In a relatively rare performance outside of Europe, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci stars in SF Opera Lab’s second presentation this season – La Voix humaine (The Human Voice) which has just opened at the Taube Atrium Theater. Performing one of her most celebrated roles, she sings Elle in Francis Poulenc’s 1958 monodrama, based on a play by Jean Cocteau, which revolves around the final telephone conversation between a desperate woman and the lover who is about to reject her. Ms Antonacci is accompanied by pianist Donald Sulzen.
It’s a demanding role, both vocally and dramatically, and Ms Antonacci is regarded as one of its finest interpreters. Following a recent performance, The Los Angeles Times described her as “A dramatically commanding soprano” and “an exceptional stage presence”. Opera News wrote that she “applied her enormous palette of vocal colors and inflections to portray, with an almost unbearably lifelike immediacy, a woman losing control”, and The New York Times referred to her “remarkable talent” as “a suspension between artifice and naturalness, theatricality and subtlety”.
It’s because of Ms Antonacci’s superb vocal and dramatic skills that she has won international acclaim for her performances in a wide-ranging repertoire. She has appeared in opera houses such as The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, La Scala Milan, Teatro Regio in Turin, the Théâtre du Châtelet and the Théâtre des Champs-Elysees in Paris – and with conductors such as Antonio Pappano, John Eliot Gardner, Yannick Nézét-Seguin. She has also appeared with San Francisco Opera on four previous occasions, her two most recent performances, in 2015, having been as Cassandre in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, led by Donald Runnicles, and as Cesira in the world premiere of Marco Tuttino’s Two Women, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.
This SF Opera Lab production also features Ms Antonacci in performances of Berlioz’s La mort d’Ophélie (The Death of Ophelia) and a selection of French art songs, which includes Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis, set to poems by Pierre Louÿs, and the song cycle La fraîcheur et le feu (The Cool and the Fire), by Poulenc, which he dedicated to Igor Stravinsky.
Donald Sulzen – whose playing has been described by The New York Times as “graceful and articulate” – has not only collaborated with some of the most celebrated singers, but he also performs in recital halls across Europe, South America and Japan, as well as in the United States. He has taught for a number of years at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and is a professor for the instruction of song duos at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Munich.
SF Opera Lab presents Anna Caterina Antonacci, with pianist Donald Sulzen, in La Voix humaine in the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater at the Diane B Wilsey Center for Opera, on March 14 and 17. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.
San Francisco Opera program notes