as opulent and a sight more operatic: songs by Cilea, Tosti, Mascagni, Respighi and Refice. It occured to me how rarely I've heard Italian repertoire (especially recital repertoire) sung by actual Italians: the colour and subtleties she twisted out of these songs were such as I suspect only a native speaker could manage. I loved the Cilea and Tosti especially. None of it repertoire I knew at all, but the distinctly Italianate lyricism of both the music and Antonacci's singing made it seem immediately familiar. She buried herself in each song to the hilt – pensive or expansive, wretched or comic, sweet or seductive – and managed to bring her operatic delivery right to the precipice of excess but never topple over.
I thought the near-capacity crowd might never let her go. She gave us three encores: Gimenez's "La tarantula", another Tosti song (so Olivia Giovetti's excellent review informs me) and Fauré's "Au bord de l'eau", which brought us full circle. To hear her scale back her forces so delicately, on the heels of all that high octane Mediterranean drama, was something very special. New York, your patience and mine have been rewarded. Now let's hope both of us see her again soon.