Review: Sonya Yoncheva in Germany

Simon Hale watches the latest in the Met Stars Live in Concert series.

Emulating its decorative trompe l’oeil book bindings, the Baroque library of the Schussenried Cloister in southwest Germany provided a beautiful setting for the next best thing to live opera.

With French pianist Julien Quentin replacing a full orchestra and a spectacularly lit gallery taking the place of a traditional opera stage, Sonya Yoncheva reinforced her standing as one of the world’s greatest divas in a technically brilliant and movingly intimate recital of popular arias.

The Bulgarian soprano, performing in a stunning red gown with a large ribbon, matching the handful of red roses she brought on at one point and scattered on a raised platform, was performing from the library as part of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Met Stars Live in Concert series.

A worldwide online audience missing live opera during the pandemic was treated to arias by Verdi, Puccini, Dvorak, Handel, Purcell, Bizet and Massenet in a ninety-minute recital, hosted by American soprano Christine Goerke, which included extracts from Met productions during singing breaks.

Loss and tragedy centred on love was the theme running through the programme of twelve pieces all sung with passion by a soprano who has yet to sing most of the roles on the Met stage.

The arias did however include a heart-rending Donde lieta usci from Puccini’s La Bohème, where Mimi and Rodolfo agree to part as he feels he can no longer afford to care for her as her illness worsens, which Yoncheva sang for the first time at the Met as a late replacement and only four months after giving birth.

She will return to the Met stage next season as Elisabeth de Valois in Verdi’s Don Carlos, singing the opera in the original French version for the first time.

But different languages were mastered supremely in a recital that involved switching from Italian for Ritorno vincitor! from Verdi’s Aida, to English for Dido’s Lament Thy hand Belinda… When I am laid in earth from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and to French for the Habanera L’amour est un oiseau rebelle from Bizet’s Carmen.

The recital concluded not with opera but with a touching French chanson Hymne à l’Amour by Marguerite Monnot and Edith Piaf that ends with the line so appropriate to our times. “Dieu réunit ceux qui s’aiment” that translates as “May God reunite those who love each other”.

The Sonya Yoncheva in Germany recital is available to view online at until Friday, March 12th, priced at $20 (£14.83) per person.