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Sonya Yoncheva - the Bulgarian opera voice from the world stages

"It has always been a privilege for me to say that I am Bulgarian"

Photo: BGNES

Often times, when we talk about Bulgaria, the dividing line between "before" and "now" creeps in - in political, social and historical terms. But something in which Bulgaria has been undeniably present without division and periods is the world history of operatic art. Boris Christoff, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Nicola Ghiuselev, Ghena Dimitrova, Raina Kabaivanska, Alexandrina Pendatchanska... – some of the Bulgarian voices that marked the immortality of opera. Before, now and forever! Among them, with the demeanor of a real diva and the humility of a great talent, in the last nearly two decades stands the Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva.‎

"It has always been a privilege for me to say that I am Bulgarian, where I come from and what I have in me. For me to play this small role, through my career, in the history of Bulgarian classical music is a huge privilege", the world-famous soprano said during her last visit to her homeland a few days ago. The occasion for it was her debut participation in a complete performance on the stage of the Sofia National Opera.

A full 12 years after her first concert in front of her native audience and long months of negotiation and coordination with her work schedule, Sonya Yoncheva performed the role of Mimi from Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème on the Bulgarian stage

It was her debut in this role in 2014 that brought Sonya Yoncheva to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, followed by appearances at the Paris Opera, La Scala, Berlin Staatsoper and the Bavarian Opera in Munich. ‎

Sonya Yoncheva is the "perfect Mimi", wrote the world critics, and the Bulgarian public was convinced of this at the beginning of March. Yoncheva arrived here after participating in a production of Luigi Cherubini's Medea at the Milan Scala and Puccini's Madama Butterfly at the Staatsoper Berlin.‎

"It is a real honor for me to share this moment with my very good friend, maestro Boyan Videnov, the conductor of the production (who lives in Italy - note ed.). I also want to say how important it is for me to share the stage with another friend of mine - Bozhidar Bozhilov, whom I met in 2020, when I decided to make a contest for Bulgarian voices and see who are today's talents. As you know, I am very involved in this direction and I want the future of the Bulgarian opera will be secured, and Bozhidar, from the very first time I heard his voice, I understood that he is a great talent," said Sonya Yoncheva during her meeting with journalists in Sofia. ‎

As for the global success, she replied with her charming smile that she neither seeks nor fights for it. "I've let it come whenever it wants," the singer admitted. ‎

"For me, my success has never been just mine. It belongs to everyone else around me. That's why I work in the opera, because it's a huge machine of exceptional artists who breathe, work, live for two hours at one and the same stage. It's really unique." ‎

"In addition to singing, I'm also a big fan of the human voice," added Yoncheva. "I believe that it really is a mirror of our soul. Even my career ‎started because I fell in love with the voice of a singer whose name I don't even know. I was a little girl, 14-15 years old, when I used to sing in a choir and she came as a soloist and her voice was so beautiful that I practically started singing professionally because of her. If she ever hears this story, I beg her to contact me. This love of sound and the timbre of the human voice, which is so unique to each of us, made me organize the series of concerts Intimate Voices in Sofia's Bulgaria Hall. World artists sing in it songs from their soul and from their countries in front of the Bulgarian audience. I adore music in its entire palette", Yoncheva also admits. 

"I think that music as art manages to name all our states, to penetrate our psychology in such a deep way that we no longer need words to express ourselves. Because of that, there have never been any boundaries in me when it comes to music. And I think it's very important that children study the art of music and find themselves through it."

Vittorio Grigolo, Rolando Villazon, Piotr Beczała and Joyce DiDonato will be the stars of the second Sofia season of Intimate Voices which starts in October 2024. What's more, the event will also have its second home - the prestigious Victoria Hall in Geneva, where concerts presented for the first time in Bulgaria will be also heard. The idea for this belongs to the two children of the famous soprano - in order for them to be able to attend her projects, she organizes them where they live. And in just a few months, Sonya Yoncheva will present a new program to an audience in Germany. ‎

"I have a project in Baden-Baden in four months, which is called "The Singing Actress" - a program with film music from the 1930s to the present day. The conductor will be maestro Nayden Todorov. I have collected very beautiful music from films that my grandfather told me about that my grandmother used to sing in front of the mirror. There is also a song from the Bulgarian cinema - Mimi Nikolova's "Hush, Hush" from the movie "Lyubimets 13". This project has been in in my head for many years, but now the time has come to realize it. I continue this approach, not only mine, but also that of my colleagues, to unite genres and thus glorify classical and operatic music."‎

And the diva's dream role is still as close as it is far: ‎

"I have a great deal of sympathy for Richard Strauss's Salome, but I know that at the moment I cannot perform it. So, it remains like a yearning in my soul, because Salome is so young, so energetic and erotic, which is inherent in madness, in youth, and at the same time requires such a strong and extremely experienced voice. I'm not vocally ready for her, but she remains in my dreams. I remember the words of a woman who worked with me when I was very young, she told me: "In this profession you need to learn to have patience. That is the greatest quality". There have been repertoires that I have rushed into, but it was a very well-calculated risk on my part. And I have never allowed myself to overexploit this instrument that lives in my body," admits the Bulgarian soprano. ‎

This vocal wisdom, as she calls it, makes her very responsible ‎and honest with the gift she has and also "aware of her voice" on a daily basis. And the lady with the valuable advice, Yoncheva admits, is Plácido Domingo's wife - Marta Ornelas. ‎

In the summer of this year, the opera prima will be a guest in two titles at the festival "Opera in the Summer Theater" in Bulgaria's Varna on the Black Sea. On August 6 with a production of La Bohème with conductor Krastin Nastev and on August 10 with a production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut under the baton of maestro Nayden Todorov and with the participation of the famous Armenian tenor Arsen Soghomonyan. 

On December 4, 2024, Sonya Yoncheva will return to Sofia for her next participation in Intimate Voices with the song recital "Ad una Stella" with piano accompaniment, a project which has already enjoyed great success around the world.

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Photos: BGNES, Facebook/Sonya Yoncheva

English publication by Rositsa Petkova

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