I must admit that I was only dimly aware of Anna Caterina Antonacci prior to her current "Best Kept European Secret...in America" tour, which, following a deliriously praised show at Alice Tully over the weekend, culminated in a stop at the Kennedy Center last night presented by Vocal Arts DC.
The hype is to be believed.
A series of French songs by Faure and Hahn opened the program, providing a showcase for her rather unique sound. Its appeal is partly a function of a remarkable consistency throughout her range, but also its variable character--a cutting, at times bitter edge alternates with moments of gentle sweetness. While elegantly sung and a pleasure to hear, by the eighth or ninth outing, these were verging on the nondescript.
And so I found myself quite unprepared for the revelation that took hold upon the program's transition to the more character driven Italian songs that filled out the remainder of the program.
Starting with a series of wry, picturesque Hahn songs about Venice and moving through highlights including Respighi's Cinque canti all'antica and Tosti's Quatro canzoni d'Amaranta, Antonacci demonstrated a nearly preternatural communicative ability. Every line she sings, even in material largely unknown (to me at least) and sometimes decidedly marginal, comes alive with an irresistible intensity and purpose. Truly, she possesses that most precious of qualities in a singer--to have voice follow text, rather than the other way around.
Encores were topped off with a disarmingly earnest rendition of "Moon River" (which I note was not given in New York--DC, you have a reputation).
Her collaborator, Donald Sulzen, proved an ideal partner for her gifts. The sensitivity and nuance with which he followed Antonacci's subtle shadings of tempo and character (seriously people, like Avatar-style) allowed him to manage that ever challenging balance of making a robust impression in the piano while appearing effortlessly complementary to the singer.
See more: the Ionarts review, Tommassini's rave from last Sunday that all the olds in my elevator were talking about, Zachary Woolfe's preview, a delightful old school Parterre page that is still apparently her top hit on Google.