Review: SF Opera presents “Madame Butterfly” (****)

by Charles Kruger

Vincenzo Costanzo as Lt. Pinkerton and Lianna Haroutounian as Cio-Cio-San in SF Opera's production of "Madame Butterfy." Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.
Vincenzo Costanzo as Lt. Pinkerton and Lianna Haroutounian as Cio-Cio-San in SF Opera’s production of “Madame Butterfy.” Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Liana Haroutounian is unquestionably a great diva gifted with a magnificent instrument, insightful musicianship, and exceptional acting talent. But fans who recall her remarkable SF Opera debut as Tosca in 2014 could hardly be blamed for wondering whether she could be equally successful as the demur  and sorrowful Cio-Cio-San.

Well, put all doubts to rest. Harotounian is wonderful in “Madame Butterfly.” Her Cio-Cio-San is as young, unworldly, and innocent as her Tosca was mature, sophisticated, and cunning. Her range in acting rivals her range in voice.

Haroutounian’s second San Francisco appearance alone would make this production a must see, but it offers a great deal more.

Twenty five year old tenor Vincenzo Costanzo makes his United States debut as Lt. Pinkerton and it is a distinguished one. Those who hear it will have boasting rights for years to come. This reviewer heard through the grapevine that on opening night when Costanzo made his curtain call, he was taken aback by the San Francisco audience’s habit of booing unsympathetic characters such as the cruel Lieutenant. He thought for a moment that his performance was being judged badly. It wasn’t. He is a rising star, and his performance thrills.

That’s not all: Adler Fellow Zanda Švēde, who has done admirable work this season in a number of smaller roles, rises to diva-hood as Suzuki. Švēde’s and Haratounian’s performance of the famous Flower Duet delivers everything one might hope for.

The rest of the cast sings beautifully and acts with great conviction.

Jun Kameko’s production is visually satisfying in every way, greatly supported by Gary Marder’s lighting design. The scenes are washed with color effectively displayed to maximize the emotional impact of the music and the story.

The ultimate test of any “Butterfly,” however musically precise or visually engaging, is whether it has the power to move the audience to tears. This one does.

“Madame Butterfly” continues at the War Memorial Opera House through December 4. For further information, click here.

Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here)

“Madame Butterfly” by Giacomo Puccini, with libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacoa. Co-produced by SF Opera and Opera Omaha. Conductor: Yves Abel. Director: Leslie Swackhamer. Production Design: Jun Kameko. Lighting Design: Gary Marder. Choreographer: Melisa Noble. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson. Fight Director: Dave Meier. 


Cio-Cio-San: Liana Haroutounian. Lt. B. F. Pinkerton: Vincenzo Costanzo. Suzuki: Zanda Švēde. Goro: Julis Ahn. Sharpless: Anthony Clark Evans. Prince Yamadori: Edward Nelson. The Bonze: Raymond Aceto. Imperial Commissioner: Matthew Stump. Kate Pinkerton: Julie Adams. Official Registrat: Jere Torkelson. Sorrow Pinkerton: Ayla Cashman. 

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