Dmitri Hvorostovsky taking a bow at Carnegie Hall in February, 2016 (photo: Chris Lee)
The timing was in itself operatic.
One of the world’s most extraordinary operatic artists, and a beloved New York Metropolitan Opera performer of over 180 appearances since his 1995 debut in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades as Prince Yeletsky, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, had died Wednesday morning in London at age 55 after a battle with brain cancer. A few hours later, Met general manager Peter Gelb, just before the final dress rehearsal for the company’s latest production of Verdi’s funereal Requiem, came out to hail Hvorostovsky as “one of the greatest—and bravest—artists to ever grace this stage.”
Indeed, the incredibly charismatic Siberian baritone had given unforgettable Met performances of Germont in La Traviata, Andrei in War and Peace, Rodrigo in Don Carlo, Renato in Un Ballo in Maschera, Count di Luna in Il Trovatore, and the title roles of Don Giovanni, Rigoletto, and Eugene Onegin, among others.
In October, 2015, and in the middle of treatment, the most charismatic and striking vocalist gave three heroic performances as Count di Luna in Il Trovatore in becoming 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 pelting the white-haired superstar with white roses during the curtain call. And it was impossible, too, to imagine a more satisfying recital than Hvorostovsky’s, of 19th century Russian art songs, at Carnegie Hall a few months later in February, 2016, which ended with a prolonged standing ovation and an armful of bouquets.
Then last May Hvorostovsky made a surprise appearance at the Met’s 50th Anniversary Gala to the thrill of the audience, the company, and all his fellow artists.
“Dmitri was one of opera’s all-time greats, truly an artist for the ages,” said Gelb in a statement. “In addition to his astounding vocal gifts, he had an electrifying stage presence and a charisma that won over both his adoring audiences and his devoted colleagues. He will be sorely missed by the entire Metropolitan Opera family.”
Gelb announced that like the dress rehearasal, the four forthcoming Requiem concerts will be dedicated to Hvorostovsky.
At the website of Delos Productions, Hvorostovsky’s U.S. label that this month released a recording of his Rigoletto, general manager Lindsay Koob expressed the company’s “shock, infinite sadness and deepest personal grief [for] a truly great artist whose long and fulfilling career represented the highest form of inspiration and dedication.”
“It’s doubly hard to mourn one who is taken from us at the ‘top of his game,’ with many more years of glowing artistic achievement surely lying ahead,” wrote Koob, adding, “not only is the international opera community—major opera houses and fans alike—devastated by his loss, but there are now deep holes in the hearts of the lucky legions of fellow artists with whom he worked to make great music.”
Citing his “Olympian stature” as an artist, Koob noted how Hvorostovsky, who has been called “the Elvis of opera,” “was always disarmingly gracious, down-to-earth, warmly gregarious and unassuming with both friends and public at large.”
Koob further marveled at his “matchless vocal beauty and technique, interpretive magic that burrowed straight into the hearts and souls of his listeners, riveting stage presence, and silver-maned ‘barihunk’ good looks: altogether a dizzying operatic heartthrob … but one with fathomless depth and supreme artistic purpose.”
“There are now empty spaces within us that will never quite heal,“ continued Koob. “For Dima was one of a kind, and leaves shoes that can never be filled. Yet as we mourn, we can find comfort and some degree of closure in the fact that, thanks to the miracles of modern sound media, his recorded legacy will continue to thrill vocal aficionados forever.“
Koob also mentioned the many Hvorostovsky recordings of traditional Russian art songs and classic Russian patriotic wartime popular songs in his Delos discography.
“History will be hard-pressed to name a more highly revered Russian cultural icon of our time,” said Koob.
In September, Hvorostovsky was awarded the Order of Merit for the Fatherland of the IV degree--one of the highest non-military honors in Russia--for his great contribution to his country’s art and culture.
Via Russian news agency TASS, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov spoke for President Vladimir Putin: “The president extends his deepest condolences to the relatives, friends and fans of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who passed away today. The president was an admirer of Hvorostovsky. In general, we believe he [Hvorostovsky’s art] is both our domestic and global cultural heritage. This is a very heavy loss.”
At England’s Royal Opera, music director Antonio Pappano lauded Hvorostovsky’s “genuine flair and generosity towards his public…the sheer beauty of his voice and his matinee-idol good looks [and the unique] joy with which he approached performing.”
“On a personal note,” added Pappano, “I once had the opportunity to accompany him on the piano in a group of songs by Rachmaninoff. The experience remains for me unforgettable, listening to him singing in his native language, the depth of understanding and his vocal prowess were overwhelming.”
In an Associated Press obituary, Placido Domingo said, “Words cannot express my anguish that one of the greatest voices of our time has been silenced. Dmitri's incomparably beautiful voice and peerless artistry touched the souls of millions of music lovers. His passing will be mourned by his countless admirers around the world and by those of us who were fortunate to know him.”
The obit also quoted Renee Fleming, who performed with Hvorostovsky in his memorable title role in Eugene Onegin: “Dima was a truly exceptional artist—a great recitalist as well as a great opera singer, which is rare.”
There “have been many beautiful voices,’’ Fleming noted in a New York Times obit quote, “but in my opinion none more beautiful than Dmitri’s.”
Metropolitan Opera's memorial tribute to Dmitri Hvorostovsky