Sonya Yoncheva has been making something of a splash, winning accolades for her intense dramatic skills as well as for her impressive vocal abilities. As heard live, the voice has amplitude and an alluring plangent and dark quality allied to a formidable technique. This recital for Sony presents some of the great arias from Verdi’s soprano lead-roles and should have been a great opportunity to display all the aforementioned qualities.
The characters depicted here are varied in their outlook and predicaments and the arias touch on a varying array of emotions. Yet, Yoncheva’s delivery makes them all sound rather uniform and the emotional temperature is generalised: one needs to be taken straight to the heart of the matter and to have imprinted some individuality of utterance. Yoncheva doesn’t pull off those feats often enough.
This isn’t to say that there are not some lovely things to savour. From Otello we get the ‘Ave Maria’ if not the ‘Willow Song’. Massimo Zanetti and the orchestra build up the anxious atmosphere of Desdemona’s chamber effectively and then Yoncheva articulates the first lines with great poise, admirable diction and word-pointing, and sings in a meltingly lovely mezza-voce with a strong sense of foreboding. In the Stiffelio extract, the heroine, Lina, expresses her anxieties about confessing to her husband-priest about her infidelity and then prays to God for forgiveness. Yoncheva catches the sense of panic of this unhappy lady very well. However, at the climax the voice develops a slight spread and a distinct edginess above the stave, and when vibrato is applied it is less controlled than elsewhere, if also a flaw at other times, and sometimes on the highest notes the recording exposes this to the extent that the singer sounds uncomfortable or pushed.
The other cavil is a lack of interpretative imagination at times, even in roles that Yoncheva has performed in the theatre. The final-Act aria, ‘Tu che le vanità’ from Don Carlo, is an instance. The phrasing isn’t always as elegant as it might be and she sounds distinctly stretched – there’s little evidence of a sense of expectation or vision applied to the text. In ‘Pace! Pace, mio Dio!’ from La forza del destino the tone quality has the right colours for the despairing Leonora, but the lack of dynamic variation or illumination of the words ultimately means that the character’s declaration of terror as she hears someone approach is much like what has gone before.
The Munich Radio Orchestra produces some fine playing, woodwinds and lower strings especially, and Zanetti’s conducting is supportive to the singer but he also suffers from a lack of imagination, and surely he should have insisted that all of the cabalettas were delivered complete. Verdi knew what he wanted! The booklet includes texts and translations.