Bulgarian star soprano, Sonya Yoncheva, hosts 'Gala in Sofia'. This magical night took place in front of the awe-inspiring St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the Bulgarian capital's greatest landmarks.
On the programme were some of opera's most heart-wrenching arias and duets that were passionately performed by Yoncheva herself and by opera legend, Plácido Domingo. They were expertly accompanied by the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Nayden Todorov. The first half of the show was dedicated to some of opera's classics, including Verdi and Puccini.
A shared passion for Zarzuela
The gala also showcased Spanish heritage with beautiful Zarzuelas, one of Yoncheva's favourite musical genres. This was not her only reason for the music choice though, as Yoncheva says, "I wanted to welcome Plácido to my country with the music from his country, to make him feel immediately at home."
To Plácido, Zarzuela means everything. It's the first music he ever heard because his mother "was singing (it) until the ninth month." He loves the genre. "For sure that's also the first music that I started singing. I am very proud to bring the Zarzuela around the world" he explains.
La Marchenera is one of the many Zarzuelas that Yoncheva sings and it is her all-time favourite. She was very touched to find out from Plácido that it was his mother's favourite too. Yoncheva says that she's very connected with her past and she feels that Plácido "is the same kind of person".
Plácido and Yoncheva have shared a strong bond ever since she won his prestigious opera competition, Operalia, 11 years ago. According to Plácido, Yoncheva's talent increases by the day. "She's just growing and growing. I mean her voice, it becomes richer. She has lightness but then she has the sound of a dramatic soprano."
A new beginning
The concert marked a new chapter in the soprano's journey. She created, designed and organised this concert to the finest detail. It is one of many more concerts she is expected to host through her new company SY11 events. She started this event organising adventure during the risky time of the pandemic. She tells us that for her, it was very important "to have this new beginning in Bulgaria, in this very spiritual place."
Her inspiration to create SY11 events was to find new freedom, independence and a new way of communicating with her audience. She says that it's important to her to be able to express herself in a different way, not only as an artist, but also as someone who is organising and sharing the art.
As one of the first events organised by the soprano, it was an amazing success. Over 6500 people were in attendance and it was live-streamed around the world. It was the first major event of its kind in Sofia since the height of the COVID-19 crisis.
The concert took a lot of hard work to set up and the fruit of her labour is described by Yoncheva as giving her goosebumps "because we have been working on this for one year and it's incredible to see it." The soprano was simply overwhelmed.
The choice of venue
Yoncheva has lived outside of her home country, Bulgaria, for almost 20 years. However, she has never forgotten where she is from despite her incredible journey. "I was always connected to my country. (...) My soul is Bulgarian and I was born here, my family is here." To honour her heritage, she also decided to be dressed by a Bulgarian woman. In her words, she chose an airy light blue dress because she really likes "the way it's flying on stage".
Yoncheva wants to support Bulgaria, hence the location and the musicians were natural choices.
The conductor himself, Nayden Todorov, is a naturally talented musician from Plovdiv in Bulgaria, the same hometown as Yoncheva. He has achieved international acclaim with his versatile interpretations of music in different genres. As a student, he won several awards from Bulgarian and international competitions. At age 47, he has already had an extensive career working with many of the world's most prominent orchestras which in turn has led him to collaborate with renowned singers and instrumental performers. He is also the director of the Sofia Philarmonic Orchestra.
From on the stage to pulling the strings behind the scenes and to the delight of many, Yoncheva has fully embraced her new role.