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A Dandy Evening

February 11, 2011

Photo: Pasha Antonov

Los Angeles Opera continued its winter recital series featuring the hottest male vocalists in all opera on Thursday night with an appearance by Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. René Pape opened the three part series in January (Jonas Kaufmann will close it on March 15) and while both men are formidable talents, the differences in the two evenings were significant. Pape sang an all-German program with some reserve in a tuxedo that called for a little tailoring. Hvorostovsky arrived on stage, his well-conditioned white locks flowing behind him, looking every bit the dandy with form-fitting tuxedo pants and huntsman-style tailcoat complete with black-sequined satin lapels. He looked like a smooth operator, taking his preferred stance with his right leg slightly forward as if about to take off running. Periodically he had a knowing smirk on his face between numbers. He exudes a masculinity that is a definite part of his charm to his big and vocal fan base who responded in kind Thursday. Hvorostovsky was quickly greeted with flowers even before the end of the first half of the show.

But despite all of the glamor moments, there was still the fact of his incredible voice. Hvorostovsky may be pretty, but he’s no fake. The world’s foremost Eugene Onegin and the Verdi baritone of choice, his recital was a wonder of technique. He’s got breath for days and his beautiful phrasing of just about everything bordered on the miraculous. And in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which is known for chewing up baritones with abandon, he dominated the space the whole show. Hvorostovsky was joined by accompanist Ivari Ilja in a program that focused on a number of Russian works, which he is repeating around the country including an evening at Carnegie Hall on February 21. First in the program were four songs from Fauré, including “Après un reve.” And although the tone here was lovely, Hvorostovsky’s French doesn’t compare to his Italian much less his native tongue. But there was plenty of that on offer as well and five songs from Sergei Taneyev soon followed. These are not your everyday recital works and while they seemed a little lean to me musically, Hvorostovsky infused them with plenty of spirit.

Hvorostovsky’s remarkable vocal technique is well matched with a real flair for storytelling in his delivery. A prime example of this came after the intermission, when he performed two of Franz Liszt’s Three Sonnets by Petrarca. The second of these, Pace non trovo, was the highlight of the show with Hvorostovsky slowly and deliberately building the song to a powerful and dramatic conclusion. Tchaikovsky’s Six Romances closed the main part of the evening with another showcase of the baritone’s native tongue. All of this was lovely and well paced despite the frequent enthusiastic interruption of song sets by the audience. And then in another twist, Hvorostovsky elected not to sing "Some Enchanted Evening" for an encore, breaking a practice that seems omnipresent these days for some baritones. Instead he stuck to what he does best and gave three encores, including Rachmaninoff's V moltshari notchi taihor, Passione, a song by Valente-Tagliaferri, and a folk song which Hvorostovsky performed a cappella. And regardless of whether or not one appreciates his personal style, Hvorostovsky left no question that he's king of the baritone hill.



I love your descriptions of his stage demeanor, Brian. I saw him do exactly the same thing at the Wiener Staatsoper in November (minus the tux). Unfortunately he was singing Rigoletto at the time, so it was kind of not the best idea. This sounds like it was a more congenial evening for him.
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