In June of 2015, the celebrated baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky cancelled the majority of his engagements after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, in news that came as a significant shock to the opera world. Arguably peerless on today’s stage in the Verdi and Slavic repertoire that made his career, Hvorostovsky is beloved by colleagues and fans alike. It was with true affection then that those attending the Metropolitan Opera’s 50th Anniversary Gala greeted his surprise appearance halfway through the night’s festivities.

Met with sustained cheering and thunderous applause, Hvorostovsky blew kisses and opened his arms wide as if to embrace the whole audience, before squaring his shoulders and hunching down to give an energetic account of Rigoletto’s Cortigiani, vil razza dannata. Displaying his trademark legato and dramatic intensity, he received the audience’s bravos with more kisses, touching his heart in gratitude.

Though Hvorostovsky has given a number of recitals and staged performances since announcing his condition, his health has been unpredictable. Speaking to the New York Times, Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met, said that the baritone had his heart set on taking part in the gala. Hvorostovsky has been one of the Met’s biggest stars, appearing at the house nearly 200 times since his debut in 1995. “We agreed that we would keep it a surprise,” Gelb said, “just to make sure that he really was going to be well enough to do it.”

The gala audience was not aware of Hvorostovsky’s involvement until Gelb appeared onstage to make the announcement in the middle of the concert. “It’s my honour to introduce one of the most wonderful and greatest artists, who has defied all the odds and gods to be here tonight,” he said.

In other opera news, Hvorostovsky’s frequent stage partner and compatriot Anna Netrebko has given an interview in The Times elaborating on her decision to withdraw from the Royal Opera House’s new production of Bellini’s Norma. It was a promised role debut that divided fans – some welcomed the announcement, while others decried the role as unsuitable for a voice that, while gaining in colour and weight in recent years, has also lost some of the flexibility that was never truly her strong suit to begin with.

Although her official statement acknowledged that the role did not suit her stylistically, and that her voice “had evolved in a different direction,” Netrebko gave another explanation for her decision in The Times.

“I looked at the score. Honestly — I couldn’t even finish listening to the opera. I’m being honest with you. It’s so uninteresting for me. I don’t like the music. I don’t like the character. I tried, really, because this project was very important. But in the end I said, ‘I can’t, my heart is not there.’ And if it’s not there I can’t do anything special with it, and that’s the main reason I pulled out.”

Netrebko has moved into the heavier lyric and spinto repertoire in recent years, with albums dedicated to Verdi and verismo and role debuts such as Verdi’s Lady Macbeth and Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin. She will sing Aida in Salzburg this August, as well as appear at the Met as Strauss’ Salome in an as yet unspecified season.