A Recital by Yoncheva Sister and Brother in Geneva

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Verdi, Sonya Yoncheva (soprano) and Marin Yonchev (tenor): Soloists, Geneva Chamber Orchestra / Francesco Ciampa (conductor), Théâtre des Nations, Geneva, 4.2.2018. (ALL)

Sonya Yoncheva (c) Kristian Schuller

Verdi – Arias and Overtures from Nabucco, Il trovatore, I Lombardi alla prima crociata, Luisa Miller, La forza del destino, Don Carlos, La traviata, Attila

Everyone had high expectations for this evening, but operatic recitals are notoriously difficult to pull off and the evening failed to fulfil.

It has been quite a long time since Sonya Yoncheva studied in Geneva where, like many students, she was part of the Geneva Grand Théâtre Chorus. She is now the celebrated singer we know, who has appeared on all major world stages. She was praised for recent performances of Tosca at the Met or Don Carlos in Paris.

It is easy to understand her appeal. Her voice is rich, has volume and bloom. Phrasing is musical, and she holds long lines easily. Her lower and middle register are strong, but she lacks what Solti would have called creamy high notes. She is not quite in her element when required to start on a piano high note.

The beginning of ‘Pace, pace, mio Dio’ from La forza del destino was well suited to her technique. So was the effortless cabaletta from Il trovatore’s ‘Tacea la note placida …’. There were a few hints of Callas-like mannerisms in her breathing. But where Callas found depths of characterisation, Yoncheva proved to be cold. Arias were delivered with competence but there was no effort at attempting drama. Where was Elisabeth’s resignation and suffering in the Don Carlos’s aria ‘Tu che la vanita …’ or Luisa Miller’s anguish in ‘Tu puniscimi, O Signore …’?

There was also no effort to reach out to the audience and perhaps also to the musicians on stage. Perhaps there was a disappointing, diva-like attitude, though, one that has not been shown by some of the leading sopranos of our time who have appeared in recital, such as Netrebko and Harteros.

Her brother was by her side, most prominently in Alfredo’s aria in the second act of La traviata. He smiled throughout, but his performance was sub-par in such a setting. Nepotism is associated with the current White House but we all know it has always existed in the musical world.

Francesco Ciampa stepped in for Diego Matheuz. It is difficult to say how much rehearsal time he had, and the Geneva Chamber Orchestra may not be the most Italianate ensemble that exists. However, the Italian conductor studied under Carlo Maria Giulini, which means he could not have had a better teacher for Verdi. The Swiss musicians lacked an Italian singing cantabile, but attention was paid to careful articulation and balance. More importantly, the conductor was keen to be at one with the soloists, matching naturally Yoncheva’s rubato. Ciampa’s teacher would have approved but would have felt that, on the whole, Verdi deserved better.

Antoine Lévy-Leboyer

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