Opera + Classical Music Reviews

The English Concert/Bicket/Antonacci @ Wigmore Hall, London

26 January 2009

Anna Caterina Antonacci is perhaps best known to the London music public for her deliciously sexy Carmen at Covent Garden a couple of years ago.

An artist of exceptional range, she gave a spell-binding performance in Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento, as the first of two recitals at Wigmore Hall.

First to say, this concert is repeated on Thursday 29 January and you are recommended to get straight to the box office and snap up any remaining tickets. Antonacci is as striking a presence on the concert platform as in the opera house: handsome, intense and richly-toned, with an impeccable presentation that draws you into her world. In Monteverdi’s 30 minute meditation on the battle of the sexes, she painted a vividly exciting picture of the clashing, banging and withdrawal of warring bodies, playing all three characters from memory.

Based on Tasso and set during the Crusades, the work describes the contest between Tancredi and Clorinda, the latter a maid disguised as a Saracen, the former unaware that he is really going face to face and spleen to spleen with a woman. Antonacci left us in no doubt that the real meaning lies in the coming together, and frequent retreats to re-arm, of the sexes in the everyday battle of wills and desires. It’s a wonderfully descriptive piece and she brought just the right degree of theatricality to it (she has played the piece in a staged version, captured on her disc Era la notte).

Antonacci has succeeded in a number of roles that are more usually associated with mezzos Carmen and Cassandre among them and there’s a profundity and darkness to her voice that really mines the emotional depths. In the first half of the evening, the singer had mesmerised in Barbara Strozzi’s deeply imploring Lagrime mie. The composer, a pupil of Francesco Cavalli, was one of the few women to mark her mark in the field in the 17th Century.

The rest of the programme was made up with a number of sonatas by early composers Dario Castello, Biagio Marini and Carlo Farina, nimbly played by Harry Bicket’s The English Concert. Delightful stuff to be sure, with Farina’s extraordinary Capriccio stravaganze providing a wonderfully entertaining show-piece.

With sounds that could comfortably have a place in any 20th Century work, this loosely programmatic piece describes animals scrapping, military manoeuvrings and the strumming of a Spanish guitar. It’s guaranteed to raise a few smiles and the nine musicians, led by Bicket on keyboard and Nadja Zwiener’s sharp violin playing, kept the audience enrapt. All in all, a delightful and uplifting evening.

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