Features in Japan prior to appearances in Yokohama and Tokyo
Sonya Yoncheva will make her Japanese operatic debut as Tosca in Yokohama in September, following her enthusiastically received solo concert in Tokyo in 2022. Prior to the performances of Tosca in Yokohama and Tokyo and to her upcoming solo concert at the Bunka Kaikan Hall, several features in which Sonya speaks about Tosca, among other topics, have been published in Japanese. Here below you will find the links to the features and English versions of the interviews.
Japan Performing Arts Foundation website:
English version Bravo Magazine:
1. We are so looking forward to your Tosca at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma’s Japan tour, which is scheduled for September this year. I believe there is no other soprano who can sing Tosca better than Ms. Yoncheva. I’d be gtateful if you would kindly let us have your views about the character of the role and its difficulties. Also, what is your own expressions about the role, apart from other sopranos?
Tosca is a very interesting character. It’s one of my favorite parts and gives me a feeling of being very powerful and fragile at the same time when I am on stage. She is a beautiful character: incredibly young and this idea of imagining her as a young woman, totally in love, together with her qualities and her crazy nature as an artist, is what I think makes her so unpredictable or so honest in a way. When she says something she really means it, she’s not someone who is faking anything, even when she is jealous she is directly jealous. So I am really trying to underline her youth. This for me is absolutely obligatory every time I perform her on stage. This resonates in my acting, and sometimes in my voice and in my intentions. This is what I believe creates a little difference between my Tosca and maybe the Tosca of other sopranos from the past.
2. As I listen to your singing, I have an impression that you are deepning your own maturity in a natural and ideal way. Would you please tell us how are you developing your singing prowess, and how does that deepen your expressions — especially with the role of Tosca?
I think that for every artist, for every singer this is a very personal task. My way is pretty much about keeping the flexibility of the instrument, so it was very important to sing different repertoires, something that I was especially preparing each time in every single period of my career. Because this diversity in repertoire was giving me so much flexibility and a healthy way of singing. This reflects on my choice of parts but also in my concerts. For instance, I like to be singing Fedora and then immediately after the production break with it with Handel concerts, because this brings back to me my sensations of the very healthy use of my voice.
3. I have very much enjoyed Franco Zeffirelli’s production in Rome in 2007. Would you please tell us about the joy of singing in his production?
I do look forward to being in this production! We know how important and spectacular all the productions of Maestro Zeffirelli are. He was an incredible artist, always looking for the truth in the score, in the story. He had this unique absolute way to represent opera as a masterpiece, and that’s why I think his productions are still masterpieces. So I am very grateful that for this tour we have chosen exactly this production to bring to the Japanese audience and I am very honored to be part of it.
4. There is no doubt that Michele Mariotti is one of the greatest conductors of our time. Please tell us about the pleasure of performing Tosca with him. Also, please let us have your thoughts on working with Vittorio Grigolo as Cavaradossi.
Both of them are wonderful artists. I have performed with both on several occasions in my career and I think with their Italian and very authentic way of performing the music, plus the youth of these two artists, all together we will bring a lot of sparks on stage and the result will be great. So I am really looking forward.
5. I cannot wait to appreciate your recital again, as I truly enjoyed it last year. I am very much looking forward to listening to your singing, which must be quite different from that of the opera production. Would you please let your Japanese audiences know about what they can expect to listen to at your recital, which can be different from opera? Our expectations are so high now, as your latest album “The Courtesan” is a masterpiece.
Thank you very much. I find that my latest album is really a beautiful project that I realized together with fabulous friends like Marco Armiliato and Charles Castronovo. The concert will be focused on my operatic repertoire, so it won’t be too different from opera on stage in a production, also because we have a full orchestra. I like concerts, because they are a very direct way to communicate with my audience and it’s a very intimate way as well, even if we are singing these amazing beautiful scores with a lot of pathos and dramatic colors. In this particular concert, in one part of it, there will be the aria “Ah, s’io potessi dissipar le nubi… Col sorriso d’innoncenza” from “Il pirata“ and I am really looking forward to singing this aria following the great success I had singing “Casta diva” last year.
English version Japan Performing Arts Foundation feature:
1. Dear Ms.Yoncheva!
This year will be your “opera debut” in Japan with Puccini’s “Tosca” with Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. The Japanese fans are very excited, welcoming you once again, after your fabulous concert debut in last year.
You have performed “Tosca” in many different opera productions all over the world, and many of your fans also think that “Tosca”is one of your greatest roles.
May we ask, what is the reason for you to accepting singing “Tosca” often, also would you tell us if your interpretation for the role has changed or developed over the years?
Are there any aspects, or particular scenes or the moments in “Tosca”, which you emphasize for your interpretation?
I am glad to accept Tosca often because it’s a role that fits my voice very well, and also because – like all the roles I decide to sing – I believe I can give my own personal interpretation of it, and perhaps even highlight nuances that are sometimes neglected. My aim is to stress Tosca’s youth and all that comes with it: her impetuosity, her impulsiveness, and even naivety. On the other hand, I’d like to evidenziate her honesty and unwillingness to compromise. It is a very rewarding role, both vocally and for me as an interpreter. She goes through so many different states of emotion and that is very exciting to portray.
2. Recently, you have taken the various chances of singing Puccini’s opera works, such as your recent debut of “Manon Lescaut”, and coming up “Madama Butterfly”.
May we ask, what do you think about the attractiveness of singing the works by Puccini? How is it different from singing opera by Verdi for example, for you?
We are talking about two musical geniuses that have produced absolute masterpieces. Puccini is perhaps more immediate and goes for the jugular like no other composer. And he is not easy to sing because we can get carried away in the flurry of emotions his operas inevitably stir. Verdi also poses many technical demands on a singer, of course, but perhaps during a Verdi opera, the singer has the advantage of not risking being carried away to the same extent. I have always considered Verdi to be a “uomo di teatro”, a man of the theatre, and Puccini a “uomo del cinema”, a man of the cinema. One was keen about silences, very well chosen words and very special harmonies, which for me is closer to a kind of theatrical way of thinking. The other one was passionate about a particular way of describing the story with a lot of emotions. This is for me the main difference of them. But I love performing both Puccini and Verdi!
3. In Tokyo, you will be performing “Tosca” with Maestro Michele Mariotti as a conductor, you will be singing together with Vittorio Grigolo, and Roman Burdenko. Could you tell us about these artistic colleagues? Having these particular artists, when the partners are different, does your stage changes accordingly? What do you expect this “Tosca” to be in Tokyo, together with Franco Zeffirelli’s production?
Both Maestro Mariotti and Vittorio Grigolo are wonderful artists. I have performed with both on several occasions in my career and I think they are very authentic artists, and together with their youth we will bring a lot of sparks on stage and the result will be great. It is the first time I’m singing with Roman Burdenko, but I have heard many great things about him. I know he has a fantastic voice and is a fiery interpreter on stage. So this should be a fantastic team and I am really looking forward.
Regarding the Zeffirelli production I really cannot wait to perform in his “Tosca” staging. He was such an incredible artist, who was looking for the truth in the score and in the stories of the operas he directed. In my opinion that is why his productions are still such masterpieces.
4. You are also highly praised for the “acting”, together with your beautiful singing.
In creating the role, how do you start the process? What does acting on operatic stage mean for you? On stage, are you becoming the role, or is it Sonya Yoncheva acting the role?
Opera was born as the union of music and theater, and I firmly believe a singer must serve both the music and the drama. This is how I start the process when I accept a role: it must speak to my heart and I must find the character interesting, apart from making sure it’s a vocal fit. Aida for instance, has gorgeous music, but the character doesn’t speak to me so much.
I study the score, but also the literary source of the libretto. And little by little, the magic comes to life and a new heroine is born. On stage, I become the role, with her joys and pains. Sonya Yoncheva returns at the end of the performance.
5. After the “Tosca”, your “Sonya Yoncheva operatic aria concert” is planned.
Would you tell us about the concert, with the reason for programming these arias?
(Some of the arias are very rarely heard in Japan (like “Iris”), and there is magnificent Il Pirata, and also very attractive French opera arias are selected. )
After my rendition of Casta diva was so well received here last year, I wanted to perform another Bellini gem, and Imogene in Il pirata is one of my very favorite roles, which I had the honor to sing at La Scala (the first to do so after Maria Callas) and in Madrid. Iris is an opera I sang in concert several years ago, and it’s just gorgeous music, and I’d like for it to be better known.
6. Together with having your highly acclaimed popular repertoires like “Tosca”, you are performing or reviving rare repertoires to the current operatic world, such as Giordano’s “Siberia”, “Fedora”, Bellini’s “Il Pirata” Cherubini’s “Médée” for example. Would you tell us how you have experienced these productions?
Of course I love popular operas like Tosca, but I believe it’s also my duty to present to the audience less-known operas in which I truly believe, and that was the case for the three operas you mentioned, especially Siberia, of which I’ve became a staunch supporter and which is being performed so rarely unfortunately.
7. Is there any roles that you would like to sing in future?
We hear that there might be a “Adriana Lecouvreur” debut in near future.
(If this realize, what is the reason you have chosen Adriana to sing on stage.)
Yes, Adriana will happen next summer in Barcelona. It’s a role I had been dreaming about for a long time. It’s the ideal part for a soprano like me who firmly believe that singing and acting need to be firmly interwoven. It’s such a great role, with lyric gorgeous music, imperious outbursts, lighter moments, tragic moments, and a glorious death scene. Just perfect.
8. Recently, you have made your new CD album “Courtesan”, your photo book “Fifteen Mirrors book” is also published. Both are from your own label “SY11”.
Along with your live stage schedule as a worldwide Primadonna, you are very active on these projects. Could you tell us about how these were planned for the audiences?
I created SY11 productions to have complete control of the projects you mentioned. Although I am still an exclusive SONY recording artist, for The Courtesan I wanted to take over every aspect of the recording with no interference whatsoever. “Fifteen Mirror” came to life because a lot of people were asking me to write an autobiography, but I simply believed it was way too early for a traditional memoir at my age. So I decided that the best way to let parts of me come to the surface was through my impression of some iconic operatic heroines, all of whom reflect at least some sides of my personality. Finally, I have also created SY11 to organize musical events in my native Bulgaria.
9. The last question. What do you look forward for doing on your next visit to Japan? Finally if you could give one comment to your fans in Japan, we will be most grateful!
I certainly hope to futher explore your beautiful country and I hope there will be time to do some sightseeing. Last year I was there only for one single concert, so it was difficult to see a lot, and I truly hope this will be different during my stay in the Fall. What I saw last year was of such a beauty that I am really looking forward to seeing more and to exploring more the Japanese culture.
The last time I was here, my Japanese fans were so knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and I do hope they will welcome me again with the same warmth. I certainly will give all of myself during my performances there!
Q&A in English for Nikkei newspaper interview:
1) How did you feel about your Japan debut last year? What left the biggest impression on you during your last stay in Japan?
The enthusiasm of the Japanese audience is just amazing. I felt so welcome when I made my debut in Japan last year, the audience is so warm and everyone is so friendly. I really cannot wait to be back later this year.
2) What is the role of Tosca to you? Are there any points on which you would like the audience members to pay particular attention when they listen to your Tosca?
Tosca is such an interesting character. It’s one of my favorite parts. It gives me a feeling of being very powerful and fragile at the same time when I am on stage. She is a young woman totally in love with Mario, and this, together with her qualities and her crazy nature as an artist, is what I think makes her so unpredictable and also so honest in a way. When she says something she really means it. My aim is to really underline her youth: this for me is absolutely obligatory every time I do her on stage. This resonates in my acting, and sometimes in my voice and in my intentions.
3) Do you know anything about Franco Zeffirelli’s Tosca or any other productions of his? What do you expect from performing in Zeffirelli’s Tosca?
I can hardly wait to perform in this production. We all know how important and spectacular all the productions of Maestro Zeffirelli are. He was an incredible artist, always looking for the truth in the score, in the story. He had this unique absolute way to represent opera as a masterpiece, and that’s why I think his productions are still masterpieces. I am truly honored to be part of it.
4) Do you have any roles or works that you would like to sing in the future?
There are many roles I would love to sing. Staying with Puccini, I can tell you that I am currenty preparing my role debut as Madama Butterfly for the Vienna State Opera. After having done her in concert, I think it is also time to do Manon Lescaut in a staged production now. Next season I’ll make my role debut as Adriana Lecouvreur at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. And there is a role debut at the Metropolitan Opera I can already speak about, Lisa in “Pique Dame”. There are other debuts I regretfully cannot talk about at the moment, because they haven’t been announced by the theatres yet.
5) Do you think you learned anything new, or did you feel any changes in yourself during the pandemic?
The pandemic reinforced my belief that one should always be proactive, follow his or her own instinct and create opportunities, without waiting for them to just happen. That’s how my own production company SY11 was born.
6) Any message to the fans who look forward to your concert and Tosca performances?
I am very much looking forward to visiting Japan again and to meet all of you again for these performances!