Saturday, May 13, 2006

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, half a life, and rain

Walked in a few minutes ago and rolled the blinds down. I hear the sound of rain and sirens. My feet are cold. It's been raining all week in Boston. The basement of my building is flooded. I've heard that it rains more in Boston than in Seattle (and that Boston is a windier city than Chicago).

Twelve years ago tonight, I sat in the penultimate row of center orchestra at Dade County Auditorium in Miami. Ten days shy of thirteen, I had somehow persuaded my mother to buy to tickets to a certain soprano's concert, her only South Florida appearance (until a Palm Beach gala, which I missed, some eight years later). I was in the seventh grade and, inspired by four years of music class with a charismatic teacher, had become fervently interested in classical music and opera. I started with a budget recording of the Carmen and L'Arlesienne suites, and branched out to collections of opera arias. At the time I attended this concert, my first live classical performance, I owned about two of such CDs. But I read with great interest and curiosity, and I had subscribed to BBC Music earlier that year. Each issue came with a CD. On the cover of the second issue I received, dated March 1994, was Kiri Te Kanawa. I read the cover story and was intrigued by this stunningly beautiful woman. Several weeks later, I saw an ad in the Miami Herald announcing her concert. I just had to go.

Now, I didn't know how to pronounce her name, and all I had heard of her voice were the two excerpts from Cosi fan tutte on The Ultimate Opera Collection. But I was excited as my father and I drove to Downtown Miami. On the highway, a sleek green Cadilllac stretch limousine passed us, and remained just in front of us as both vehicles approched the concert venue. The limousine pulled into a small parking lot adjacent to the stage door, and I watched as Dame Kiri stepped out of the rear, elegant in a suit and dark shades, carrying in her arms, as she would a large bouquet, her colorful gown wrapped in tissue. Julius Rudel exited from shotgun and they headed inside.

I knew it was a beautiful voice. I knew it was a great voice. I heard a few cracks, a flaw that did not last for very long. But I knew none of the music that she sang; indeed, I knew very little music at that time. Even "O mio babbino caro" was new to me, though I recognized a few bars from the radio spot promoting the concert.

On May 13, 1994, I heard my first great operatic voice. Twelve years later, I'm about to close a season during which I have attended some forty-two performances at the Metropolitan Opera, the Boston Symphony, and Celebrity Series. And at the last performance of the season, the Volpe gala, Dame Kiri and Frederica von Stade are scheduled to sing "A guarda sorella," the very recording of which introduced me to their voices.

Reading Dmitri Hvorstovsky's bio in the program of his Jordan Hall recital, I noticed that only one other singer's name is mentioned: "Dmitri Hvorostovsky has released numerous recordings . . . including . . . Verdi's La Traviata with Kiri Te Kanawa . . ." That recording, my introduction to Hvorstovky when I received it as a Christmas gift in 1994, fails to capture the beauty and richness of that voice. I first heard him live in last season's Faust, and his brooding presence as Valentin burned into my memory.

[I have to get dinner . . . to be continued]


I'm resuming this post at 5:06am. Ah, where does the time go?

As the house lights dimmed, in preparation for Dmitri's entrance, I noticed something: they were completely extinguished. It's generally the artist who makes such a request. Why would Dmitri want us to be in complete darkness? Surely he's aware that most of us don't speak Russian. Needless to say, I had great difficulty following the texts for three of the four groups. The French group was no easier because, though French is my second language, Dmitri's French diction (as I noticed in Faust) is, well, not very clear.

How I love Jordan Hall for voice! Symphony Hall is also a good venue for voice, but Jordan seats half (or fewer) patrons, and its delicious intimacy sets the stage for stunning recitals. Dmitri blew us out of the water with his gorgeous voice and his cool charisma. He is an intense performer who needs to focus, to concentrate. Perhaps this explains the darkness of the house? Surprisingly, the audience applauded after each song. Renee Fleming would have told us (as she always does) to hold our applause until the end of each group "to keep the continuity," but he just shut his eyes in anticipation of the disruptive applause and did his best to ignore it.

He opened with five Tchaikovsky songs. Dmitri has a cool presence, but he also has a killer smile, and he uses it to great effect. He flashed his teeth during the last song, "Does the day reign," and after the loud cadence, he smiled again and looked up, maintaining a somewhat self-conscious bearing during the long piano postlude. The sheer beauty of his voice and his flawless singing are enough to endear you to him, but these moments of vulnerability make you a true believer.

Dmitri has a clear connection witht he folk elements of Mussorgsky's "Songs of Dance and Death," and it was pure pleasure hearing him sing these four songs. I wanted to commit murder when the audience appplauded right during the suspenseful pause in "Serenade," between the phrases "Be still" and "you are mine." It's Death speaking, and it's a chilling moment. Dmitri made a threatening gesture with his hand as he pumped out the volume. "Russian Dance," which followed had some fun moments of folk-like singing, where Dmitri even used falsetto briefly. I got really frustrated during the long last piece, because I couldn't see the text and couldn't follow. Dmitri, this lights-out thing isn't such a great idea.

I started studying voice last summer, and I learned that in preparing a piece, it's important to think of how you're going to tell this story. Where is your emotional connection to the piece? Dmitri smiled broadly during "Phidyle," the first song of the Duparc group in the second half. He was intimately connected to this song. Dmitri, whom were you thinking of? Some of the softest singing of the evening came in the gentle pleas ("Rest!") before the last verse.

Dmitri really knows how to use his arms. It's almost uncanny. At the end of "Soupir," he held his arms up and quietly sung the last "toujours," the sadness of "jamais" evoked by the final piano chord. Yes, it ended on a sigh. It was a moment, a small moment, where everything came together so perfectly--voice, piano, gesture.

The last Duparc song had the most moving text of the evening, "The Wave and the Bell," a poem by François Coppe. Dmitri looks positively frightened as he sang the last two verses, about a dream that leads the poet to ponder "the fruitless toil and the endless strife / Of which human life, alas, is made."

The Rachmaninov group was pure ecstacy. "In the silence of the mysterious night" is a terribly difficulty song, as I have written elsewhere [link to Podles]. Dmitri sounded a bit controlled in parts, but he cherished the word "mu," holding the consonant in the word's penultimate appearance, and, a couple phrases later, holding the vowel, which closes the song, extra long.

Classic brooding characterized "Alone again," during the second verse of which which Dmitri swayed from side to side. As he sang the haunting final three lines of "An excerpt from A. Musset--Loneliness," he looked up with he most desperate expression on his face. One gesture that's almost impossible to describe took place at the last line of "A Dream." I can only call it a slight shrug--his arms swung ever-so-slightly as he sang "But that was only a dream!", a melancholic reflection of homesickness. He closed the program with "Spring Waters." On the last word, "nej," the sound poured out of him. It just poured out. Instant standing ovation.

People yelled out requests--really, these people were too excited for their own good--and he said that he's going to offer us Verdi. He launched into the most chilling "Credo" I've heard, capped with a hearty, demonic laugh. The crowd went insane. He grinned mischievously before beginning the second piece, which the audience seemed to recognize. Though I understood some of the Italian words ("sei tu!"), I really don't knoww the piece. For the third encore, he came out by himself, and after bowing he sat at the piano and got us to sit down, then promptly stood up again. What a joker! Such a playful sense of humor. Dmitri. His voice is rich and even, and has a smooth tone with the texture and color of melted dark chocolate. We all bathed in it. He introduced his last encore as a "favorite Russian folk song," and he sang a gorgeous, haunting, and highly melismatic tune a cappella. With dynamic variation and a wide range, this was sort of a kaleidescope of his voice and a perfect farewell.


Anonymous said...

How great a master Hvorostovsky is, a golden voice of golden voices. As Bryn Terfel said of a competition with their participation, as soon as he began singing all the baritones knew it was all over [no surprise since compared to him other baritones are mere inaudible little girl sopranos]. I'm just quoting Bryn's observations (not counting the brackets), whom I regard very highly, but there's only one Dmitri in this generation, and considering recordings, quite possibly in all of history, like J.S. Bach and composers. For western weenies who try to escape suffering let this be a lesson as to the indescribably rich fruit of the suffering of this great man born and raised in the tortures of Siberia of the USSR evil empire, due to his right manly fight without which the fruit had been green and shriveled, though his wife surely must deserve credit for his full richness as is almost universally the case, behind every great man being a great woman, even if unsung, unsullied by pride the way the unselfish love for one's spouse so enriches, something about which today's ironically merely chauvinist literally abortive feminists (both male and female versions) have not a clue in their vain arrogance versus Dmitri who is another ineffable gift of God (and his wife and kids!) almost too good to be true, his equally richness and gravitas likely unequalled in history, another testimony of couintless to the undeserved grace of God with which He ever showers us in ways great masters of the "music of the spheres" ( like master J.S. Bach (if only we had a recording of his renowned voice, not so mention his mastery on the pipe organ (see and apprentice Dmitri especially comprehend.

spookyva said...

Oh my god, there's a lot of useful info in this post!