Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

Stepping in for Karel Mark Chichon, who cancelled due to illness, young
Italian conductor Pietro Rizzo led the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in a
exciting, if imperfect, performance. It was evident that he had had very little
time with the orchestra. The first bars sounded rather scrabbly. There were
unsteady woodwind attacks, especially in the wedding scene, and the horn
section repeatedly lagged behind in Act III. Mr Rizzo’s signalling to the
Netherlands Radio Choir, who ushered in Butterfly with some heavenly sounds,
also suffered from their belated acquaintance. The Humming Chorus, sung
backstage, was adequate musically but lacked dynamic subtlety. Flaws aside,
however, the performance had a pulsating energy and was enriched with carefully
crafted details. Mr Rizzo can suspend a phrase in mid-air and then let it glide
down as gracefully as the folds of a kimono. He also whipped up some thrilling
Puccinian crests, although climaxes were hard-edged and needed more roundness
in the brass. Altogether, Mr Rizzo’s was an exciting Concertgebouw debut.
It was also his first time conducting in the Netherlands, and hopefully he will
return soon. There were excellent contributions from some of the principals, in
particular concertmaster Joris van Rijn’s tender solos, Ellen
Versney’s softly glittering harp and Paul Jussen’s portentous

All the soloists sang the music by heart, which is always a boon, and
entered and exited in character. Most of the supporting cast ranged from
acceptable to competent. As Goro tenor Ho-yoon Chung sang very well indeed, but
nothing in his characterisation suggested the marriage-broker’s base,
money-grubbing nature. He sounded more like a friendly next-door neighbour. A
cut above the rest were bass Miklós Sebestyén as the Bonze and the
three Dutch singers playing Kate Pinkerton and Butterfly’s relatives. Mr
Sebestyén was vocally commanding in his short scene, storming in to
renounce Cio-Cio-San for converting to Christianity. Maria Fiselier, Ruth
Willemse and Julia Westendorp were all outstanding.

Tenor Arnold Rutkowski has an attractive lyric voice with an interesting,
bittersweet chocolatey timbre. His Pinkerton was young and foolish and
completely unaware of the havoc he was wreaking. He was on solid ground as long
as he sang mezzo forte or louder. Softer singing resulted in quality loss. Mr
Rutkowski is very musical, but more dynamic control would increase his
expressive possibilities. He had all the high notes, which he jettisoned with
great physical energy, but the dicey trajectory they sometimes took made one
wish for more technical grip. Baritone Angelo Veccia was a suave and humane
Sharpless. His refined phrasing amply made up for some throatiness, mostly
evident in the upper third of the voice. Mr Veccia’s restrained Sharpless
found a dramatic foil in Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who brought her potent dramatic
presence to Suzuki. The extremes of her acerbic top and plunging contralto made
Butterfly’s maid and companion both fierce-tempered and fiercely
maternal. The orchestra was often a little too loud—a common issue at the
Concertgebouw, where sound carries further than some conductors
realise—but Ms Lemieux could easily counter the volume.

So could Lianna Haroutounian, who gave a world-class performance as the
abandoned teenage bride. Her Butterfly was trusting but dignified, and devoid
of simpering silliness. With its rich, silk-wrapped vibrato, even focus from
top to bottom, and that ductile quality Italians call morbidezza
(softness), Ms Haroutounian’s voice is ideal for the young heroine. And
she is a true spinto soprano, with enough power and stamina to tackle the
onerous third act. Her full top notes are confident and lustrous. She did not
take the high D flat at the end of the entrance aria, but the
composer-sanctioned lower alternative, and quite beautifully too. “Un bel
dì vedremo” (One fine day) was vocal perfection. She effectively
built up the tension during Butterfly’s imagined reunion with Pinkerton
and ended the aria in a stunning high B flat. Visibly emotional in the suicide
scene, she veered a little sharp in “Tu, tu, piccolo iddio” (You,
you, my little god). Halfway through, she refocused her voice and sailed
through to a secure finale. Unsurprisingly, the hall gave her a clamorous
ovation. San Francisco Opera has already announced that Ms Haroutounian will be
their Butterfly next season. No doubt she will be invited to sing this role at
several other houses. As many Puccini fans as possible need to hear her in it.
In fact, opera fans of all types need to hear Ms Haroutounian, in any of her
roles—hers is one of the major voices of our time.

Jenny Camilleri

Cast and production information:

Cio-Cio-San — Lianna Haroutounian, Suzuki — Marie-Nicole
Lemieux, Arnold Rutkowski — Pinkerton, Sharpless — Angelo Veccia,
Goro — Ho-yoon Chung, Prince Yamadori— Yujoong Kim, The
Bonze— Miklós Sebestyén, Yakusidé — Hee-Saup Yoon,
The Imperial Commissioner — Enseok Choi, The Official Registrar —
Kyung-Il Ko, Cio-Cio-San’s Mother — Ruth Willemse, Kate
Pinkerton/Aunt — Maria Fiselier, Niece — Julia Westendorp,
Conductor — Pietro Rizzo, Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands Radio
Philharmonic. Heard at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on Saturday,
16th January, 2016.

image_description=Lianna Haroutounian []
product_title=Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw
product_by=A review by Jenny Camilleri
product_id=Above: Lianna Haroutounian