Two Unsung Singers: Anna Caterina Antonacci and Daniela Barcellona

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Each spring Opera News devotes a travel issue to one country. These issues are always “keepers” because they go into great detail and often have profiles of singers its readers might not know. This year the June Opera News is all about Italy. I have a little story about a group of 27 passionate Verdi lovers in Parma and there are several large articles about the current state of opera in Italy as well as coverage of prominent Italians at work in opera.

In my very first post on this blog, I mentioned that I would occasionally direct you to singers I feel deserve your attention. As it happens, the two whom I mentioned get a lot of coverage in the current Opera News. Because magazines plan their coverage far ahead of time, articles that included Anna Caterina Antonacci and Daniela Barcellona were probably completed before I wrote my blog post. I had no idea they would be featured, so this is pure blissful coincidence. I hope this groundswell will bring them to the USA. At the moment, there are few top Italian female singers known to international audiences: Barbara Frittoli, Daniela Dessì and Cecilia Bartoli come to mind and only Frittoli has a regular presence in American opera houses.

Anna Caterina Antonacci is on the cover of the magazine and there is an interesting profile of her. She is asked why she has never sung at the Met and says she does not really have an answer. Her voice is in the range of high mezzo/low soprano, allowing her to select roles that particularly suit her rather than sticking to repertory in one vocal category. She is a superb Carmen, and the Met could always present her in its excellent current production. Here she is in a rough-and-tumble performance with Jonas Kaufmann of the final scene

If the company revives Berlioz’s Les Troyens, as expected, in 2013, with Susan Graham and Marcello Giordani as Didon and Enée, Antonacci’s outstanding take on Cassandre would be most welcome. 

I think that Cherubini’s thrilling Medea is ready to be performed at the Met, and Antonacci’s performance is the stuff of legend for those who have seen it. She and Giuseppe Filianoti make a great team as Medea and Jason. Note that this clip is from Italian television, where operas are taught by a presenter:

Daniela Barcellona is little known in North America although she is the leading mezzo at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro and much admired in major European houses.  She does have a brief history at the Met, having sung Maddalena in Act III of Rigoletto that was part of a Verdi gala that opened the 2001-2002 season less than two weeks after the tragic events of 9/11. There was a new production of Bellini’s Norma in October with Jane Eaglen in the title role. Dolora Zajick was a wonderful Adalgisa and Barcellona took over for two performances. If memory serves, one was scheduled but the other was at the last minute. This production was dull, Eaglen was not in her best vocal shape, everything felt thrown together and without musical coherence, and the conducting by Carlo Rizzi did not help. And anyone who lived in New York then recalls that the city was still dealing with all kinds of crises. So it was not a felicitous time for Barcellona to make the kind of debut she has in most other opera capitals.

The Met has been admirably expanding its bel canto offerings in recent years and there are three works by Rossini I would love to see join the repertory. Tancredi, La Donna del Lago and Guillaume Tell, which is more of a grand opera than the other two.  The two former operas are both perfect vehicles for Barcellona’s strengths. Word on the operatic street is that the Met will co-produce, with Covent Garden, a new La Donna del Lago in the 2014-2015 season. I would love to hear Joyce DiDonato as Elena and Barcellona as Malcolm, roles they have already performed together.

While some fans like Polish contralto Ewa Podlés as Tancredi, I would prefer Barcellona. While she does not hit some of the deep chest notes of Podlés, her overall performance is much more credible. She makes sense of the words, sings as Rossini wrote it, and is entirely believable as a young man in love. Watch her sing “Di tanti palpiti” from Tancredi.

Weigh in: What active singer do you feel has not received the recognition he or she deserves?