Hvorostovsky returns to Miami, for what may be Drucker’s last stand
It’s an elusive dream for many opera singers, having a career that includes an invigorating mix of staged opera and vocal recitals.
Many singers long to perform recitals; they relish the chance to refresh the voice and stretch their artistic horizons. But audiences for vocal recitals have been dwindling in recent decades in the U. S. Successful opera singers typically jet in and out of cities all over the world for extended rehearsal and performance periods. In their spare time, they’re learning new roles. It’s not easyfor a singer known for her Mimis or Madama Butterflys to find the right time or place for a concert of Shubert lied or 20th century art songs.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, one of the world’s major opera stars, is among the few singers who have actually managed to achieve that difficult balance. Vocal recitals have been a cornerstone of the Siberian baritone’s career since he burst on the scene in 1989 as the 27-year-old winner of the high-profile BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in Wales.
“It’s been always like that been since I began my career,” said Hvorostovsky in a recent phone conversation. Having just wrapped up performances as Rodrigo in Verdi’s Don Carlo at the Met, he will appear at Miami’s New World Center Saturday night for a recital of arias by Rachmaninoff, Rossini, Wagner, Verdi and others with pianist Ivari Ilja. Recitals in Washington and assorted Russian cities are on his spring schedule along with performances in the title roles of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Vienna Staatsoper and Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy.
“I was way too young and immature for the big roles on the opera stage,” Hvorostovsky said of his early international career, “so I took off as a recitalist. It helped me so much to bring the message across–I was performing Russian music, Russian chamber music. I was able to perform all around the world. At that time the genre of recital was very popular.”
Winning the Cardiff competition brought him immediate concert appearances in London and at Carnegie Hall. He made his U.S. opera debut in 1993 at Chicago’s Lyric Opera and had a stellar Met debut as Yeletsky in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades in 1995.
Audiences throughout the world still flock to Hvorostovsky’s vocal recitals, and he choose his programs with care. Some concerts, like the one coming up in Miami, focus on opera arias. But he also has toured with programs of contemporary Russian art songs or Russian songs from the World War II years. In recitals he taps other branches of his Russians roots beyond simplyspreading the word about Russian composers.
“Traditionally, a lot of great Russian opera singers from the past have been some of the greatest recitalists,” Hvorostovksy said. “They used to combine it very well. And that’s how I was taught back in Krasnoyarsk. One of my teachers, professor Yekatherina Yofel, was absolutely amazing and brilliant as a chamber music teacher. So all along I studied chamber music and opera. It was very useful to get that at an early age.”
In 2005 Hvorostvosky toured Russia as part of the country’s observances of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. The concerts were so popular that he now tours Russia every year with a wide variety of programs.
“I bring everything that I can—recitals, orchestral concerts, crossovers [with pop artists]. I bring my friends. They’re all very popular and they’re all televised. It’s wonderful to show my best colleagues in Russia. My first guest was Renee Fleming.”
Hvorostovsky’s 50th birthday was last fall, and in January he celebrated in Russia with large-scale concerts.
“We had huge venues. We sang in the [10,000-seat] ice stadium in St. Petersburg, and the (6,000-seat) Kremlin Palace in Moscow. We had Ramon Vargas, Barbara Fritolli. There was huge interest. We had pop artists and a children’s orchestra playing for me.”
The classical music world is celebrating another birthday this year; 2013 is the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth. Along with Tchaikovsky, Verdi has become Hvorostovsky’s focus on the opera stage.
“It’s so fulfilling for any singer who has the Italianate type of voice,” said Hvorostovsky. “Since I was a boy, I always dreamed of becoming a Verdi opera singer. So I’m very happy to be able to do that, to sing a lot of these roles in the greatest opera theaters around the world. It’s very interesting and challenging vocally and dramatically. I think Verdi is still very modern in terms of the real life, love and passion that he portrays. Like Mozart, his music never become old-fashioned.”
Next season at the Met Hvorostovsky takes over the title role of Rigoletto in a production updated to the Rat Pack-era in Las Vegas. Rigoletto is a Don Rickles-style comedian at the court of a Duke modeled on Frank Sinatra during his Chairman of the Board days. Hvorostovsky gives a knowing laugh but politely evades passing judgment on the controversial production. In general, however, he likes the way general director Peter Gelb is shaking up the venerable house.
“I love what’s going on at the Met,” said Hvorostovsky. “I know it’s a very difficult task, but you can’t do it otherwise. Peter Gelb took on such an incredibly difficult mission, to change the face of the best opera theater in the world, to bring a modern perspective.”
Hvorostovsky will encounter a new perspective with his Miami recital, making his first appearance at the New World Center. But thanks to city’s long-time impresario, Judy Drucker, he has a long history with the city.
“I’ve been coming to Miami since the early 1990s,” he said. “Judy Drucker was one of my first presenters. I always have good memories of Miami, with Judy meeting me at the airport and taking me around the city. It’s a good friendship.”
Drucker recalls the first time she heard Hvorostovsky’s voice. She was in New York on business, and a friend in the music business insisted that she listen to a tape he had made of Hvorostovsky singing at Cardiff.
“I stopped him after a few bars,” said Drucker. “I said, ‘Who in the world is this? He has the most gorgeous voice I’ve heard in years. I want to get him. Who is he?’ ”
In September 1991 Hvorostovsky made his triumphant Miami debut, closing with several Russian songs as encores. “They wouldn’t let him off the stage when it was over,” said Drucker.
Drucker and “Dima,” as she calls him, became close friends. She has visited him abroad and has met his parents in Russia. He returns to Miami for concerts every other year or so.
“Such a gorgeous hunk of a man, that lock of hair,” she said, completely unembarrassed as she gushed. “I was absolutely mesmerized, by not only by the voice, but by the wonderful personality, the friendliness, the loving kindness and dedication to singing. I just love him so much as a person.”
Now in her 80s and after 46 years as a concert presenter in Miami, Drucker may be winding down. Hvorostovsky is the sole artist she’s presenting this season.
“I always say, ‘This is going to be my last concert,’ and then I do another one,” Drucker said with a laugh. “Right now I’m looking at who’s the best to get next year. You know, this gets in your blood. I don’t know if this will be the last or not.”
Dmitri Hvorostovsky will perform opera arias by Verdi, Rachmaninoff, Wagner, Rossini and Rubinstein with pianist Ivari Ilya 7:30 p.m. Saturday at New World Center. newworldcenter.com; 305-673-3331
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Wed Mar 20, 2013
at 1:44 pm