Sonya Yoncheva, heart set on La Traviata

by Rino Alessi

The authoritative “Le Monde” claims a star is born: it is Sonya Yoncheva, in “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Opéra Bastille.

The Bulgarian artist was born in Plovdiv thirty-one years ago; she completed her education in her country, but is definitely a citizen of the world. We met her in Paris, as she was about to leave Andrei Serban’s production of Donizetti’s masterpiece, to take on the role of another favorite heroine, Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata”. Two iconic roles in the Italian operatic repertoire – usually the crowning of a stage career and not a starting point – in the same season: what a challenge!

“When I was offered a debut in ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ at the Bastille, fear got ahold of me. It was a new role for me, quite different from the parts I usually take. I had thought about it, but never really imagined the opportunity would present itself…” What do you mean? “First of all there is the technical complexity of the role. And then the fear of a debut in a difficult location like the Bastille. I was used to Violetta, and Lucia is like a ‘Traviata’ in reverse: she begins in the middle register, is a true lyric soprano in the duet with her brother, and finally is required some vocal acrobatics in the mad scene…”

Vocal acrobatics that match the acting challenges faced by the leading character of this tragic opera, who in the famous mad scene must strike an invisible, perfect balance: “No one could tell me how to act in such a demanding scene. Luckily the director was with me every step of the way, and during rehearsals I was able to absorb the concepts he wanted to convey, and I finally took the plunge”.

Meanwhile, you are going back to “La Traviata”… “It is indeed my great love. I know all sopranos say that, but it’s absolutely true. Violetta swept me off my feet when I read ‘The Lady of the Camellias’ by Alexandre Dumas, fils. Once I was in Paris, I tried to find out everything I could about the woman who inspired the story: I found out online what her doctors prescribed her, and looked for the places where she bought her medicines. I researched her story to get a better feel of her personality and of her lover’s, Dumas himself”.

What is your relationship with Italy? “I am connected to Italy in many ways. My partner is an Italian tenor, Domenico Menini. We met in Madrid while performing in Donizetti’s ‘Don Pasquale’, and we moved in together five years ago. He is an educated, caring, smart man, who is able to make anyone feel at ease. And he taught me Italian”.

Any other connections? “I won Operalia in 2010, at La Scala – the temple of opera for any fan of the genre. Winning was a surprise: I had rehearsed five arias and just gave it my all. Sometimes improvisation works! Operalia came at the right moment, as I wanted to move away from the baroque repertoire for which William Christie had chosen me”.

You recently debuted at the Verona Arena as well: “Yes, during a wonderful gala evening celebrating both the two-hundred-year anniversary of Verdi’s birth and the centennial of the Arena. I sang Gilda in ‘Rigoletto’, a character I will soon perform at the Metropolitan as well. Being in that huge open-air theater, wondering how the public was going to see me, or more importantly hear me, really gave me a sense of the unique quality of that amazing location”.

Italian by love, Swiss by residence, Parisian by passion, Sonya Yoncheva will return to Italy for her first CD of Italian opera arias, “which will be recorded in Italy, with Daniel Oren conducting one of the greatest Italian orchestras”.

She will also be in Italy for Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater”, also conducted by Oren, which will take her back to her Slavic origins and make her temporarily step away from ‘bel canto’: “I am not necessarily devoted to that tradition: my aim is not to impress the audience with my technical skills, but to interpret the characters with my voice, my personality, and the passion for music that comes from my mother”.

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