Patrick, Susie, Richard, and I saw soprano Sonya Yoncheva and pianist Malcolm Martineau in recital at the Met on Jan 23, 2022. Yoncheva is one of the biggest stars in the opera sphere and my brother Patrick is her biggest fan. He and our mom and I saw her as *Tosca* in January 2018 and through the help of a friend in the orchestra, we were able to get backstage to meet her after the show. Here’s that whole story:
The most exciting moment of a voice recital, for me, is when I see the program. Susie saw that the Met posted the program a few days before and she sent it to me. I was over the moon. About a quarter of the program were songs that I know and love (and know that SY and MM would perform gloriously) and the rest of the songs were things I didn’t know and was curious to hear. Everything was 19th century rep, with the first half in French and the second half in Italian.
Let me explain the seating arrangement: Patrick had a ticket in the parterre, a posh part of the house. I had my standard seat in the clouds, row H of the Family Circle, as high up as you can get. Susie and Richard’s seats were in row W of the orchestra. The plan was for me and Richard to trade at the intermission, so I could have the experience of sitting closer up. Thankfully when we all met at intermission Richard and Susie told me that there were plenty of open seats around them so I sat with them.
Yoncheva came out onstage wearing a black satin dress with a sumptuous off-the-shoulder neckline. Her hair was up. All the photos you'll see are by my brother Patrick.
Martineau wore white tie and tails throughout the recital.
They opened with a set of songs by Henri Duparc, and the first song was one of the most gorgeous songs ever written, “L’invitation au voyage.” Here’s Kiri Te Kanawa and Roger Vignoles doing that song:
This is the definition of vocal glamour and Yoncheva totally delivered it, with its frequent crests to the upper voice. Martineau’s playing was steeped in the French style, transparent and rippling.
The next Duparc song, “Au pays où se fait la guerre,” was sung with sweeping drama but also precise vocal colors tied to the text. This song showed off the lower part of her voice. “La vie antérieure” had Martineau in a propulsive mood. A big phrase in the middle of the song had a Straussian grandeur and the ending had a Magda Olivero-style tragedy. One stop shopping.
Yoncheva sang the last Duparc song, “Chanson triste,” with a girlish color to her voice.
The next song. “Haï luli!”,was by the singer and composer Pauline Viardot, daughter of the great singer and voice teacher Manuel García and sister of the legendary singer Maria Malibran. It was a lovely song with some unusual harmonies. I’d never heard it before and would like to hear it more often.
Next, three songs by Ernest Chausson. Yoncheva captured the interior atmosphere of “Le temps des lilas” and later the outpouring and the urgency. Martineau’s playing was suitably gothic. Yoncheva sang “Le charme” in a charming, offhand manner. “Sérénade italienne” had a giddy impetuousness, beautifully conveyed by both performers.
Two more songs on the first half: Gaetano Donizetti is one of the giants of Italian opera. His song “Depuis qu’une autre a su te plaire” was somewhat surprising. I felt like Donizetti felt liberated to try something different in the more flexible form of the art song. Léo Delibes’s “Les filles de Cadix” is a diva trip, the perfect song to end the first half. Yoncheva had so much fun with it she made me laugh out loud at one point.
When she left the stage I was full of joy for what I had just seen and eager for the second half. The word that came to mind to describe Yoncheva’s magic was ENGAGING. She’s a sincere and honest performer, very generous.
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She changed her gown and her hair for the second half, bless her heart. Her gown was white satin with black flowers on the bodice, a square neckline hugging her shoulders. Her hair was down.
They opened with four songs by Giacomo Puccini. “Sole e amore” was a mini *La Bohème,* there may have even been one or two quotes from the opera. The singer/pianist partnership is an intimate one - - don’t ever refer to the pianist as an “accompanist,” that’s so demeaning. The pianist is an equal partner to the singer, they’re collaborators. This song was a great example of that. Martineau followed and led Yoncheva with great skill.
“Terra e mare” had some Debussy harmonies. I wrote in my notes that the ending was “bathed in moonlight,” but now that I look at the translation it’s actually the ocean. Maybe it’s the moonlight over the ocean?
“Mentia l’avviso” was like an opera scena, and performed as such. Very exciting. And the final song in the set, “Canto d’anime,” was another visit to the Puccini archive - - Susie said, “It’s like a mini *Butterfly*!” It was thrillingly overt.
Giuseppe Martucci’s “Al folto bosco, placida ombria” was the most striking song on the second half (the Viardot song got the prize on the first half). It had opulent, avant garde harmonies. Martineau played with great elegance.
Two songs by Paolo Tosti: Yoncheva sang “L’ultimo bacio” as if she were telling a story. Which I guess she was. “Ideale” inspired me to write some purple prose: I wrote four words in my notes - - “Quiet wonder, heavenly hush.”
They ended with three songs by Giuseppe Verdi. “In solitaria stanza” had a strong *Trovatore* vibe, one phrase a direct quote from the soprano’s entrance aria. Yoncheva sang this with a lovely Verdi line. “Ad una stella” showed an expert approach to the upper voice, with Verdi and Yoncheva navigating it gloriously.
The last song, “L’esule,” was the most operatic song on the program. It started with a real introduction by the piano, then a recitative with flashes of emotion, then a languid, long arching melody. Another recitative followed by a snappy final section and a rousing finish. I wanted a cadenza between the final recitative and the snappy final section, but as my friend Mick would say, you can’t always get what you want.
They did three encores, all arias (typical for an opera singer recital). First, “Donde lieta usci” from Puccini’s *La Bohème.* Yoncheva sang it with heartbreaking beauty. Martineau added some ripping at the end to make it more specific to the piano.
They did “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” from Bizet’s *Carmen.* Here she is singing it in concert last year:
She toyed with Martineau - - she played with his hair and grasped his bicep. It was silly and delightful. She’s been trotting out this aria quite a lot lately, I wonder if she has plans to do the whole role…
They ended with “Adieu, notre petite table” from Massenet’s *Manon.* It was intimate and quiet, a tender way to end the evening.
Patrick went full Stage Door Johnny on her ass and waited on the sidewalk for a viewing and a visit. He got autographs from Yoncheva and Martineau on his program and Yoncheva’s autograph on her new CD. And he got a couple of pictures with her. Here's the best one:
I love that she was wearing leggings.
“L’invitation au voyage”
“Au pays où se fait la guerre”
“La vie antérieure”
“Le temps des lilas”
“Depuis qu’une autre a su te plaire”
“Les filles de Cadix”
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“Sole e amore”
“Terra e mare”
“Al folto bosco, placida ombria”
“In solitaria stanza”
“Ad una stella”
Puccini: “Donde lieta usci” from *La Bohème”
Bizet: “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” from *Carmen*
Massenet: “Adieu, notre petite table” from *Manon*