I don’t know how to say this, but Anna Caterina Antonacci is one of the most puzzling singers I have ever seen/heard. My first encounter was the video of Rossini’s Ermione from Glyndenbourne. The acting is impressive, but the voice itself had a glittery quality that I found irresistibly sexy.
Then she became a mezzo-soprano. In her early soprano days, one could see that her top notes were a bit glassy and that she seemed a bit on a tight rope on high-lying passages, but the sound itself was always firm and full. In any case, it made some sense her shifting into mezzo-soprano territory. Moreover, with her ease with coloratura, she could make a stunning impression in roles such as Angelina or Rosina. But that was not meant to be. If I am not mistaken, her most significant recording those days was a (very good) Marcellina for Abbado (Le Nozze di Figaro). Recently I could listen to a Youtube clip of her Rondo finale from La Cenerentola – she deals with her scales superbly, but the sound is a bit on the slim side and the overall impression was of overseriousness.
The vocally unremarkable Donna Elvira in Muti’s DVD from Vienna could be understood as the threshold to her Falcon (or something Zwischenfach like that) roles – Cassandre, Marguerite (La Damnation de Faust), parts that boosted her intense dramatic qualities, but here the voice does not feature the nobility of someone like Régine Crespin. Then we had lyric roles, such as Rachel in La Juïve or Anna in Hans Heiling, in which an absence of sweetness in the tone was a serious liability (compensated, of course, by superb acting and good looks).
Finally, I remember an interview in which she says she had been working on technique and that she was now comfortable with her top notes and ready to tackle echt soprano repertoire. Although I still miss the extra tonal sheen of her early days, the voice now has a kind of disturbing sensuousness that has nothing to do with prettiness (the more similar case that comes to my mind is also a singer who had a pendular career between soprano and mezzo: Waltraud Meier).
Her Carmen, for example, is beyond any doubt an important impersonation – there is nothing obvious about her sex-appeal; it has a spicy unloveliness that is in the core of what Carmen should be. Handel’s Agrippina was also an example of chic vocalization – one of the most fascinating performances in a Handel opera in a while. Then there was the amazing Vitellia from Geneva – again the sound itself says everything – there is this bitchiness only a gorgeous looking woman used to have everyone at her feet can produce. And also – perfectly connected registers, fluent divisions and a decent high d. I read she is thinking of Elettra (in Idomeneo) – I find that a real stretch for her, but she has made a career out of surprising, hasn’t she?