V1735. DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY, w.Ivari Ilja (Pf.): Pushkin Romances, by Glinka, Dargomyzhsky, Borodin, Vlasov, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov, Medtner, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff & Sviridov. Delos 3392. - 013491339221
“Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the charismatic Siberian baritone who won critical acclaim and devoted fans around the world for his burnished voice, uncanny breath control and rueful expressivity, was a favorite of audiences thanks to his alluring voice and heartthrob presence, Mr. Hvorostovsky cut a striking figure, his trim 6-foot-1 frame topped by a mane of prematurely white hair.
He also had a compelling personal story: He escaped the street-gang life as a teenager in a grim Siberian city, found his talent there despite the region’s cultural isolation, and overcame a tempestuous drinking problem that could have ruined his career.
Mr. Hvorostovsky was essentially a lyric baritone with a lighter voice. But his distinctive sound - with its russet colorings and slightly hooded quality, combining Russian-style melancholy with velvety Italianate lyricism - was so penetrating, he could send big top notes soaring. He could command the stage, and at his best he was a nuanced actor….He brought musical and linguistic authority to Russian opera, especially the title part of Tchaikovsky’s EUGENE ONEGIN, in which he was peerless.
As his career developed, he was increasingly sought after for his dramatically layered interpretations of Verdi baritone roles….He had a close association with the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang some 180 performances of 13 roles thereover a career that began in 1995. He had been scheduled to appear at the Metropolitan Opera in the fall of 2015, but that summer he revealed on his website that he had a brain tumor. He canceled his summer appearances to undergo treatment in London, his main home since the 1990s, and it seemed doubtful that he would be able to fulfill his commitment to the Met, which had scheduled him to sing six performances in October….But he managed to appear for three of the dates during a break in his treatment, and the reception at the Metropolitan Opera House was emotional. On the opening night of the run, the audience erupted in an ovation when he first appeared onstage….Briefly breaking character, he smiled and placed his hand over his heart in gratitude.
Mr. Hvorostovsky gave a magnificent performance and during final curtain calls was showered with white roses thrown by orchestra members. Behind him, his close Russian colleague Anna Netrebko (singing Leonora) wiped away tears.
Looking thinner but determined to continue, Mr. Hvorostovsky returned to New York in February 2016 for a sold-out recital at Carnegie Hall with the pianist Ivari Ilja, his longtime accompanist. He sang a program of Russian songs as well as some German ones by Richard Strauss, including several that seemed to be parting messages to his devoted fans, like Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nightingale’, with lyrics by Pushkin, which include these lines:
‘Dig me a grave In the broad open field
At my head plant Flowers of scarlet’.
The final ovations were ecstatic.
In an unannounced appearance, Mr. Hvorostovsky returned to the Met in May to take part in the gala concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the company’s Lincoln Center house. Though unsteady on his feet, he sang a valiant account of the vehement aria ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’ from Verdi’s RIGOLETTO, winning applause and cheers from the audience for this last-minute performance.
Dmitri Aleksandrovich Hvorostovsky was born on Oct. 16, 1962, in Krasnoyarsk, a large city in central Siberia. As a center of the Soviet defense industry, the city was mostly closed to foreigners until well into the Gorbachev era.
An only child, Mr. Hvorostovsky mostly lived with his maternal grandmother, whom he adored, and his volatile step-grandfather, a broken-down war hero, whom Mr. Hvorostovsky described in 2003 in a profile in THE NEW YORKER as ‘vain, arrogant and deeply alcoholic’. He remained devoted to his father, an engineer, and his mother, a gynecologist. But they both had time-consuming work schedules, and he saw them only on weekends.
That he showed musical talent, at first on the piano, delighted his father, who had wanted to be a musician but was forced into engineering school by his own father, a Communist die-hard. He arranged for his son to attend music school in the afternoons and evenings. When that program ended, however, Dmitri, at 14, fell in with street gangs, started drinking vodka, got into brawls and broke his nose several times. Still, he finished high school, and at 16, he was given a new direction when his father enrolled him in a vocational school for choral conductors. That led to his entering the conservatory in Krasnoyarsk, where he studied with Ekaterina Yoffel, whom Mr. Hvorostovsky remembered as ‘powerful, possessive, tough, cynical and very honest’. She taught him breath control, and his excellence at sustaining long phrases on a single breath would later be envied by colleagues. His potential was recognized early on. ‘I was the most cherished and loved and admired boy’, Mr. Hvorostovsky said in an interview in THE NEW YORK TIMES in 2008. He was given a government apartment while still a student.
Soviet music schools at the time paid scant attention to the Italian tradition of bel canto singing, which cultivated evenness through the range, smooth phrasing and the ability to embellish vocal lines with ornamentation. Mr. Hvorostovsky learned this heritage on his own by listening to classic recordings. He graduated from the conservatory in 1986, just after Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power and sanctioned greater freedom for artists to travel. In 1988, at 26, Mr. Hvorostovsky made his first trip outside the Soviet Union, to France, where he won the Concours International de Chant competition. (Freedom still had its limits, however: Two female K.G.B. agents accompanied him.) The next year, he won the prestigious Cardiff Singer of the World competition in Wales, narrowly beating out the young bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. Debuts followed in Nice, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Venice and London, where he introduced to Europe roles that would define his later career, including Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Yeletsky in PIQUE DAME, the role in which he made his Met debut in 1995.
Mr. Hvorostovsky was only in his early 30s when his hair turned almost white. But no matter whether he was portraying a younger man, like the diffident Onegin, or an older one, like Verdi’s troubled Simon Boccanegra, stage directors usually preferred his silvery mane to any wig. By the later 1990s, however, his performances could be erratic - sometimes dramatically unfocused, sometimes vocally patchy. By his own admission, he was often arrogant with directors and colleagues. The main problem, it became clear, was his drinking. “I could easily put away two bottles of vodka after a performance’, he told THE NEW YORKER. ‘I was a noisy, troublesome drunk’. Alcohol, he acknowledged, contributed to the breakup in 2001 of his first marriage, to Svetlana Hvorostovsky, whom he had married in 1989. Mr. Hvorostovsky said he stopped drinking on New Year’s Day 2001. He started unwinding after performances, he told THE NEW YORKER, by taking long, hot baths and watching ‘stupid television’. That same year he married Florence Illi, a Swiss-born soprano. His career revived in the 2000s, vaulting from one high to another. He won splendid reviews in 2002 for his performance at the Met as Prince Andrei in Prokofiev’s WAR AND PEACE, a role to which he brought uncommon vulnerability.
For years, Mr. Hvorostovsky devoted almost half of his professional time to solo recitals. He became a champion of the melancholic songs by the Russian composer Georgy Sviridov (1915-98), whose music was suppressed until the 1970s because he had refused to join the Communist Party.
In recent years, Mr. Hvorostovsky felt an increasing attachment to his homeland. In his interview with THE NEW YORKER, he recalled a concert he gave at 22 with fellow singers and instrumentalists in a bread factory in central Siberia in below-freezing weather. The audience, wearing fur hats and warm boots, was overcome. Those tears, Mr. Hvorostovsky said, ‘were more precious to me than all the applause I could ever get again’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 22 Nov., 2017