An Italian diva in Arkansas

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 140 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — There is controversy over exactly where Anna Caterina Antonacci's voice belongs. 



On Tuesday night (April 3), it belonged to Arkansas.

In a rare American performance at University of Arkansas' Stella Boyce Smith Concert Hall, Antonacci astonished a packed audience with a remarkable voice that, according to critics, defies description. She was an elegant soprano, and then suddenly she was a smoky-dark mezzo. Like a chameleon in a flower garden she tied her vocal color to the ever-changing landscape of romance. She changed again and again in the blink of an eye often in mid-phrase.

She negotiated and explored the terrain of poetry and music with joyous aplomb and relished subtle inspiring cues from pianist Donald Sulzen.  Her mood changed, her voice changed, her audience changed with her.  Articulate coloratura pianissimos were followed, without warning, by bold dramatic mezzo-soprano fortes. For her, it seemed a joyously effortless feat. For the audience, it was breathtaking.

The one constant of the performance was this: she was always whatever the music was at that exact instant.

According to Christopher Lacy, president of the John Harrison Opera Foundation, the Antonacci concert was a labor of love for everyone connected to the event. "We began exploring the possibilities of a Fayetteville concert for Antonacci back in 2008.  This spring she had some engagements in America and decided to make the nearly five years of planning a reality."

Lacy added that it was remarkable that after years of planning and scheduling, Antonacci chose to share her voice in her Arkansas debut without accepting salary or compensation.  "She wanted the John Harrison Opera Foundation to raise as much scholarship money as possible…and with this concert she certainly did that. She is an extraordinary voice and she is an extraordinary person."

In a touching pre-concert introduction, Harrison's daughter, Olivia Clawson informed the audience that it was her father's birthday and "…this is the best birthday party we could ever give him."


It was ten minutes after eight o’clock.
She wore a long black dress. 
Her raven garnet hair fell on the glittering beads of a black shawl. 
The pianist was in black tails. 
In the middle of it all was a grand Steinway and stage left, a giant spray of white flowers. 
It was classic.

Anna Caterina Antonacci began to sing, and for two and a half hours of sublime romantic music, time stood still.

With Mandoline in her opening Faure song cycle, she began the evening by seducing her audience with a voice of refined, earthy elegance.  Then, easing into a dreamier lyric mood, she followed with En sourdine, and that is when the audience learned that Antonicci was an artist with many vocal personalities.  Midway through Green, she established her ground as a singer-actor and by the end of the Faure, she had projected an unspoken promise: she was going to be extraordinary. 

Opening and closing the program’s first half were two song-cycles about Venice (Faure — Cinq melodies de Venise and Hahn — Venezia), an appropriate location for an Italian singer-actor sojourning with her audience through a romantic evening. Her post-intermission Francesco Cilea curtain raiser was stunning and thrilling. The remaining second half followed suite as she radiated what must be an endless array of vocal color. Always. she continued to exert her presence as a singer-actor. 

In regards to her formidable singer-actor expertise, she appeared to “like” herself on stage as opposed to “loving” herself onstage. The ‘message and the music’ always remained more significant than the ‘messenger.’  There were no comedic rolling eyes, no over rehearsed grand gestures, no startling caesuras.

Instead, there was perfection: a beautiful woman, a gorgeous voice, a sensitive piano accompaniment and a performance that, from start to finish, was honest, admirable, intelligent and endearing.  A performance in which she, after of more than two and a half hours, left her audience screaming for more.  Perfection, after all, has its rewards.

A biographical note:
Antonacci was born in Ferrara, Italy. Her father was a judge and her mother a psychiatrist.  She began her career at the age of 19 in the Bologna opera chorus.  She came to prominence a decade later via some prestigious competition wins.

According to her biography, she embraces both soprano and mezzo-soprano roles enabling her to perform many works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries including Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, Gluck and Mozart.  he is an acclaimed interpreter of Rossini. She records for Naive in Paris.  She has been awarded the'Chevalier de ll'Ordre National de la Legion d'honneur' by the French republic, which is the highest national distinction one can receive. Her recording label is Naïve. She resides in Paris with her son.

(For The City Wire’s coverage and photos of a private post-performance reception, go here)