Corrections or additions?
This article by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on February 11, 1998. All rights reserved.
The way I see it, there are three key aspects to the
career of baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who gives a recital at
Theater, Tuesday, February 17, at 8 p.m. First of all, he has an
voice, warm and supple, yet capable of filling a space as large as
the Metropolitan Opera House. Artistically, that’s good news. Second,
he presents himself as a possible cult figure. His recent release
from Philips has a slipcase showing him with dreamy eyes and slightly
parted lips, his prematurely silver hair reaching to the neck of his
black turtleneck. The album is simply called "Dmitri," and
pop stars Madonna and Elvis come to mind. Hvorostovsky has been
to Elvis, which is fine with him. Artistically that’s suspect, but
in a free world an artist has a right to earn his caviar as he wishes.
Third, Hvorostovsky grew up in Siberia, and finds his way repeatedly
and easily to Russian music. Artistically that’s authentic. Indeed,
his Russian-ness seeps into all the other aspects of his career.
Son of a physician mother and a chemical engineer father, Hvorostovsky
was born in 1962 in the Siberian metropolis of Krasnoyarsk, a
fort grown large and modern. With almost a million people, Krasnoyarsk
is a port and rail center, as well as a center for hydroelectric
Its factories produce farming and lumbering equipment, chemicals,
aluminum, cement, and textiles. There is gold in the region. Its
of technical and mathematical institutes have their homesites on the
Web. And downtown is an opera house. But while Minneapolis has St.
Paul across the river, Krasnoyarsk has nothing much nearby. This is
a remote place where people may smoke or drink to keep their minds
off their isolation. Despite his interest in a vocal career,
smoked. He has given it up.
Hvorostovsky has also given up living in Krasnoyarsk. He now resides
in London, with his wife, a former ballerina, and their twin toddlers.
Residing in Siberia can be temporary, but being Russian is permanent.
Once a Russian, always a Russian. Inevitably, Hvorostovsky champions
Russian music. He has performed and recorded a 12-song cycle,
Cast Adrift," by contemporary composer, Georgii Viridov. His
includes Russian folk music, Russian art songs, Russian opera, and
Russian liturgical music. He records exclusively for Philips Classics.
On the CD "Dmitri," a battery of Italian operatic selections
share the billing with Russian operatic and folk songs. Hvorostovsky
is as convincing in Italian as he is in Russian. The arias display
his vocal gifts and his stage presence. They range from the patter
of the "Largo al Factotum," in Rossini’s "Barber of
to the moving death scene of Rodrigo, in Verdi’s "Don Carlo,"
to Onegin’s declaration of love in Tchaikovsky’s "Eugene
Some of the sustained notes on the recording are a tribute to
physical fitness. (He is accompanied on the album by four different
orchestras.) The three Russian folk songs at the fulcrum of the
— one soulful, one lusty, one sad — remind the listener that
music grows from soil less pretentious than urban opera houses, and
that Hvorostovsky’s operatic roots are in Russian song.
Hvorostovsky learned his Italian from a retired engineer at the
Conservatory. A standard Hvorostovsky story tells of his singing Verdi
to a group of Krasnoyarsk’s senior citizens. They didn’t understand
the Italian, but they wept nonetheless. Not only is music a universal
language, so is emotion, even if it stems from an alien emotional
tradition. The Russian penchant for smoldering, melancholy passions
made the ebullient, explosive sensitivities of Italy directly
Russian sensibilities in many matters have a characteristic flavor.
There is a special attachment to the motherland that draws exiles
like Solzhenytsin back to Russia. Dostoevsky’s novels exploring the
Russian soul show a capacity for introspection that is ethnically
unique. A particular mystic strain dominates Russian Orthodoxy and
finds its way even into secular activities. In Krasnoyarsk, a
accident, probably known to Hvorostovsky, provides the basis for a
mystic magnification of the Russian soul, along Dostoyevskyan lines.
About 10 kilometers outside of Krasnoyarsk stand a pair
of rock pillars several hundred feet high where the intrepid climb.
As a matter of pride, they refuse to use technical climbing gear.
Volodya Teplix, a noted rock climber, had the ill fortune to stand
on a piece of rock which snapped. He fell slowly to his death. A
climbing nearby had time to take five photos before Teplix hit the
ground. The plaque erected in his memory declared, "The rocks
didn’t take Volodya into their heart; Volodya took them into HIS
The Russian spirit mystically overcomes all obstacles.
An unattributed quotation on Hvorostovsky’s "Credo" CD
"I believe in the power of the Russian sacred music to transport
the spirit, to open our eyes to the mysteries of faith and to teach
us, as Dostoyevsky believed, that `beauty will save the world’"
The cover art features a pair of eyes that, life size, reach across
the entire space. If you stand the CD upright and walk past, the eyes
follow you. Whether you believe or not, a mystic power is at work
in the world, they seem to say.
The recording is in the style of Russian church music during the years
1850 to 1950. The traditional chants consisting of a single vocal
line have been brought up to date by three or four-part harmony that
the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir supplies to support soloist
The bulk of the 13 selections take less than six minutes each.
Enveloping the listener in sound, "Credo" lets outsiders into
the congregation. A community with common roots then performs its
rituals. This is no mere crowd of unrelated people. Elemental and
brooding, the pieces are heavy and dark, slow and ponderous. There
are no tripping hosannas in this tradition. This is emotional music
from the Russian heart. Because of its focus on a single genre of
music and a relatively small time range, "Credo" provides
an in-depth experience. In this it is unlike Hvorostovsky’s more
"Dmitri," where snippets from many sources oscillate between
Italian and Russian opera. I prefer the tighter focus, with less
Shortly before Christmas, the Metropolitan Opera
a juxtaposition of Russian and Italian operas, paralleling the dual
ethnic material of Hvorostovsky’s "Dmitri" CD by scheduling
on successive nights Mussorgsky’s "Boris Godunov" and Verdi’s
"Don Carlo," a pair of powerful operas with remarkable
Both portray major historical figures against a backdrop of public
spectacles. Both show political leaders confronting simultaneously
problems of state and problems in their private lives. Written within
a year of each other, in the 1860s, the operas embody the difference
between a Russian stolidness and an Italian tempestuousness.
Hvorostovsky has already appeared in "Don Carlo," and is
his voice get ready for "Boris Godunov." At age 37, he
the need for his voice to grow into the dark demands of
and he looks forward to the challenge. Forever Russian, he knows that
Russia has shaped his past and his present. He counts on Russia being
there, also, in his future.
— Elaine Strauss
Place, 609-683-8000. $25. Tuesday, February 17, 8 p.m.
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