Sunday night’s A Tribute to Dmitri Hvorostovsky program at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, occurring exactly five months after the beloved Siberian baritone died from brain cancer last Nov. 22 at 55, comprised operatic arias and other songs dear to him, sung by international artists who were his friends, and like the entire opera world, forever pained by his untimely passing.
“For me and for many of us, its like he’s still alive,” said mezzo-soprano Nino Surguladze, who performed regularly with Hvorostovsky and appears in the TNT series The Alienist.
“It’s hard to find words that say what he was like,” she added, though she did reveal a telling email he’d sent her near the end: “Everything is going to be all right.” She also likened her departed friend to an angel on earth, taken away too early.
Tenor Raul Melo, who had sung the title role of Don Carlos opposite Hvorostovsky’s Rodrigo, and performed its “Dio, che nell’alma infondere” here with Bolshoi Theater baritone Oleksandr Kyreiev, said that Hvorostovsky was always the perfect gentleman, “always full of fun—and [he] always had a smile.”
Baritone David Gvinianidze, whose international concert organization Talents of the World presented the concert, had sung with Hvorostovsky in a production of Rigoletto and credited him as a major influence. Following his rendition of Rodrigo’s Don Carlos death aria “O Carlo, ascolta… Io morró” (Rodrigo was one of Hvorostovsky’s most-performed roles), he turned to the large bouquet-bedecked Hvorostovsky photo at the opposite end of the stage and bowed in respect.
Other highlights of the first part of the program included Surguladze’s “Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix” aria from Samson et Dalila, Georgian soprano Anni Kolkhida’s “Vissi d’Arte” from Tosca, Italian tenor Giovanni Formisano’s impassioned "È la solita storia del pastore” from L’Arlesiana, and the big finish of “Kto mozhet sravnitsa s Matildoj moyej?” from Iolanta featuring Gvinianidze and fellow baritones Kyreiev and Junhan Choi.
South Korea’s Choi, who recently took first prize at the Talents of the World International Voice Competition, was also strong in his second half “Pronta io son…” Don Pasquale duet with soprano Olga Lisovskaya, and was most entertaining in Figaro’s “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Séville—one of Hvorostovsky’s favorite arias. Lisovskaya, also the director of Talents of the World’s U.S. branch, noted how Hvorostovsky had excelled in many music styles including, besides opera and operetta, gypsy and Russian romance songs—upon which Gvinianidze delivered the beautiful Russian romance song “Tolko raz.”
Hvorostovsky loved to sing Neapolitan songs, and Formisano honored him by belting out “Core ‘ngrato,” written by Salvatore Cardillo for Enrico Caruso. Victoria Ulanovskaya, who shared piano accompaniment duties with Alexandra Naumenko, followed with another Hvorostovsky favorite, the popular Russian song “The World is Empty Without You (Tenderness),” during which she improvised—and seemed anguished as her volume and tempo increased before receding in sorrow; she, too, stood and faced Hvorostovsky’s picture afterward, her hands humbly pressed together.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky performs "The World is Empty Without You"
Kyreiev took a star turn on Man of La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream,” but the night’s brightest light was Surguladze, who joined Gvinianidze in the concluding “Adagio.” When the whole ensemble returned to the stage--each holding a white rose—she began the famous Russian romance song “Ochi Chyornye (Dark Eyes),” which Hvorostovsky performed at virtually all of his concerts. Gvinianidze began singing with her, and then the rest, with the largely Russian audience following suit.
And then the performers tossed their roses into the audience. It was a fitting final tribute to Hvorostovsky, who in the middle of treatment bravely returned to the Metropolitan Opera house stage a few blocks away in October, 2015, for three heroic performances as Count di Luna in Il Trovatore. After taking his long curtain call and standing with the rest of the cast while leading lady Anna Netrebko took hers, conductor Marco Armiliato shoved Horostovsky to the foot of the stage, where he was pelted with long-stemmed white roses by the orchestra’s musicians while his longtime friend Netrebko wept.
Metropolitan Opera's memorial tribute to Dmitri Hvorostovsky
No doubt many eyes in Zankel hall moistened as all on stage then turned to Hvorostovsky’s portrait and led Zankel Hall in prolonged applause.
A memorial collection of Dmitri Hvorostovsky curtain calls