Soprano Sonya Yoncheva is having a very busy Met season, one that began on New Year’s Eve when she sang the title role of Puccini’s Tosca for the first time. In February, she returns as Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème, and she takes on a third leading lady in March with the title role of Verdi’s Luisa Miller. She spoke with the Metropolitan Opera’s Jay Goodwin about embodying what she describes as Puccini’s “completely passionate” title diva.
With Tosca, you’re making your role debut as one of opera’s iconic characters in a new production at the Met. No pressure! How are you preparing?
Well, maybe it’s a matter of fate, but all of my big debuts have happened at the Met. So it feels like this is just the next one. I love singing at the Met, and I love the Met audience, so I’m very happy about it. And it’s a fantastic role that I’ve always wanted to perform. Musically, I’ve been working a very long time on the part because in 2014, while I was in the last month of pregnancy with my son and had nothing to do, I attended almost 40 days of Tosca rehearsals that my husband [Domingo Hindoyan] was conducting in Berlin. That was the moment I decided that I would sing this part.
Tosca is the classic diva—passionate, devoted to her art, but also jealous, fiery, and quick to anger. Does that fit your personality or do you have to psych yourself up for it?
Well, I can be like this—it’s true! [Laughs.] I can be all of this, actually. But I think that every woman is like that. And in the case of Tosca, she has even more reason to be like this because, first of all, she’s an artist, and also she loves Mario so much. She’s just completely crazy about him. And, you know, I’ve discovered how sweet she is, actually. Every word she says is very sensual, is that of a woman who is completely in love. And that’s how I explain to myself all of these reactions. This immediate fire, this passion, this jealousy. This is because she really loves this man.
At the Met, you’ve sung some of opera’s most beloved heroines: Gilda in Rigoletto, Mimì in La Bohème, Desdemona in Otello, and Violetta in La Traviata—all of whom are victims of their circumstances in one way or another. Do you see Tosca as a different sort of victim, or as something else entirely?
No, she’s not a victim. I think she’s just a completely passionate and dedicated person, you know? If I was in the same situation and had to defend my husband, if I even had to kill for him—we all would do that, right? If it’s a question of his life, you will do everything to save him. And I think that’s what she does. She’s not afraid even to kill herself at the end because there is no better place than with her lover, and she doesn’t want to be alive without him.
The musical challenges of this role are also different from those you’ve sung at the Met before. How do you adapt to sing this more dramatic, forceful style of music?
I don’t change that much. I’m really trying to adapt this piece to my voice. And at the same time, I know that I need to have extra power in a few moments, so I try to concentrate on my voice and match the progression of the music. The biggest challenge is the second act because you have this huge scene between her and Scarpia, and it’s a very powerful thing where you don’t need to fire all of your weapons immediately. You have to hold back a little bit in the beginning so that there is a huge intensification—musically and psychologically.
Joining you for Tosca are Vittorio Grigolo as Cavaradossi and Željko Lučić as Scarpia—two very committed singers, but also actors. You’ve also been recognized for your nuanced acting and characterization, so we should be in for a dramatic production.
It’s so important to be a convincing actor, to be very true on stage. I think people are extremely demanding of this. You really need to feel the extreme emotions of opera, not only from the voice but also from the acting. I was always a very natural actor, and I always wanted to obtain honest emotions on stage. And I think with Vittorio and Željko, we will really do our best. They are both completely crazy and sometimes unpredictable on stage—Vittorio especially! But let’s say I know how to control him. [Laughs.] It’s so exciting to do an opera like this with both of them.
In addition to Tosca, you’re singing the title role in Verdi’s Luisa Miller and Mimì in La Bohème at the Met this season—all three of which will be transmitted to cinemas live in HD. You’re actually the first artist to sing three leading roles in HD in a single season. How do you feel that these cinema broadcasts change the experience of performing at the Met?
I think this is one of the most important things today because it allows people to experience opera in another way, and brings live opera to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to see it. I’m really happy that we’re living in this epoch where this is possible. And to perform in three broadcasts this season is a huge honor. I really hope that people will be happy seeing me in three completely different roles!