Recordings > Recital

Sonya Yoncheva: "Handel Arias"

CD Button Academia Montis Regalis, de Marchi. Texts and translations. Sony 88985302932

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THE MET HAS MADE an investment in the versatility of the Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva. Next season, the house will present her in disparate roles by Puccini and Verdi. Her Handel recital widens the circle even more, but if the question is whether Yoncheva will manage to adapt her voice to differing musical styles, the answer is she’s not even going to try. Rather, she has found an approach to singing that reflects the way she feels her voice sounds its best, and she simply applies this to the repertoire at hand. Certainly any listener who finds her tone beautiful, or who feels specifically that beauty in an operatic aria can exist outside of interpretation, will find things to enjoy here. But the extreme variety of expression found in Handel’s vocal music is not served by these performances. 

Yoncheva’s tone has its attractions. It’s a little bittersweet, has a lightly throbbing sound and always gives the impression of strength. But in “Ah, mio cor,” from Alcina, neither singer nor orchestra has committed to a specific interpretation; with so many da capo arias on the program, Yoncheva curiously never offers us anything new in the repeated material. This is most damaging in “Ogni vento,” from Agrippina, which at first is a musical and capable performance but then never develops. Her basic approach makes for something a little unusual in Morgana’s “Tornami a vagheggiar,” from Alcina, which emerges laid-back, almost postcoital. It’s alluring in its own way, but it has an all-the-modern-conveniences surface. Cleopatra’s entrance aria from Giulio Cesare has appropriate teasing quality. But Dido’s “When I am laid in earth” (a bonus selection by Purcell) seems like death reduced to a piece of performance art. 

Sonya’s presentation is of a piece with the soprano’s prerogative. Yoncheva, at least as recorded here, blithely obliterates her duet partner Karine Deshayes in two selections. The orchestra, Academia Montis Regalis, is a period ensemble, but the close miking, use of vibrato and generous acoustic give the instrumental music a middle-of-the-road quality. The famous “Lascia ch’io pianga,” in its faux grandeur, emerges from both soprano and instruments as a Stokowskian effusion. And, indeed, everything here is a famous aria; but there’s no sense that Yoncheva has much interest in the actual dramatic situations of the roles from which these thrice-familiar pieces come.  —William R. Braun 

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