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'It’s always important to push the limits': Opera star Sonya Yoncheva’s breathtaking journey

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'It’s always important to push the limits': Opera star Sonya Yoncheva’s breathtaking journey
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Katharina Rabillon
Published on Updated
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Considered to be one of the most celebrated sopranos of our time, Sonya Yoncheva has a vast repertoire. She invited Musica behind the scenes to witness the action.

She’s one of the greatest sopranos of our time who never ceases to take on new challenges: Sonya Yoncheva. The Bulgarian soprano can now add Maddalena, the tragic heroine in Andrea Chénier, performedat the prestigious La Scala opera house,to her list of debut roles.

The seasoned performer is also making another debut as Ciò-Ciò-San in 'Madama Butterfly' at the Vienna Staatsoper. But how has the opera sensation made these two roles their own?

Inside her Milanese studio, Sonya treated Musica to Andrea Chénier's musical score on the piano, "It helps me a lot to play the score on the piano. And it's a very intimate moment because I can basically decide and try different colours, you know?“ she explained.

Sonya Yoncheva, MilanEuronews

Two weeks before the premiere she immersed herself in preparations for the 'sitzprobe' or seated rehearsal.

"It's the first opportunity for the singers to hear how the orchestra plays to get into this wonderful mixture that is the magic of opera" explained conductor Marco Armilato. 

"When an orchestra plays live, the singers sing live, you create this magic and already in Italian, you can understand more or less how the performance will work“ he added.

Sonya echoed the importance of rehearsing with the orchestra: “We are in a kind of a safe place so we can basically allow each other to be wrong sometimes and not be perfect and this is a very important rehearsal.”

The next step is the stage rehearsals where the singers get to know the set and practice their entrances and exits. 

The Tale of Andrea Chénier

The sweeping drama tells the story of the revolutionary poet Andrea Chénier who falls in love with Maddalena but their love is doomed with a devastating ending.

"Now I'm still working on the character because for me it's a brand new piece. But what I can tell you is that I'm really impressed by her way of loving, you know, this pure love that she's totally given to this man and she loves him with all her heart.

"And then at the end of the opera, we will see that she basically chose to not live without him. So she's dying with him, even if she was not supposed to” said Yonchava.

In 1896 the Italian composer Umberto Giordano premiered his masterpiece with great success at La Scala. The opera house also holds a special place in Sonya's heart.

 It’s here where she won the famous singing competition Operalia which shot her to stardom in 2010.

I think that for an artist, it's always important to push the limits and to always search and seek new parts. They give me new colours. It's amazing.
Sonya Yoncheva

On the night of the premier, Sonya was feeling the heat: "Since this morning I've wanted to go on stage and do it, finish and then have free time because it's a lot of pressure obviously, building a character and doing it for the first time, especially in places like La Scala, you know. 

"I think that everyone basically heard all the versions of this opera from so many other singers. So you need to show them something new, bright and nice.“

A few weeks later Sonya Yoncheva was still performing in Milan and preparing for her next endeavour: a pinnacle role of the soprano repertoire, Puccini’s 'Madama Butterfly'.

Bringing Ciò-Ciò-San to life with the help of Milan's Ricordi Archive

To get to grips with the history of this challenging role and to find some inspiration, Sonya visited Milan's Ricordi Archive, considered by many to be the most important collection of Italian opera history, representing 200 years of music.

Founded in 1808, it points to the historic legacy of the Ricordi publishing house, which was acquired in 1994 by the German media group Bertelsmann which ensures its conservation and cultural development.

This huge private collection housed in the Braidense National Library in Milan contains some 8,000 musical scores, approximately 13,500 costumes and set designs and, 6,000 photographs.

Milan's Ricordi Historical ArchiveEuronews

The in-house collection of Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini's work is allegedly the most comprehensive and richest in the world, as Pierluigi Ledda, the managing director of the archive explained: "We have the autographed scores but we also have the designs of the costumes and scenographies, often from the world premieres of his own operas. So we are really able to rebuild the making of these masterpieces.”

"Puccini wrote everything that happened on stage in the score. It was something he learnt from [Giuseppe] Verdi," said Maria Pia Ferraris, an archivist who works onsite.

"This is very, very interesting for me to see also the notes of the composer in which he describes how I should be on stage, you know? Now I am equipped to take on the stage director. 'Oh, no, no, no, no, no, Pucchini said so“, revealed Sonya.

The Makings of Madama Butterfly

From Milan to Vienna, Sonya transformed into geisha Ciò-Ciò-San for Madama Butterfly; a devastating tragedy that is also one of opera's most enduring tales of unrequited love.

Sonya explained her connection to the character: "It's very hard for me to hide the tears when I am reading and studying this. I tried to sing it many times at home and it was really impressive how much emotion there is.

“She is extremely fragile emotionally but at the same time incredibly strong.

“What I adore in her about her is that when she says something she really does it and when she believes in something she really believes in it".

Sonya Yoncheva will next appear as the lead in Cherubini’s Médée at theStaatsoper Unter den Linden theatre in Berlin on the 6, 12 and 16 July.

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