Last night, at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Anna Caterina Antonacci finished a long and successful run as Cassandra in Les Troyens. Two years ago she was in a very different situation playing Carmen at the Bastille. The Financial Times' one-star review was typical: “a costly mistake and an artistic disaster”.
I didn't believe in the concept by its director [Yves Beaunesne] at all, and not only because I didn't want to do Carmen in a different way, but because there wasn't any justification for what he was proposing; nothing that added to the opera or the character. I found myself working against my way of thinking, and I paid for it at the end with the negative reaction of the audiences for an interpretation that wasn't mine. I suffered from the very first day of rehearsals… my friends will back me up on that. After a couple of days in the rehearsal room I told them they'd be coming to see me in the worst possible production of this opera. I understood immediately where it was going and what its reception would be: thirty years of experience isn't for nothing.
Antonacci talked at length about Carmen and her career with Ilaria Badino for the magazine Musica.
We've seen plenty of versions moved chronologically forward which more or less have worked – though maybe [Beaunesne] didn't know that – but this production was completely ambiguous, nothing was clear from the beginning to the end… When I discovered that he was wanting a type of Marilyn Monroe as Carmen I knew it was useless to try to enter into a way of thinking that I couldn't possibly agree with… we were on two different planets.
Also the staging was completely wrong for a theatre as big as the Bastille for Beaunesne wanted an intimate, reflective characterisation, something that most of the public couldn't have had the possibility to pick up on: most of them saw just a distant blonde.
The always frank Antonacci also said how she hadn't really enjoyed working with either Riccardo Muti or Claudio Abbado.
Muti and Abbado were two giants and with them I certainly didn't feel comfortable or free. Remember that I've always had a great inferiority complex… so I felt as though I was unworthy to work with them. I was afraid. I can't say I ‘enjoyed' working with them even though, for example, Pizzi's production of Gluck's Armida, with Muti conducting, was wonderful, and looking back on it I think how much fun I could have had if that opportunity had come along ten years later.
Now I am more sure of myself, I have a more solid understanding of who I am, and I've discovered a repertoire that I like immensely.
Antonacci has sung in Les Troyens at both Covent Garden and La Scala under the baton of Antonio Pappano.
With Pappano I have a relationship where there is mutual respect: we've collaborated at Covent Garden on a Carmen and Les Troyens which are both extraordinary. With him, even though he is a great conductor and a great divo, I have never felt uneasy or unable to keep pace with him. He has a strong personality and possesses charismatic power, but he has a very human side. Abbado and Muti have, however, given La Scala some invaluable years, seasons that are unforgettable… there is no question about that!
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.