When Dmitri Hvorostovsky died last November 22 (on St Cecilia’s Day, please note), the whole musical world came out in mourning for a career cut short and a figure who was genuinely loved by fans and fellow professionals alike. The Russian singer came of age at the tail end of the recorded opera boom years, so although he’s been reasonably well preserved on DVD, it was left up to the enterprising Delos label to capture his silky, dark-toned baritone in a series of recital discs stretching back to 2002.
There you’ll find Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and rarer Russian fare, but also a disc of operatic heroes and villains, a pair of Verdi aria collections and a fine Simon Boccanegra from 2015. Probably the greatest Verdi baritone of his generation, it is doubly fitting then that Delos should produce his final recording – made in July 2016 – with a signature assumption of one of Verdi’s greatest characters, the tragic jester, Rigoletto.
All the Hvorostovsky trademarks are there – attention to text and exemplary breath control – and although the sheer beauty of tone is tinged with the gritty tang of advancing years, it is entirely appropriate for conjuring the sardonic sneer and the desperate anguish of this most put upon of operatic anti-heroes. It’s a deeply felt, stylish performance, but listen to the pain behind Pari siamo, the fear and loathing behind the distracted cries of “La ra, la la, la la…” or the authoritative fury in Cortigiani, vil razza dannata and you know you are in the presence of operatic royalty.
He’s well supported by Nadine Sierra as a sweet-toned Gilda. It’s a bigger voice than you sometimes get – no simpering novice, she – but she sounds suitably fresh and youthful, and is attractive and flexible in Caro nome (despite some unusual breathing choices) and with a decent trill as she fades off and out.
To be honest, I thought I was going to dislike Francesco Demuro’s Duke after a rather clumsy, effortful attempt at
Questa o quella. But it’s an attractive, highly Italianate tone, and the joy of singing comes through in a way that overcomes a fair few reservations, plus he has just the right amount of caddish swagger.
Andrea Mastroni as a resonant Sparafucile and Oksana Volkova as a fruity Maddalena are both fine, and Constantine Orbelian conducts the Lithuanian-based Kaunas Symphony Orchestra with care and a steady hand, if he short changes some of the purple patches, see for example the lack of bite in the strings at the start of Cortigiani. The recording is decent,
and if inclined to feel congested at climaxes, still, as far as Hvorostovsky is concerned, it’s
a fitting valediction.