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Dmitri Hvorostovsky: Live Recordings 1994-2016
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)
Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera
ORFEO C966181B [78:08]

Dmitri Hvorostovsky made the headlines when he in 1989 won the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, beating the local favourite Bryn Terfel in the finish. Terfel didn’t come away empty-handed, however, since he won the Lieder Prize, and both singers had spectacular careers. Hvorostovsky’s career was sadly cut short when he contracted a brain tumor in 2015. He managed to return to the stage for some time but died on 22 November 2017 aged 55. The present disc with live recordings from the Vienna State Opera covers most of his career. The latest recording, the second act duet from La traviata, was recorded less than a year before his demise.

His career took him to most of the big opera houses: Covent Garden, Chicago Lyric, La Scala, Berlin State Opera, Metropolitan and Vienna State Opera to name a few. At that house he was heard on 73 evenings, beginning with the Viennese premiere of Bellini’s I puritani on 2 May 1994, where he sang opposite Edita Gruberova and Marcello Giordani with Placido Domingo in the pit. The first track on this disc is from that performance and Riccardo’s Act 1 solo Ah! Per sempre io ti perdei is delivered with his characteristic nut-brown tone and intensity. One could complain that it is too full-throated, considering that this is Bellini and not Verdi. I heard him two years earlier at Covent Garden in the same role – that was also his debut role there – and as I remember it he was more lyrical then, but of course, memory can be deceptive.

Figaro in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia was his only comic role in Vienna and here he is rather boisterous in the duet with Almaviva. He is as expressive as ever and sings gloriously but is a bit over-the-top. Michael Schade’s lyrical Almaviva, on the other hand, is excellently stylish. He appears more to his advantage as Prince Yeletsky in Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame. He is in glorious vocal shape and his nuanced legato singing is masterly. This is Dmitri Hvorostovsky at his best.

Posa in Don Carlo was another of his great roles. He recorded it commercially in 1996 for Philips under Bernard Haitink and here, three years later, he sings just as wonderfully, with marvellous legato and brilliant height, well partnered by Violeta Urmana and Miriam Gauci. I heard him in the role in Vienna in 2002 with a different supporting cast but singing with the same brilliance and identification. And that was also characteristic for him: the voice changed very little during his long career. The very last years, when he was marked by his illness, one could notice a little more strain in his delivery, but very marginally. In the big scene with Gilda from Rigoletto, recorded in 2010 he is also deep inside the role. I would have preferred him to be more inward in Pari siamo, but no one can resist his glorious tone – and he has nuances. Patrizia Ciofi is a good Gilda. Hvorostovsky recorded the role complete very near the end of his life under studio conditions (review) and I am uncertain whether he heard the finished product. This is a worthy memento of another of his great roles, but it is also valuable to have the long excerpt on the present disc. The title role of Eugen Onegin was possibly his foremost signature role, and here in the scene with Tatiana from the first act he is warm and nuanced. He made a complete recording of the work for Philips as early as 1992, and it has claims to be the most recommendable among a large number of other sets, old or new.

For the rest of the well-filled disc we are treated to another three Verdi roles. The title role in Simon Boccanegra is one of the most complicated characters among Verdi’s many baritone heroes – or maybe anti-heroes – and Hvorostovsky recorded it complete in 2013 (review). Maybe his characterisation is less deep-probing than Tito Gobbi’s and Piero Cappuccilli’s on the two old “desert island” sets, but his intensity in this key scene is truly hair-raising on both the complete set and three years later in Vienna. As on the complete recording Barbara Frittoli sings Amelia and the unevenness I noticed there is even more pronounced here.

The La traviata performance on 29 November 2016 was Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s last appearance at the Vienne State Opera. He recorded it very early with Kiri Te Kanawa and Alfredo Kraus and his reading of the role (Giorgio Germont, father of Alfredo) was rather gruff and uninteresting. Maybe he felt uncomfortable with the age relations: Alfredo, the young lover of Violetta, was sung by a 65-year-old tenor, whose father was sung by Hvorostovsky who then was less than half that age. The young soprano had just turned 48 at the time. But also in other productions of Traviata, seen on DVD, he has been stern and unbending. The role is rather wooden, but Giorgio still shows some warmth, and here Hvorostovsky shows at least some sympathy with poor Violetta – and his tone is as golden as ever and his legato as impeccable as before. But the best reason to return to this number is Marina Rebeka’s superbly sung and acted Violetta. She is certainly one of the best Violettas around at the moment.

On the final track we hear Hvorostovsky in a part he never recorded in studio, even though there exist at least four live recordings, the latest from 2015. Un ballo in maschera is complicated in several ways. The historical background is the murder of King Gustavus III of Sweden, but the Italian censorship couldn’t allow the murder of a King in the theatre and Verdi had to transport the action to Boston and make the central character a governor, named Riccardo, while the original libretto had his secretary named Count Anckarström (in the Boston version his name is Renato). However the man who fired the pistol and killed Gustavus III in real life was certainly named Anckarström but he had no professional relation to the king, hardly knew him in fact. For that reason Erik Lindegren, when he rather freely wrote the libretto for a new staging of the opera in 1958, named the secretary Count Holberg, which is historically more relevant, and Anckarström is one of the two conspirators (Samuel in the Boston version). When in the final scene in the Stockholm version, Count Holberg is about to kill the king, Anckarström pushes him aside and fires the fatal shot. Here in Vienna 2016 it is Anckarström (of the original libretto) who sings the revengeful Eri tu. Is Hvorostovsky slightly worn? No, not exactly, although he has to work harder than a few years earlier. But there are fine nuances and there are violent ovations.

This issue is, warts and all, a valuable tribute to one of the greatest singers of his generation, and all admirers of Dmitri Hvorostovsky should hear it.

Göran Forsling

Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835)
I Puritani:
1. Ah! Per sempre io ti perdei ... bel sogno beato [6:57]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868)
Il Barbiere di Siviglia:
2. All’idea di quel metallo [8:15]
Pyotr Ilytch TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Pique Dame:
3. Ya vas lyublyu [5:20]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Don Carlo:
4. Signora! Per vostra Maestŕ ... Che mai si fa nel suol francese ... Carlo, ch’č sol il nostro amore [6:04]
5. Pari siamo ... Figlia! Mio padre! [16:10]
Eugen Onegin:
6. Vi mnye pisali ... Kogda bi zhizn domashnim krugom [5:34]
Giuseppe VERDI
Simon Boccanegra:
7. Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo [10:35]
La Traviata:
8. Pura siccome un angelo [12:26]
Un Ballo in Maschera:
9. Alzati! ... Eri tu [6:39]
Performance details
Placido Domingo (1); Simone Young (2); Seiji Ozawa (3); Vjekoslav Šutej (4); Michael Güttler (5); Kirill Petrenko (6); Marco Armiliato (7); Sperenza Scappuci (8); Jesús López Cobos (9)
Ruben Broitman (1); Michael Schade (2); Violeta Urmana, Miriam Gauci (4); Patrizia Ciofi, Donna Ellen, Ramón Vargas (5); Olga Guryakova (6); Barbara Frittoli, Francesco Meli, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Sorin Coliban, Adam Plachetka, Chorus of the Vienna State Opera (7); Marina Rebeka (8);
rec. live at the Vienna State Opera on 2 May 1994 (1); 14 May 1999 (2); 1 June 1999 (3); 25 May 1999 (4); 16 November 2010 (5); 5 June 2010 (6); 4 June 2016 (7); 29 November 2016 (8); 23 April 2016 (9)



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