'La traviata' at The Metropolitan Opera

Sonya Yoncheva makes her greatly anticipated return to The Metropolitan Opera stage this season in a signature role, Violetta in Verdi's timeless La traviata. Performances take place February 24 and March 1, 4, 7, 11, 14 & 18 with a cast that also includes Michael Fabiano as Alfredo and Thomas Hampson as Germont. Nicola Luisotti leads the Met Opera Orchestra for all dates, which feature the iconic Willy Decker production that has graced stages across the globe.

Ms. Yoncheva's previous portrayal of Violetta at the Metropolitan Opera garnered tremendous acclaim from audiences and critics alike:

"In Willy Decker’s production of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” a painted backdrop of jewel-tone flowers looms over the second act ... It’s a scenic coup, but on Wednesday at the Metropolitan Opera, where the staging first arrived in 2010, there was a soprano in the leading role who could match it. As Violetta agreed to abandon her lover, Alfredo, in the wrenching “Dite alla giovine,” Sonya Yoncheva, a rising star, let the color slip out of her voice, leaving a thread of tone as whitened and melancholy as the flowers.

The effect was all the more poignant because Ms. Yoncheva was otherwise a Violetta of such irrepressible vitality and sensuality. While she was soft-grained and tender as Mimi in Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Met in November, here she was a woman more assured and headstrong ...

Like her Mimi, Ms. Yoncheva’s Violetta was a creation full of searching details. “No one in the world loves you,” Alfredo tells her in Act 1, and in her reply — “Nessun?” (“No one?”) — she conveyed both self-protective wit and deep sadness.

As Alfredo started his buoyant Act 2 aria “De’ miei bollenti spiriti,” Ms. Yoncheva, hiding behind a sofa, stared forward as if she’d seen a ghost. (Even at the height of happiness, she perceives her fate.) Yet this was not a performance merely of moments: Ms. Yoncheva’s voice, strong and faintly smoky, ebbs and flows over phrases, scenes and acts. She plays the long game." (The New York Times)

"My list of “dream” Violettas, those I found the most complete and compelling interpreters of this complex and protean role, has until now consisted of only two names: Angela Gheorghiu at the Met in 2006 and Diana Soviero three decades ago in New Orleans. As of only a week ago, Ms. Yoncheva has expanded that select group into a triumvirate.

A veteran opera fan—we’re talking lining up for hours in a blizzard to hear Zinka Milanov—once told me he can make up his mind about a Violetta by how she sings the opening phrase of the role, “Flora, amici, la notte che resta.” Ms. Yoncheva proved his point as her first notes rang out big, rich and complex, followed by a bracing plunge into chest register. In just a few seconds, she established the essence of Verdi’s doomed courtesan: impetuous, passionate and determined to live life to the fullest.

Ms. Yoncheva pours out her full, glamorous lyric soprano generously, but never as a mere display of beautiful sound. Her rhythmic attack is so crisp and fleet that at times it feels as if she is actually racing ahead of the music. The pensive aria “Ah fors’e lui” constantly surged forward, and the cabaletta “Sempre libera,” though taken at a sensibly moderate tempo, seemed to race without a pause for breath.

Though she did something memorable on practically every page of the score, two moments in particular stood out. In the second act, as she protested that losing her lover Alfredo would kill her, her agitated solo “Non sapete quale affetto” crackled with such desperation that the audience burst into applause mid-scene. Later, in the resigned “Addio, del passato,” she refined her tone into a thread of pure silver, as if renouncing worldly sensuality in preparation for death.

Fully inhabiting the eerie world of the demanding Willy Decker staging, she seemed to grasp what has eluded other artists who have performed in it since its debut here in 2010. In Decker’s vision, Violetta is irrevocably doomed from the first notes of the prelude; her victory is in how fervently she defies the inevitable. In movement and even in stillness, Ms. Yoncheva never stopped struggling against her fate, a hero, never a victim.

So much has this singer going on that it seems almost unfair she looks the part so perfectly too: youthful yet voluptuous. Even the sleek red cocktail dress Violetta sports in the party scenes seemed to cooperate, its straps slipping off her shoulders seductively." (Observer)