Aside form his vocal prowess, Dmitri Hvorostosky has long been the most charismatic and striking performer in opera, and with his heroic performances as Count di Luna in Il Trovatore at the Met last September in the midst of treatment for a brain tumor, the white-haired superstar Siberian baritone became the stuff of legend.
“It’s impossible to imagine a singer giving more than Mr. Hvorostovsky did,” wrote New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini in his review of the opening night, which ended with the entire orchestra peltng the beloved singer with white roses during the curtain call. Likewise, it’s impossible to imagine a more satisfying recital than Hvorostovsky’s at Carnegie Hall Wednesday night, which ended with a prolonged standing ovation and an armful of bouquets.
The evening of 19th century Russian art songs from Mikhail Glinka, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, capped by five German lieder by Richard Strauss, began auspiciously, with Hvorostovsky, right hand anchored on the edge of longtime accompanist Ivari Ilja’s Steinway, beaming at his receptive audience, taking a deep breath, leaning over and waving at someone in the front, then smiling again and launching into Glinka’s “To Molly.”
From there the repertoire covered a lot of emotional ground: On Glinka’s “Doubt,” Hvorostovsky swayed and clasped his hands forcefully as he sang about jealousy, betrayal and “insidious slanders,” relaxing at the end with the realization that “the time of sadness will pass,” and fully shifting mood to the spritely “Bolero.” Six brief songs by Rimsky-Korsakov followed, each with text by either Pushkin or Tolstoy and with its own distinct character manifested in the master’s superbly controlled delivery.
The Tchaikovsky segment also favored Pushkin and Tolstoy and led with the beautiful embrace of nature “I bless you, forests” (Tolstoy), ending with “The First Meeting,” text here by Grand Duke Konstantin Romanov and sung with proper ebullience. The closing Strauss songs were noticeably marked by Ilja’s lovely piano intros and codas, and on “Released,” by Hvorostovsky’s uncanny ability to somehow convey joy (“Oh happiness!”) in death’s release from suffering.
He encored with Antonio Valente’s “Passione” and the traditional Russian folk song “Nochen’ka” (“The Sweet Night”), the latter alone and unaccompanied. Majestically basking in audience adoration, he beat his heart rapidly and blew multiple kisses back, especially in the direction of ecstatic children screaming from the first tier boxes.