The magnificent Italian singer Anna Caterina Antonacci brings us an unexpected and exciting programme for her return to La Monnaie. In the first part of this two-part evening, works by Claudio Monteverdi and Marcantonio Cesti are associated with melodies by modern Italian composers from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries inspired by the splendour of these masters, and in the second part, she will perform works by Henry Duparc, Reynaldo Hahn and Gabriel Fauré.
You are above all known by audiences for your interpretations of heroines. I am referring to Agrippina – a performance which astounded the audience at La Monnaie – as well as Cassandra, Dido, Medea and all of the figures who have punctuated your career. Your passion for opera is also above all a passion for theatre. What is your approach to the recital as a much more unadorned genre?
I would say that, to me, a fundamental difference does not exist between a recital and an opera performance. Recital is becoming more and more important in my career. It is true that there is an absence of characters – or rather, there are characters who come out of nowhere, who are nameless and who reveal themselves for two or three pages of music. But what is important to me is above all to tell a story to the audience and to take them on a discovery of a universe. A recital is a very intimate experience for me. It is perhaps the setting which allows me to express the most personal things and to speak about myself, and which still has to be invented.
The connection and encounter with the audience is always at the heart of your performances; this is also the reason why you do not really enjoy making recordings. I suppose that preparing a recital programme is not a matter of chance and that it meets very specific requirements.
Yes of course, and it can sometimes be very difficult. For me, it is essential to prepare a programme and to have a main theme. I cannot imagine a recital which would be a compilation or a series of melodies chosen to show off my voice or my vocal technique. Connecting with the audience and moving them is always at the heart of my approach and is one of my constant concerns. It is also why I am convinced that closeness is an integral part of a recital, and that it does not lend itself well to big auditoriums. When I give a recital, the closest audience members are seated less than a metre from me and I like this intimacy. The auditorium is like an enclosure – a sort of scenery in which each element is important, such as a beautiful light...
You have decided to present a programme in two quite contrasting parts: a first part in Italian and a second part entitled ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ centred on Venice, with melodies by Fauré in French – a language which you speak perfectly. Is this relationship with language important to you?
Essential. For example, I would not be able to sing in German because I do not understand the details and subtleties. It is absolutely essential for me to be able to emphasise each important word and to interpret it and give it the right colour. This is in keeping with the careful planning of the programme. In the first part – which I called ‘Lo stile antico’ – I decided to present melodies by composers from the past such as Monteverdi and Cesti. I chose to confront them with composers from the 20th century who were inspired by them while maintaining their originality as modern composers. For example, Respighi used the theme of a melody by Cesti, but wrote it for piano and composed a completely different part for the voice based on a text which I find very beautiful and touching. I wanted to sing both melodies and have them mirror each other – the ancient and the modern. The second part presents another universe, with very beautiful melodies by Hahn based on texts in the Venetian dialect.
You are a singer whose career has been somewhat special, taking you into both the soprano and mezzo repertoires. Is it important for you to define yourself according to a vocal identity or do you feel that these categories are irrelevant?
I would say that in the past I attached more importance to this, but today it does not matter whether the term mezzo or soprano is associated with my name. If I were referred to as ‘Anna Caterina Antonacci, baritone’, I would not mind at all! At the beginning of my career, I sang almost all of the roles composed by Rossini for his wife Isabella Colbran who was considered to be a mezzo, but there is an enormous demand for the high range of the voice in these vocal parts. What counts is feeling at ease with a repertoire and a character in order to be able to do it justice and sing it with pleasure. I am delighted to perform once again for the audience at La Monnaie in the role of Desdemona – a role which was also created for La Colbran and which I have never had the chance to interpret.
Interview by Rebecca Marcy