Soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci was last seen in San Francisco during the Summer 2015 season of the San Francisco Opera (SFO), when she sang in two of the three operas presented during that portion of the subscription season. She was there when the Summer 2015 segment began, singing the role of Cassandre in Hector Berlioz’ Les Troyens (the Trojans); and she then went on to perform in the world premiere of Marco Tutino’s Two Women, in which she sang the role of Cesira. Next month she will return, this time to present the second of the four productions in the second season of SF Opera Lab. These are the more exploratory offerings that SFO is presenting in the Taube Atrium Theater of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera. Antonacci will be joined by Donald Sulzen, who will accompany all of her performances at the piano.
The major offering Antonacci has prepared will be Francis Poulenc’s one-act opera “La voix humaine,” whose libretto closely follows the play of the same name by Jean Cocteau. Cocteau conceived of his script as one side of a conversation: a woman is conversing with her lover, whose attentions have turned to someone else. Poulenc used his score not only to do justice to Cocteau’s words but also to explore both the narrative’s setting and the protagonist’s interior thoughts through the instrumental accompaniment. The score was originally written for soprano and piano, completed on June 2, 1958. Poulenc then prepared an orchestration, which he finished almost exactly two months later. For her recital, Antonacci will sing the original voice-and-piano version.
“La voix humaine” will be performed after an intermission, which will be preceded by a more conventional art song recital. Poulenc will also be part of this portion with his 1950 seven-part song cycle La Fraîcheur et le feu (the cool and the fire), settings of poems by Paul Éluard that the composer dedicated to Igor Stravinsky. The Poulenc selection will be preceded by Claude Debussy’s 1897 setting of three of the erotic lesbian poems collected by Pierre Louÿs under the title The Songs of Bilitis. Louÿs claimed that these were translations of original poetry in Ancient Greek, but the sources have never been identified. (In 1900 Debussy created Musique de scène pour les chansons de bilitis, instrumental “interludes,” scored for two flutes, two harps, and celesta, intended to introduce recitations of twelve of Louÿs’ poems. Six of these were rescored for piano four hands and published under the title Épigraphes Antiques in 1914.) Antonacci will begin her recital with “La mort d’Ophélie” (the death of Ophelia), the second of the three Tristia (Opus 18) songs composed in 1849 by Hector Berlioz to set texts from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera is located on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building. The street address is 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. General admission will be $95. There will be three performances, all taking place at 8 p.m. on March 11, March 14, and March 17, respectively. Tickets for all dates may be purchased through the SF Opera Lab Web site.