Sonya Yoncheva

Handel

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The young Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, trying to break out from a pack of singers of Eastern European or Russian origin, here takes on one of the black-belt level assignments: an album of Handel arias. The results draw on Yoncheva's previous experience in Baroque repertory (she was a protégée of conductor William Christie) and validate her signing by the major Sony label. Yoncheva has many things going for her, including an ineffable diva quality that serves her well with these substantial Handel heroines. Some of these roles were written for the powerful voice of the castrato (the opening "Se pietà di me non senti" was first sung by the greatest countertenor of the age, Senesino) and Yoncheva's rather metallic voice doesn't yet have that kind of depth. But her voice is growing, and she has something else to offer here: Handel's women call for dramatic intelligence, and Yoncheva has that in spades. Sample her work in the arioso "Pensieri, voi me tormentate" (Thoughts, you torment me), a torrent of panic and resolution from the fine early opera Agrippina, about the mother of Nero. That's one of two selections from Agrippina, and most of the arias are in pairs, giving Yoncheva the chance to inhabit each character a bit. The arias are mostly in Italian; with those in English you can tell that Yoncheva is not a native speaker, but you can't quite pin down her origin. The final "When I am laid in earth," by Henry Purcell, may seem tacked onto a program of Handel, but the long and the short of it is that Yoncheva's deliberate reading draws you into this aria as few of the hundreds of other recordings of it do. The recording benefits from live-wire sympathetic accompaniment from the Academia Montis Regalis under Alessandro De Marchi, and it fulfills one of the original functions of recordings: it makes you want to pay money to see the star live on-stage.

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