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Sonya Yoncheva: "The Verdi Album"

CD Button Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Zanetti. Texts and translations. Sony Classical 88985417982

Recordings Calleja Cover 718

IF JOSEPH CALLEJA'S Verdi disc has a fault, it’s inherent in the CD-recital format: the back-to-back brilliance can become wearying, and it is better sampled in segments than as an hour-long listening experience. These format limitations are more inescapable on Sonya Yoncheva’s Verdi Album. She’s an appealing, engaged artist who gives off a sense of unflagging responsiveness to the dramatic moment. In “Tacea la notte placida,” the album’s first cut, she presents the face not of a prima donna delivering one of opera’s great moments but of a very young woman, full of expectancy as she contemplates her first encounter with love. It’s an effective approach, and an appropriate one. 

The problem is that we encounter that same young woman in track after track. Oddly, the most effective cut is “Anch’io dischiuso un giorno,” from Nabucco. This is usually dramatic-soprano territory, but here the girlish sound suggests the betrayed innocence that has turned Abigaille into a termagant. But surely the Act IV Forza Leonora, pursued by tragedy and living for years in her hermitage, is hardly the ingénue of her Act I Trovatore counterpart: “Pace, mio dio” demands a voice of more weight and darkness than Yoncheva’s lyric instrument can deliver. You could listen to this album and get little sense of how Attila’s Odabella differs from Elisabetta di Valois, Simon Boccanegra’s Amelia from Desdemona. 

Still, the chief problem is Yoncheva’s parlous vocal estate. In its middle reaches, the voice retains a lovely, lyric quality, akin to Mirella Freni’s in her heyday. But it turns horribly sour when it ventures above the staff. Odabella’s prayer is a distinct trial, and a soprano without a good high B-flat might well consider ducking “Pace, mio dio” altogether. Perhaps the close-in engineering is partly to blame: encountering Yoncheva at the Met in her recent Luisa Miller, I was aware of a bit of strain on top, although hardly to this extent. But the recording catches sounds that would be distressing to hear from any singer, let alone one in her midthirties. The Munich Radio Orchestra under Massimo Zanetti does not seem to suffer from excessive preparation, although Yoncheva’s voice is so far forward that it’s often difficult to hear just what the band is up to.  —Fred Cohn 


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