"I'm a very natural person," says Sonya Yoncheva. Anyone who has ever seen the Bulgarian soprano onstage or listened to her recordings might well agree. Her lush lyric voice calls to mind the young Mirella Freni: you don’t hear her vocal mechanism—only a golden nimbus of sound. She is also a striking beauty, with dark eyes that project to the farthest reaches of the house. But when Yoncheva is in action, you’re aware less of her extraordinary gifts than of her humanity: it’s like you’re catching her in the act of being herself.
“Yes, your voice can be beautiful or technically prepared,” Yoncheva says in a phone conversation from her Geneva apartment. “But what comes out of your mouth should be connected to your personality. The voice is the expression of your soul. You allow people to go into yourself very deeply. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I wake up and say, ‘Oh, my God! I gave too much. I should be colder.’ But I can’t be. I’m just like this.”
Yoncheva’s Mimì, caught in an aircheck of a 2014 Met/Sirius Bohème broadcast, bears her words out. Her “Mi chiamano Mimì” is full of subtext. We hear in the seamstress’s catalogue of her quotidian existence an extraordinary emotional receptivity; the details matter less than the sense that she’s truly saying to Rodolfo, “Here I am.” As an utterly convincing Desdemona, in the Bartlett Sher production of Otello that opened the 2015–16 Met season, she seemed to be withholding nothing: this was a woman so guileless that her very presence proclaimed her innocence.
She projects the same kind of openness in conversation that she does onstage. Her voice is girlish and vivacious; an incipient giggle animates her words. She is unfailingly gracious, acting as if the interviewer were doing her the favor, rather than the other way around. But there’s nothing artificial about her solicitude: this is a woman who seeks to connect.
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