NEW YORK — Did you miss her defiant leap off the battlements? Fail to see her gently expire in a garret surrounded by friends and lover? Not to worry, you have one more chance to catch Sonya Yoncheva dying in “Live in HD.”
The Bulgarian soprano, who has shot to superstardom at age 36, is completing an unprecedented trifecta of HD broadcasts this season in leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera, starring as the title character in a rare revival of Verdi’s “Luisa Miller.”
Her performance, in a cast that includes tenor-turned-baritone Placido Domingo, will be shown live in movie theaters on Saturday.
“I don’t want to think about it, because then I start to stress and think it’s too much,” Yoncheva said in an interview in her dressing room before a performance last week. “But actually it’s already almost the end of the season and until now it was all good.”
That’s an understatement. Critics raved about her performance as the doomed Luisa, whose lover Rodolfo slips her poison because he wrongly thinks she has betrayed him. She had already triumphed earlier in the season as Puccini’s “Tosca” and as Mimi in the same composer’s “La Boheme.” She had sung Mimi before, but the other two roles were new to her.
When Yoncheva first started to work on Luisa, “I said, ‘My God, what can I find in her that’s interesting?’ Because I am a very strong woman in my life. … When I have to make a decision, I go for it, I have no doubts. And to me she seemed a little bit too kind with everybody, she wants everybody to be happy around her.”
“Then during rehearsals I understood that she is really a very interesting woman because she is very philosophic about death, about love, she is very aware of the political conflict between her dad and the dad of Rodolfo. And from the beginning, she accepts death as the only one possible road to the story. Because it’s too complicated, it’s too hard to be together with Rodolfo. And she probably understands that he is not that strong, not that sure about very many things.”
Vocally, Yoncheva said the challenge comes from having to move from the light coloratura of the early scenes to heavier lyric singing in Act 2, then back to a lighter tone in the final scene.
“Many of my colleagues, sopranos, told me they had a lot of proposals in their careers to do Luisa and they always refused it,” she said, “because it’s really difficult. It sounds easy, but when you really sing it you understand, because it requires this large spectrum in the colors of the voice.”
ANYTHING YOU CAN SING, SHE CAN SING, TOO — ALMOST!
Yoncheva’s willingness to take on a steady diet of new assignments is not limited to her Met appearances. She raised eyebrows but won over skeptics when she sang Bellini’s “Norma” — considered one of the most challenging of roles — at London’s Royal Opera House in the fall of 2016. This season, before arriving at the Met, she debuted as Elisabetta in Verdi’s “Don Carlo” in Paris. When she’s done with Luisa, she heads to La Scala for Bellini’s “Il Pirata” in June and next fall takes on the title role in Cherubini’s “Medee” for the first time in Berlin.
“Learning new roles is really easy for me,” she said. “It’s a very short process. I feel the music immediately and also the style.”
Asked whether she ever turns down new roles, she laughs. “All the time! I receive many offers, really inaccessible parts for me, like Wagner, or very dramatic Verdi like ‘Attila.’ I recently refused this for a very important opera house. I’m really quite wise. If I can’t do it, I say no.”
Next season at the Met she’ll reprise Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello” and finally portray a character who doesn’t die — the title role of Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta.”
For the future, she said she told Met general manager Peter Gelb she’d like to try something different.
“I can’t take any more tragedies, dying all the time,” she said. “I’m still young and I want to do something else. We have plans to do something that nobody will expect, going into the lighter repertories and comedies, Donizetti for instance.”
PARTNERING WITH PLACIDO
The legendary Domingo, nearing 80, has transformed himself from a tenor into a baritone in recent years. In the 1970s he sang the role of Rodolfo in “Luisa Miller” and now he’s singing the role of Luisa’s father.
“What he does is outside of any possible understanding, it’s incredible,” Yoncheva said.
Though this is the first time they have sung together in a staged production, Domingo was influential early in her career. She won the 2010 Operalia competition that he sponsors to nurture a promising artist, singing selections from Massenet’s “Manon.”
Until then she had been heard mostly in baroque music, and she said the competition was “a huge break point. … All of a sudden this sticker I had on my head saying ‘Baroque Singer’ was removed. So I could sing other things.”
WHERE TO SEE IT
“Luisa Miller,” also starring tenor Piotr Beczala as Rodolfo and conducted by Bertrand de Billy, will be shown Saturday. A list of theaters can be found at the Met’s website: http://www.metopera.org/hd. In the United States it will be repeated on April 18.