Sonya Yoncheva: Paris, mon amour (Sony)
“A last minute sensation!” screamed The New York Times about Sonya Yoncheva, stepping in at short notice as Mimì in The Metropolitan Opera’s La bohème last autumn. “She is the real deal.” London and Vienna were slightly ahead of New York. Step-ins at Covent Garden and the Staatsoper (for Anna Netrebko, who’d decided that Marguerite was no longer suitable for her) were met deliriously last spring. In London, Yoncheva was easily the brightest star of a starry show. Yet Paris was ahead of the game. The Bulgarian soprano had scored significant successes as Leïla (Les Pêcheurs de perles) at the Opéra Comique and in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Bastille. Yoncheva has made Paris her home, so it’s fitting that her debut album celebrates that city with a selection of French arias from La Belle Époque.
Yoncheva’s creamy lyric soprano is fabulous, with a glint of steel in the upper register and athletic agility. Her fabulous tone is reminiscent of a young Angela Gheorghiu, particularly in her expansive phrasing. La bohème and La traviata appear in the programme, courtesy of their Parisian settings. In the finale to Act I from La traviata, Yoncheva breathes life into the recitative and displays exquisite pianissimi in “Ah, fors’ è lui” (no second verse, alas), shading the phrase “delizia al cor” with a wistful sigh. “Sempre libera” is a little too careful, lacking some of the giddy emotion required here, with coloratura that glides legato through some of the coloratura in the closing pages. She’s currently singing La traviata all over the world and could easily develop into one of the great Violettas. Likewise, her Mimì. “Donde lieta uscì” is simply ravishing.
The tessitura of “Ô ma lyre immortelle” from Gounod’s Sapho arguably lies a little low for her, but she sings it with great emotion, as she does Antonia’s aria from Hoffmann. The real star turns on the disc, however, are three Massenet numbers. Chimène’s “Pleurez! pleurez, mes yeux” from Le Cid shows subtlety for dynamic shading, accompanied by some fine clarinet solos in the recitative. Salomé’s “Il est doux, il est bon” from Hérodiade is radiant and impassioned, while the final duet from Thaïs, with baritone Étienne Dupuis, is scorching.
The revelation is the fragile, charming aria from Messager’s Madame Chrysanthème, showing Yoncheva’s mastery of limpid lines. The disc is completed, appropriately, by “Ô Paris, gai séjour” from Lecocq’s Les Cents Vierges, a delightful bonne bouche after heavier fare. Frédéric Chaslin and the Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana provide suave support.
Refreshingly, the booklet features an essay focusing on the repertoire, with texts and translations, but no biography flannel about the performer. Here’s a soprano who can let her performances do the talking…
Sony 88875017202 (56 minutes)