Arts & Events

Updated: Lianna Haroutounian’s Sparkling Recital at Herbst Theatre

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday November 26, 2017 - 02:57:00 PM

Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian, who recently took local audiences by storm at San Francisco Opera in the title-roles in Puccini’s Tosca (2014) and Madama Butterfly (2016), returned to San Francisco for her first USA solo recital on Saturday afternoon, November 25, at Herbst Theatre. Presented by Friends of Lianna Recital Committee, this program brought together not only friends and admirers of Lianna Haroutounian but also a large proportion of our Bay Area Armenian community. It felt like, in many ways, a family occasion, all the more appropriate coming as it did over the Thanksgiving weekend when families gather together. Our local Armenian community gave Lianna Haroutounian a very warm and admiring welcome. 

After studying at the Armenian National Conservatory in Erevan, Lianna Haroutounian continued her training at Le Centre de Formation Lyrique de l’Opéra Bastille in Paris. Her international debut came in 2013 when she stepped in at short notice at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, to sing Elisabeth de Valois in Verdi’s Don Carlo with Jonas Kauffman and Ferruccio Furlanetto under conductor Antonio Pappano. For an international debut, you could hardly do better than this! Since then, Lianna Haroutounian has graced the stages of Frankfurt Opera, the ABAO at Bilbao, the GNO at Athens, and Teatro San Carlo in Naples, as well as her aforementioned San Francisco Opera performances, which received rave reviews, including mine. (See Lianna Harounian’s website where my reviews are posted.) 

Already well-launched on a major operatic career, Lianna Haroutounian made her USA solo recital debut in this San Francisco program. Accompanied here by pianist Tamara Sanikidze, Lianna Haroutounian opened the program with little-known songs by Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini. The Rossini songs, written during his Paris years, were full of bravura and wit. By contrast, the Bellini songs, probably written in the 1820s, were, alternately, soft and sweet or dreamy yet melancholy and dramatic. Lianna Haroutounian’s performance of these Bellini songs made me wish to hear her sing some of Bellini’s great opera roles for soprano. I believe she has the technical breath control to navigate Bellini’s extremely long melodic lines. Indeed, Lianna Haroutounian seemingly has the perfect vocal technique to sing almost anything in the 19th century repertoire, as was evidenced in this recital. She has sumptuous tone in the lower register and scintillating high notes executed with natural ease without any register break between chest notes and high notes. Her vocal technique is impeccable. 

After her opening songs by Italian composers, Ms. Haroutounian launched a set of songs by beloved Armenian composer Soghomon Soghomoyan-Komitas (1869-1935). These Komitas songs, utterly unfamiliar to me, were a revelation. In their use of folk songs and folk rhythms, they reminded me of French composer Canteloube’s lovely Chansons de l’Auvergne. After hearing Lianna Haroutounian sing these songs by Komitas I can hardly wait to hear more of this Armenian composer!  

Next on the program were Russian works. Two songs by Tchaikovsky, a cradle song, soft and lullaby-like, plus a dramatic one, were artfully rendered by Ms. Haroutounian. Then she sang a lyrical piece entitled “The Dream” by Rachmaninoff plus a more dramatic piece by the same composer entitled “I wait for you.” The singer was at her best in Rachmaninoff’s luxuriant melodies.  

After intermission, pianist Tamara Sanikidze performed Chopin’s Nocturne, No. 20. This was very delicately and expertly rendered. Then Lianna Haroutounian returned to sing a set of Italian and French arias. First were two arias from Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilea. The first, “Ecco respiro appena,” was dramatic; the second, “Poveri fiori,” was anguished and poignant. Next came an aria from Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz, followed by one from Gounod’s Faust, in which Marguerite sings of seeing herself in a mirror wearing jewels given her by Faust.  

As encores, Lianna Haroutounian was generous to the extreme. She offered first a song by Dvoràk. Then came the lovely aria, “Lontano,” from Catalani’s La Wally. This was followed by a lovely religious piece from the Armenian Easter mass, sung a capella. To close the recital, Lianna Haroutounian sang the aria “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. 

What a treat it was to hear Lianna Haroutounian in this recital! After hearing her live in San Francisco Opera’s performances of Tosca and Madama Butterfly, this recital gave us hints of what new material we might expect from this great soprano. Moreover, her performance of songs by Armenian composer Komitas opened up a whole new area for me to explore. I can’t say how delighted I was by this wonderful recital by one of the world’s leading vocalists, Lianna Haroutounian.