L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra
Anna Caterina Antonacci’s Cassandra in the recent Covent Garden Troyens was a performance whose appalling emotional truth I have rarely heard equalled. Here the singer once described in these pages, with minimal hyperbole, as perhaps the greatest operatic actress since Callas swaps the theatre for the salon, just as the stars of a century and more ago did on their nights off from La Scala or the Paris Opéra. Even without her magnetic stage presence, Antonacci presents a vivid ‘face’ in all she sings here. In Reynaldo Hahn’s bittersweet evocations of a picture-postcard Venice, she is by turns caressingly seductive and jauntily knowing, with a delicious sense of playfulness in ‘L’avertimento’. The last of the Hahn group, the cynical, devil-may-care ‘Che pecà’, is a tour de force, with Antonacci biting into the consonants and exploiting to the full her smouldering chest register. In the Tosti songs that form the recital’s centrepiece, Antonacci’s tone – fierily intense rather than especially rich – can sound a touch strained at climaxes. But she responds with quicksilver intelligence and empathy to the shifting emotional states of these yearning and/or disenchanted lovers, phrasing generously, colouring the voice expressively and bringing a native Italian’s savour to D’Annunzio’s texts. And how refreshing to hear ‘L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra’ in its original piano version rather than in the cheesy, sub-Puccinian orchestral arrangements popularised by Caruso, Gigli et al. Sympathetically abetted by Donald Sulzen, Antonacci catches without melodramatic exaggeration the song’s sensuality and frantic ecstasy.
Elsewhere she distils a touching delicacy in Licinio Refice’s ‘Ombra di Nube’ – which as Andrew Stewart points out in his engaging note was made famous in a 1935 recording by Claudia Muzio – and makes telling use of parlando in a brilliantly dramatised performance of Respighi’s ‘Sopra un’aria antica’, in which an ageing lover muses nostalgically on loss and mortality. Even with an encore – a flamboyant performance of Tosti’s Neapolitan ‘Marechiare’ that duly brings the house down – the disc is short measure. But so gripping is Antonacci in everything she sings that it seems churlish to carp.