Some 15 years ago, I sang in a concert honoring the pianist Dalton Baldwin on his 70th birthday. Dmitri Hvorostovsky, already a world star also sang in that concert. Other than the occasional brief greetings at an event, that was our only significant interaction. The baritone however is one of the singers who captured my imagination when I sang as a baritone and was doing the competition circuit. He was three years older than his colleague Bryn Terfel. Their vocal duel in the final round of the 1989 edition of the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition is the stuff of operatic lore. The two became inextricably linked, at least in the minds of baritones of that generation. Both had particularly rich voices for their vocal category. Hvorostovsky, a lyric baritone took on the Verdian repertoire and Terfel, probably more suited to Verdi opted instead to focus on Wagner. Whether their darker hued voices confused those that were hiring, or that the gatekeepers opted to Fach up these two vibrant artists because the need for bona fide dramatic voices was being felt already in the early 90s is anyone’s guess. Most likely both reasonings played a role.
Hovorostovsky, if not a truly dramatic baritone in voice, was one in spirit. He understood the Verdian temperament, he had the requisite cantilena and the physical presence to inhabit the Verdian baritone. In an operatic arena that was more and more dominated by electronic media, he appeared at just the right time to become a world star. In certain lyric roles like Rossini’s Figaro, Onegin, Valentin, Prince Yetletsky and even Posa, he was unusually convincing:
His beautiful baritone voice was however not made for the heavier parts like Renato in Un ballo in maschera, or Di Luna beyond the cavatina.
One particularly significant contribution was his championing of Russian Romances (Art Songs). His many recordings encouraged developing singers, myself included, to look at the Russian song repertoire with less fear of the language.
Dmitri Alexandrovitsch Hvorostovsky, like most of the singers of his generation came to symbolise a turn in the modern operatic aesthetic: A unique vibration above all else. His unique voice is immediately recognisable. His emotional commitment to every sung moment is unmistakable in his plaintive voice. The often used Verdian direction: “con voce spiegata” probably found true meaning in his declamation more than any that come to my mind. He was not the “next Bastianini” as many in the operatic world wanted to label him, thinking it would be great marketing. No, he was the “first Dmitri Hvorostovsky!” And that is much more important and lasting. I am personally thankful this artist has walked this earth and left us with his unique and unforgettable vibration. I will always hear his voice whenever I hear this Tchaikovsky song:
…Thou thy earthly task has done, home art gone and ta’en thy wages…(Shakespeare)