The Multifaceted Anna Caterina Antonacci
San Francisco Opera is proud to welcome back Anna Caterina Antonacci. Acclaimed both for the arresting beauty of her voice and for a stage presence that rivets audiences, the versatile and fearless Italian soprano—born in Ferrara and raised in Bologna—spoke about the challenges and rewards of this latest role, Elle in Poulenc’s La Voix humaine.
What made you decide to perform the Poulenc opera with the set of French art songs, as if to warm up the audience for the tragedy to come?
ACA: It can be much more difficult to start with the deep torment and emotions of Poulenc’s La Voix humaine. I discovered that when the opera is put together with the songs by Berlioz, Debussy, and Poulenc, the way as I did it in New York, the public really loved it.
You face an unusual task with Voix in that you have to hold the stage all by yourself. How do you manage the many dramatic challenges of this particular opera?
ACA: When I started studying La Voix humaine musically and theatrically, I found the most useful inspiration was from the movies: I discovered an English version of the original Cocteau play, starring Ingrid Bergman [made for ABC Stage 67 in 1976], and it was a fantastic performance. You see only her [as Elle] and a dog in this room, and it gave me many ideas that helped me understand the Cocteau text better. I think for this piece you really need the help of a great actress.
Poulenc gives me a very special and unique way to be dramatic that doesn’t look like anything else. This is a very gratifying opportunity for me as an interpreter to show a large range of feelings and deep emotions.
Poulenc’s emotionally tormented Elle certainly allows for quite a bit of interpretation and ambiguity.
ACA: this story about an abandoned lover—Cocteau in fact originally wrote it based on a homosexual couple—is a universal one: it’s about the sorrow of a love being broken. A human being is left abandoned so the story involves the solitude and loneliness of breaking up—all those feelings people normally experience, which is why it is so moving.
Here, too, I initially worried that this might seem to be an old-fashioned story from the era before cell phones, that it wasn’t up to date. But in performing it I realized how the story is more like the myths of a Medea or Cassandra. It has not aged at all but has an eternal quality.