Sonya Yoncheva The Verdi AlbumSonya Yoncheva

The Verdi Album

Münchner Rundfunkorchester

Massimo Zanetti, conductor

Sony, 2018

Sonya Yoncheva is about to become one of the leading sopranos of her generation. She sings in many important theatres all over the world and her repertoire is boundless, but sometimes it seems disordered. One year after the Handel album, the Bulgarian soprano devotes her new work to Giuseppe Verdi and his heroines with a selection of nine arias from popular operas as Il Trovatore, Otello and Don Carlo as well as rare gems as Lina’s aria from Stiffelio.

While leaving aside every consideration on the strange combination of two repertoires that have nothing in common with each other in a very short lapse of time, I have to admit that this is not the first time I wondered about Yoncheva’s choices of repertoire. She seems one of those singers who is eager to sing all that it is possible to sing – and the sooner, the better.

Of course, I have to suppose she knows what she is doing. And yet, when one listens to a recording which was widely publicized as if it had to offer new operatic wonders and ends up listening to a performance which is just good at best, the first thought that comes to mind is that the inconsiderate mix of repertoires has perhaps taken its toll on Yoncheva’s voice. I was not particularly enthused by her Handel album too, but in The Verdi Album it seems that things got worse.

What is more striking is Yoncheva’s weariness and strain. Ironically, these arias stress better her flaws rather than her strong points. She is often short of breath and this leads her to breathlessness at the end of an aria as Pace, mio Dio, where the tempo is drastically slowed down by the conductor, and in the cabaletta Salgo già il trono aurato, where it seems that Yoncheva’s vocal flexibility is severely tested. Moreover, there are some technical flaws that do not go unnoticed.

Even though Yoncheva’s voice has a quite beautiful timbre, her skill does not match it. Her low register is generally weak, as it can be heard at the end of the aria from Luisa Miller. In some passages, especially when she hits a high note, her voice becomes thick (listen to the middle section of the aria from Attila) and her high notes, which are often not in tune, are rather shrill. Overall, it seems that her registers do not connect smoothly.

I had the impression that it is precisely to cover up her flaws that Yoncheva focuses excessively on the choice of accents, but her emphasis is usually misplaced. Not everything is negative, anyway. There are some nice choices as the radiant “sorridon gli astir e il mare” (“the stars and the sea glimmer”) in Come in quest’ora bruna from Simon Boccanegra and in general the lyrical passages (listen to Anch’io dischiuso un giorno, for example) and arias as Ave Maria from Otello and Tu che le vanità from Don Carlo are among the best parts of the recording. In short, it is where the lyricism of the piece allows more relaxed expression that Yoncheva appears at her best, despite the fact that even these pieces are not absolute gems.

And yet, to choose appropriate accents you need to have a good pronunciation and to have a vague idea of what you are singing. Sometimes, this does not happens. There are passages where it seems that Yoncheva completely forgets the pronunciation of the Italian language and where her expression is completely separated from music. This is the case of the cabaletta Di tale amor che dirsi, where Yoncheva completely avoids to the articulate the words, but this category may also include the incomprehensible decision to skip the penultimate “Maledizione!” at the end of Pace, mio Dio, maybe trying to emphasize the sentence.

In addition to all this, it must be added that the album is rather monotonous for Yoncheva’s lack of temperament. Verdi’s heroines are dull, flat characters who, despite Yoncheva’s efforts, are not different from each other.

Massimo Zanetti’s conduction is as unsatisfactory as Yoncheva’s performance and actually it is even more wasteful and inconclusive. Apart from the choice of tempos, which is unbearably slow, Zanetti seems to have no idea of what he is doing. Instead of helping the singer, he is completely indifferent to her and follows indefectibly his own path.

In the end, Sonya Yoncheva’s Verdi Album is a recording where it is impossible to find coherency from any point of view. The few positive aspects are definitely not remarkable nor qualitatively important and weaknesses appear at every moment. If this was intended as a recording of ourtstanding performances of Verdi’s arias, it has completely failed; if it was the occasion to display Yoncheva’s virtuosity, this should be considered a missed opportunity.

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