Two weeks ago this afternoon, Joshua and I went to Symphony Hall to hear Dmitri Hvorostovsky in recital.
Hvorostovsky has one of the great voices of our time. He was granted a lyric baritone instrument of the most striking richness and beauty. He possesses a unique timbre—the sine qua non of all great singers—and he commands a thousand colors.
What is most remarkable about Hvorostovsky is that his voice is profoundly even throughout the registers. I have never heard another singer whose voice is so even, top register to bottom register, irrespective of the level of volume, as Hvorostovsky. In this respect, his voice is a freak of nature.
Hvorostovsky’s voice remains in prime condition, another unusual characteristic he possesses. Despite more than two decades of professional singing, Hvorostovsky—at age 48—has a voice that still sounds young and fresh and lustrous. There is not a hint of dryness in his production, very unusual for a voice that has been so long in service.
Hvorostovsky’s is the kind of voice that comes along only once a century.
Hvorostovsky has a very limited repertory in the theater. His career has focused on the baritone roles in Tchaikovsky operas and the lighter baritone roles in Verdi operas. Despite two decades of international demand by the most prestigious opera houses, he has made little effort to expand his repertory.
Hvorostovsky creates a striking figure onstage. With his erect posture and long silver hair, Hvorostovsky can dominate proceedings in the theater. There is something very narcissistic about Hvorostovsky, and this quality makes it hard for the viewer to ignore him when he is onstage, even when he is surrounded by artists of equal gifts.
Great singers do not necessarily make great recitalists. Hvorostovsky’s recital on February 27 was not a great recital. In fact, it was quite disappointing—the voice, and only the voice, made the recital worthwhile.
The program was short: four Faure songs, five Taneyev songs, two Liszt songs and six Tchaikovsky songs.
The program had not been announced in advance. If it had been announced in advance, Josh and I would have skipped the recital.
The Faure songs were the low point of the afternoon. Hvorostovsky performed them as if they were Russian lullabies. The voice was ravishing; the music-making was French neither in style nor spirit.
I had never heard the five Taneyev songs—and there were five, not six, despite what Matthew Guerrieri wrote in the Boston Globe—and the five songs struck me as pleasant but unmemorable.
After intermission, things improved. The two Liszt songs (from the Petrarch Songs, sung in Italian) were remarkably fine, and Hvorostovsky sang them with utter conviction. I thought Hvorostovsky was at his most glorious in the Liszt.
The six Tchaikovsky songs were probably the most-suited items of the afternoon for Hvorostovsky’s talents, and I am confident his performances were faultless. However, the entire time, I wished he had been singing the far greater songs of Mussorgsky.
There were two encores: the “Credo” from Verdi’s “Otello” and a Rachmaninoff song.
I had not entered Symphony Hall expecting to hear great lieder singing—but I had expected to hear a better program than what was provided. Other than hearing the remarkable instrument Hvorostovsky possesses, the recital was time not well-spent.
Hvorostovsky used a music stand throughout the afternoon, occasionally consulting the scores.
The pianist was Ivan Ilja.
Hvorostovsky needs to reexamine his concert presentation. He was dressed as if he were prepared to sing the baritone version of Massenet’s “Werther” in a Las Vegas production.
Hvorostovsky wore a black knee-length frock coat with giant sequined lapels, a black shirt, and what appeared to be black capri pants inspired by an old Doris Day movie.
He looked ridiculous.