“Fifteen mirrors” – Sonya Yoncheva with Alain Duault

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Today is World Book and Copyright Day. It’s a wonderful occasion to share with you that tonight – literally in one breath – I read SONYA YONCHEVA’s book Fifteen Mirrors, which moved me as deeply as few things ever have; it moved me sincerely and continuously, not spontaneously and fleetingly. I will try to tell a lot without giving everything away. But only to “tickle” your curiosity, so that you may discover it for yourselves; it is best that way!
Sonya’s book is a personal confession of a modern woman; philosophical reflections of a profound artist; a psychological almanac of timeless female images immortalized in art – I saw my favorite opera heroines in a whole new way. The book is a kind of recapitulation of 15 years on the big stage, of 15 parallel realities, of 15 female opera icons, of 15 mirrors of history, present and future, of 15 paths to the soul – of woman, of the universe, of eternal art. The text is intimate, like sharing from a close friend; and the artistry of the photographs is magnificent, like from the best fashion magazines, befitting a true “prima donna” (first lady of the stage)!
You think you know “everything” about Sonya Yoncheva? Nothing like that. The book reveals many new approaches of Sonya: as an artist, psychologist, entrepreneur, public figure. The analogies between the heroines’ experiences and Sonia’s life are endearing and evocative. I knew her as a virtuoso performer, as a superb actress, as a warm-hearted humanitarian; now – with her first book – I also come to know her as a sincere, skillful (and courageous), talented (and insightful) storyteller – with words, images, metaphors, similes, flashbacks and projections. The photographs are her cherished dreams of what her heroines would look like as modern women – in this sense, we also see Sonya as someone with the visionary mindset of a filmmaker.
The book shows us the deep palette of emotional states of femininity – from fatal self-sacrifice in the name of love to brutal ambition in the name of power. And everything else in between these extremes. The spectrum of feminine states is very nuanced, and the book brings an explorer’s delight to the reader who feels like an explorer of the territory of the female psyche.
The book really is read in one breath – it is tempting and delicious, there is no way to leave it in the middle for example, the temptation totally overwhelms you – the principle is all or nothing.
What is remarkable is the hat-trick that Sonya and her production company SY11 Events have realised – the Handel recital (whose magical influence I am still under, 10 days later), the book (which I am sharing with you now, and which is a work of art in itself, dedicated to art) and the album The Courtesan (which I mentioned to you yesterday that I am obsessed with the beauty and passion of the performances on it). The enjoyment is very great for anyone who approaches with open senses. Sonya’s creative energy is inexhaustible. She is the epitome of the plethora of women she plays and yet is her own authentic and unique version, one of a kind!
In the book, Sonya defines herself as a warrior, speaks of her great drive for perfection, but also shares the terrifying doubt common among artists – the bared soul of the human and the artist gives us the privilege of being allowed to know her so intimately for the first time. In the book, we also see Sonya as someone with a strong social stance (no surprise to me – after all, she is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF Bulgaria and we were recently together in the field, but we’ll talk more about that later) – but here she also gives an unequivocal assessment of some of the hallmarks of modern society, including political correctness and Amazonian feminism. She also shares about devastating childhood poverty, the crushing pain of losing her father, experiencing violent jealousy from an ex-partner, or attempts at predatory sexual attitudes from colleagues (through some of these experiences, she connects strongly with her heroines, but she also resonates very universally with readers and thus becomes a natural mediator, a bridge between the women – historical or fictional – of the scores and the women (and men) in the theatres); apart from these darker passions, however, she narrates with warmth and gratitude for the unreserved support between her parents, which she tries to pass on as a foundation of values to her own children… is so real and sincere that the reader feels amazed and unprepared – he has come further in his understanding of her than he ever imagined. And it is a great and magnanimous gesture on her part – to allow us so close to her – as if willing to satisfy the thirst of interest in her as a diva, and then to be left alone as a human.
In this book, the reader has the sense of talking to Sonya herself – of hearing her voice, of feeling the images she paints; of seeing the memories she shares; of better understanding the female characters of the genius works and herself (especially interesting and enriching if you’re a man). Opera – through Sonya’s worldviews – is modern not for the sets and costumes, but for the psychological relevance. As an interpreter of images, she makes them more alive and relevant than I think even male librettists or composers have conceived them – in that sense she builds on them, revealing their true meaning and potential in a way only a woman could.
From the book we learn of the first throes of love, but also of the first standing ovations in a world opera (where, how and why you’ll have to find out for yourself). Sonya puts her heroines to the test of time – and not only do they pass it, but in the end it comes out that they themselves are putting time to the test – for as the ancient sages said: life is short, but art and love are eternal! Sonya also tells us which is for her the most beautiful aria she has sung… but I won’t give it away (read the book, I’ve already said quite a lot – but I assure you, this is only an appetiser, the real enjoyment will be from your own immersion in this book world, built from A to Z by Sonya herself and the closest people in her team (Petya Ivanova’s translated texts are a worthy literary work in their own right).
In the artistic fabric of the book, Sonya seems to weave a girlish braid – with one strand of hair being her own life experience and the other being the symbolism encoded in each of her heroines – and so they become one! This book is a flashback to incarnations already past, but also a teaser to big roles to come. Sonya is the artistic director of the entire production – which means that for the first time we see the visionary, the diva, the woman Sonya Yoncheva in all her complexity so completely. And I’m convinced that even this plethora of revelations, interpretations, images and messages is just a small part of all that Sonya has yet to develop and unfold for herself – and by empathizing with it, for us – with each successive project!
P.S. The cover features the image of Cleopatra as Sonya sees it in her imagination of and for a modern woman. I say this because I know that the upcoming documentary on Netflix with Cleopatra as a dark-skinned woman (being actually of Greek-Macedonian descent) is causing a backlash. In the book (albeit on another occasion) Sonya reveals that she is very particular about historical accuracy.
P.S. 2 Again in the book, it becomes clear that Sonya is not only a master of her craft with a thorough knowledge of opera history going back 300-400 years, but also a modern young woman who is very aware of – and even critically dissects – the influencers of the new generations.
P.S. 3 According to one’s own interests and worldviews, one can find so many different and increasingly intriguing topics in this super easy and smoothly readable book. You can find it in the online shop of the SY11 Production house: https://sy11events.com/product/petnadeset-ogledala/ – and soon, we hope, in the bookstore network in Bulgaria (of course, it will also be distributed in popular languages around the world). And the dedication “With many thanks” to me – after reading the book – makes me feel a thousand times more of the same personally towards Sonya, but also towards her team. A revelatory book that, for true opera lovers, is an invaluable litmus test to the worlds we love so much!

by Ivaylo Spasov


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