The soprano Sonya Yoncheva rocketed to prominence in the mid-2010s with a series of appearances at top houses. Her background is unusual in that it has been closely associated with Baroque music; her career, as it has developed, has included that repertory, but has also encompassed traditional 19th century works.
Yoncheva was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second city, on December 25, 1981. She began intensive music studies at age six and never looked back, studying piano and voice at Bulgaria's National School for Music and Dance. Another unusual feature of her career was a stint as a television music show host as a teenager. Far from distracting her from her goals, the experience, Yoncheva told The New York Times, was helpful: "It was something completely new to me, and I was a very timid person. It helped me later on to be better onstage: to learn your face, your expressions, and above all, to fight the fear."
Yoncheva won several singing competitions in Bulgaria, including one in which she performed with her brother, a rock singer. She came to the attention of Western musicians after enrolling at the Geneva Conservatory, where her teacher was Danielle Borst. She earned a Master's degree there in 2009, and by that time her operatic career was already well underway: she had caught the attention of the Baroque opera conductor William Christie and joined his Jardin des Voix training program in 2007. With Christie she has appeared in touring productions of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and, more unusually, Rameau's Les Indes galantes. Yoncheva has also worked with conductor Emmanuelle Haïm in productions of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea (recorded for DVD release), among other operas.
Signed to Sony Classical in 2013, Yoncheva became a first-string replacement artist for ailing sopranos at major houses. She made a major splash at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 2013 as a last-minute substitute in Verdi's Rigoletto, earning raves from New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini. Her Met debut as Mimi in La bohème followed the next year, just five weeks after the birth of a son, Mateo, to Yoncheva and Venezuelan conductor Domingo Hindoyan. Yoncheva released her debut album, Paris, Mon Amour, in 2014. Another substitute slot, for a touring production of Gounod's Faust in which Yoncheva replaced Anna Netrebko, brought her to the attention of new European audiences, and in 2015 she won Germany's ECHO Klassik award as Best Newcomer. The year 2016 brought fresh triumphs: Yoncheva appeared as Bellini's Norma at the Royal Opera House in London, and she released a collection of arias by Handel and Purcell, playing to her Baroque strong suit. ~ James Manheim