OP0367. PIQUE DAME, recorded 1991, Symphony Hall, Boston & Carnegie Hall, w.Ozawa Cond. Boston Symphony Orch.;
Vladimir Atlantov, Sergei Leiferkus, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Mirella Freni, Maureen Forrester, etc. 3-RCA 60992, Slipcase Edition, w.Elaborate Brochure-Libretto. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 090266099221
“Atlantov was one of the reigning singers at the Bolshoi Theater in the 1960s and '70s, with a powerful voice, particularly in the top register, and emotional intensity well-suited for overwrought roles such as Don José in CARMEN and Gherman in Tchaikovsky's PIQUE DAME.
He studied at the Leningrad Conservatory, graduating in 1963, and making his début at the Kirov Theater the same year. From 1963 to 1965, he also studied at La Scala's apprentice singer program, and returning to the Soviet Union, won the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition, and joined the Bolshoi the year after. While most of his career was in the Soviet Union, he did make occasional appearances abroad, including his Covent Garden début in 1987 as Otello.”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com
“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
“Mirella Freni, an exemplary Italian prima donna for nearly 50 years, whose voice was ideally suited to lighter lyric roles but maintained its bloom even as she took on weightier, more dramatic repertory in midcareer, was hailed as a last exponent of the great Italian operatic heritage. ‘That tradition is ending’, Plácido Domingo was quoted as saying in a 1997 NEW YORK TIMES article about Ms. Freni. ‘Mirella is the end of a chain. After that you cannot see who really follows her’. Many opera lovers acknowledged Ms. Freni’s special claim on this tradition, which valued bel canto principles of producing rich, unforced sound; of shaping even, lyrical lines across the range of a voice; and of sensitively matching sound to words.
With her beguiling stage presence, quiet charisma and the affecting vulnerability she could summon in her singing, Ms. Freni made Mimì in Puccini’s LA BOHÈME a signature part. She won international acclaim in the role in a landmark 1963 production at La Scala in Milan, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who became one of her major champions. Though vocal beauty and proper technique were central to the Italian tradition, Ms. Freni placed a premium on expressivity and feeling. Commenting on the state of opera in a 1997 interview with The Times, she said there were many young artists who sing well and move well. ‘But that is all’, she added. ‘Finito! I want something deeper. It is important to have emotion, to live through the music onstage’, she continued. ‘Also, the Italian singers have a special feeling for the language. Even when we speak it is musical’. Yet she steadily expanded her repertory and, as the colorings of her voice grew darker with maturity, sang more dramatically intense and vocally heavy roles, like Desdemona in Verdi’s OTELLO, Verdi’s Aida and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. She was particularly urged on this course by Karajan, who brought her to the Salzburg Festival to sing Desdemona and the demanding role of Elisabetta in Verdi’s DON CARLO.
With the support of her second husband, the Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov, she ventured into Russian repertory, singing Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s EUGENE ONEGIN and Lisa in Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME. Yet Ms. Freni never lost the warmth and richness of her lyric soprano origins. Reviewing her performance in MANON LESCAUT at the Met in 1990, THE TIMES’ Donal Henahan marveled at her longevity and excellence. ‘The wonder of Mirella Freni at this stage of her career’, he wrote, ‘is that she continues to sing Puccini with seemingly reckless ardor while preserving a surprisingly fresh and beautiful sound’. Still, Ms. Freni considered herself a judicious soprano. She could say no, even to the imposing Karajan, if she though a particular role was not right for her. She recorded Puccini’s Madama Butterfly twice, including a film version conducted by Karajan, but never performed the role complete in a staged production in an opera house.
‘I am generous in many ways, but not when I think it will destroy my voice’, she said in a 2013 OPERA NEWS interview. ‘Some singers think they are gods who can do everything’, she added. ‘But I have always been honest with myself and my possibilities’.
She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965 as Mimì and returned regularly to sing, among various roles, Adina in Donizetti’s L’ELISIR D’AMORE, Liù in Puccini’s TURANDOT and a new 1967 production of Gounod’s ROMÉO ET JULIETTE opposite the star tenor Franco Corelli (with whom she recorded the opera splendidly the next year). But she had been absent from the Met for more than 14 years when she returned in 1983 as Elisabetta in DON CARLO, with James Levine conducting and Mr. Ghiaurov as Philip II. In 1996 the Met mounted a production of a rarity, Giordano’s FEDORA, for Ms. Freni and Mr. Domingo, garnering rave reviews for both. She sang more than 140 performances with the company in all.
Asked whether she thought of herself as the ‘last prima donna’, as she was sometimes called, Ms. Freni demurred. ‘You tell me why I am the last of a tradition’, she said. ‘I have done my job honestly. I have worked hard and with joy’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Feb., 2020