Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Exploring Artists: Dmitri Hvorostovsky

And now, the moment you all didn't know you were waiting for!  Announcing... drumroll, please... the new Exploring Artists series.  Each installment will feature a single opera singer, well-known or not, and will spotlight his or her career and works.  If you would like to see a specific singer featured, or if you are a singer yourself, and would like to be featured on Exploring Artists, please let me know!  Otherwise, you'll just have to sit tight while I work my way through some of my favorites, which is how I will start, anyway.

The obvious choice to inaugurate the Exploring Artists series is my current musical obsession, the great Siberian baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky.  Although I've known his name since I was sixteen years old, his voice is a relatively new discovery for me.  I first heard of him on one of my many visits to a specialty music store in Eugene, Oregon, one of the few cities in the country able to support a store that sold opera almost exclusively.  Anyway, I went in that day to pick up one of the Domingo recordings (probably Il Trovatore or Tosca) that I had special ordered.  I glanced at the posters on the wall, as I always did, and there, between Placido Domingo and Yo Yo Ma, was this guy with this impossible name.  I seem to recall that his hair was already quite noticeably whitening, but that could be my memory playing tricks on me.  This was, after all, back in 1993 or 1994, and who can really accurately remember the details that far back?  Anyway, I couldn't tell from the poster if he was a singer, a pianist, a conductor, or something else, and I didn't really pay too much attention.  I was on a mission!  My new Domingo CD was waiting!
Over the years, I would see his name in various places, on Opera's Greatest CDs, on upcoming performance mailings, and I'd think back to that day at Musique Gourmet and wonder again exactly how to pronounce that "hv".  And yet, I never really heard him sing.  Then earlier this year, my son and I went to see Il Trovatore from the Met Live in HD.  It is my favorite opera, and Dolora Zajick was singing Azuchena, so I was really excited.  I didn't know who else was singing, and I didn't care.  I was expecting her to be the star of the show, as she always is in this role.  But as amazing as her performance was, the spotlight was stolen from her by a silver-haired, velvet-voiced baritone.  After almost twenty years, I had finally heard Dmitri Hvorostovsky.  And I was hooked from the moment the words "tace la notte" left his lips.  The notes he sang were so breathtakingly beautiful and powerful, and he played the role of di Luna with such passion that, for the first time in my life, I found myself sympathizing with the "evil" Count.

Well, I didn't sleep for many hours after that performance.  I was up half the night, watching YouTube videos of this amazing artist.  I saw him singing Rigoletto in concert, hunched over as he stood there on stage in his tux.  I saw him transform almost instantly from the grim hunchback to the delightfully humorous Figaro.  I saw him achieve the impossible feat of simultaneously singing both Don Giovanni and his servant, Leporello.  And I saw him singing all the Russian songs I grew up listening to.  And every performance was executed with such skill and beauty as to be virtually flawless!  I was completely in awe of his voice, which is like intense dark chocolate (72% or higher), melted into a rich, creamy fondue sauce and drizzled over fresh strawberries, and of his *ahem* shall we say, somewhat above average looks.  (My husband teases me mercilessly on that point, but he forgets that there's an incredible voice to go along with the pretty face!)    
So what's a (at the time) college girl who's sick of researching vascular diseases supposed to do at eleven o'clock on a work night?  More research, of course!  So I quickly set about learning everything I could about this glorious singer, and here's a bit of what I found. 
Dmitri Hvorostovsky was born in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, where he studied music from a young age.  After winning several national competitions, he entered the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1989, where he famously beat Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in the almost legendary "battle of the baritones".  Choosing a single aria to post from that performance was very difficult, but while I prefer his Eri Tu, I selected this because it so beautifully demonstrates his unbelievable breath control.

Anyway, his career exploded literally the next day.  He had recording contracts and bookings with the great opera houses and concert halls the world over.  Over the years, he has performed a wide range of roles, ranging from Tchaikovsky to Mozart to Verdi.  His portrayal of Rigoletto is at once fierce and tender, full of love for his daughter and hatered for everyone else.  He is the definitive Eugene Onegin, and once I saw him performing opposite Renee Fleming, no other baritone would do for the role.  The glimpses he has given us of his Iago, which I hope we will soon have the pleasure of witnessing in its entirety, are spine-chillingly evil.  And as I'm sure I mentioned before, his di Luna changed my whole perspective of Il Trovatore.
 In addition to his fully-staged operatic performances, Mr. Hvorostovsky is a celebrated recitalist and concert performer.  Every year he travels the world, singing not only opera favorites, but also Neapolitan and Russian songs, and he has even collaborated with the popular Russian composer Igor Krutoy.  He is currently wrapping up a tour of Russia, and will be returning to the stage of the Met twice over the next few months, first in Ernani and then in La Traviata.  His next recording to be released is a CD of Rachmaninov romances, published under the Ondine label, which will be available sometime in January 2012.

As some of my South Florida readers may already know, Mr. Hvorostovsky has graced Miami with his presence on several occasions.  Alas, his appearances in the Sunshine State all took place before I really discovered him, and so I have missed out on these wonderful experiences.  I have heard a rumor that he will be returning in the near future, but I have been unable to verify it, so I will say no more on the subject other than that as soon as I know anything, you'll know, too.  And when that does happen, you can bet I will make every effort to be first in line for tickets.  Never again will I miss an opportunity to see him perform.


  1. Opera Girl :) Thank you for this heartfelt story! I discovered him as father Germont, three years ago... and never recovered from the spell! He is the BEST! simply! And I had the chance to see him live too, in Il Trovatore in Verona! His Balen blowed my mind away as always! i will never forget also my meeting for the autograph... but I was so astonished I could only mutter a "thank you", stupid me :)

  2. Wow! You got to see him in Verona? That must have been incredible! I'm afraid that I will probably react similarly if I ever have the opportunity to meet him. I think I'll turn bright red and end up mumbling at my feet!

  3. It has been incredible yes! :) But you saw him "live" too in Il Trovatore :D I know the cinema is not the same thing,but I am sure we will appreciate very much the Live in HD of Ernani and Traviata this spring :) I cannot afford to fly from Italy to beautiful NY only for a performance! But once I'd really like to go to the Met! must be wonderful! Next time I hope to meet him is Vienna, for Simon Boccanegra! Can't wait for it! And do you have plans to travel somewhere? :) Or you wait when he comes to the USA? ( Very often he is there :D So you don't have to wait so long! )
    ps: If you click on my nickname "dimaland" it links to my blog, dedicated to Dmitri :) If you want to read something, but only of you want!

  4. Opera girl: Yo descubrí al gran Dmitri, en mi ciudad Buenos Aires, donde encontré un DVD suyo cantando Eugenio Oneguin y ese mago me hechizó. Luego vi lo que hay de el en Youtube y adquirí también su DVD en San Petesburgo con Renée Fleming. El estuvo en Buenos Aires dos veces, la última en 1997 pero yo no lo conocía. Que pena! Espero que vuelva alguna vez. Desde hace meses, su voz es lo primero que escucho por la mañana y lo último por la noche. Es el Dios de la música y un hombre de una presencia magnética. Saludos afectuosos!