Anna Caterina Antonacci in La Voix humaine at SF Opera Lab.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Anna Caterina Antonacci, the legendary Italian singer, is in town giving just three performances of a recital that includes songs by Berlioz, Debussy, and Poulenc, with the second half devoted entirely to Poulenc's La Voix humaine.
I say you should see it! She's excellent in the songs and superb in La Voix humaine. And here are links to what the critics have to say.
- Joshua Kosman, Chron, is on a tear, following his forceful piece last week, Classical Music: So white and male. This week, he has plenty of praise for Antonacci and nothing good to say about La Voix humaine, calling it a "jangly bit of lurid misogyny." More below about this.
- Georgia Rowe, Mercury News. We're on the same page.
- Opera Tattler; lots of praise for Antonacci. Okay, I yield to her expertise on the gowns, but I did like the almost-Berkeley-therapist outfit for the songs.
- Lisa Hirsch, SFCV. I should have been more effusive about Sulzen, who played gorgeously.
Bonus media from the past:
- Ako Imamura, Bachtrack, writing in 2015 about the NYC performance of a program similar to this.
- Zachary Wolfe, NY Times, writing in 2015 about the NYC performance of the same program as Imamura. Note the photo; presumably Antonacci travels with the phone.
So about La Voix humaine. I liked the work well enough. It is technically well-put-together, a tour-de-force for the singer, with an extremely dramatic piano part, by Poulenc himself rather than a straight reduction from the orchestral score. The program didn't credit a director, and what Antonacci did with it was infinitely detailed, from her physical movements to the color of her voice to the way she shaped each phrase.
I can't exactly say I was moved by it, though if you'd asked me before I saw Joshua's piece I would have just said that it has a particular quality of detachment, of putting the character Elle under a microscope. I might have said this is typically French or typical of Poulenc. But maybe it really was because the character isn't well fleshed out; we see only one particular side of her personality and we see when, very likely, she is at her worst, desperate and suicidal. Certainly Joshua's analysis isn't wrong, but I believe that the musical and dramatic value of La Voix humaine, and what a great singer like Antonacci can do with it, make it worth performing.