Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who had been suffering from cancer for two-and-a-half years, has died. He was aged 55.
The announcement was made on his Facebook page this morning. ‘On behalf of the Hvorostovsky family, it is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Dmitri Hvorostovsky – beloved operatic baritone, husband, father, son, and friend – at age 55. After a two-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer, he died peacefully this morning, November 22, surrounded by family near his home in London, UK. May the warmth of his voice and his spirit always be with us.’
Hvorostovsky was born in Siberia, in 1962, achieving international fame with his victory at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 1989 (beating, incidentally, Bryn Terfel) thanks to - as Alan Blyth described it in Gramophone shortly after - ‘a combination of a warm, steady voice’ and ‘a command of various styles truly remarkable in a youthful artist’.
Major debuts soon followed, and throughout his career, the baritone sang at most major opera houses throughout the world, earning great acclaim in works from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin to Verdi's Il Trovatore.
A highly perceptive tribute to his art came from Renée Fleming when Hvorostovsky was welcomed into the Gramophone Hall of Fame in 2014 - admittance to which is in the gift of Gramophone readers. ‘Besides being a wonderful colleague, Dmitri possesses a voice with a quality of velvet that is both a joy to hear and immediately recognisable. Dmitri’s technique is impeccable – he has the best breath control I’ve ever encountered. He is a consummate musician. Add to this his charisma and committed portrayals, and you have a complete singing artist. I was fortunate to be able to sing my only full role from the Russian repertoire, Tatyana in Eugene Onegin, with Dmitri in the title-role, and I still regard it as a career high point. Our concerts together in St Petersburg and Moscow were also a delight. I expect Dmitri’s artistry to go on undiminished, in the tradition of other great Verdi baritones, forever.’
Sadly that was not to be; Hvorostovsky was diagnosed the following year with a brain tumour, and balance issues that this caused led him to announce later that year that he was withdrawing from opera performances for the foreseeable future, though would continue to give recitals and to record. His most recent review in these pages was in our September issue, of Georgy Sviridov’s song cycle Russia Cast Adrift, described as a perfect vehicle for the baritone’s voice, both his ‘power and resonance’ and, in more intimate moments, his ‘silvery high register’ - very much the hallmarks of Hvorostovsky sound.
Prior to that, in December 2015, his recording on Ondine of settings by Liszt and Shostakovich of Italian poetry was an Editor’s Choice and shortlisted for the following year’s Gramophone Awards. In his review, of Shostakovich’s Suite on Verses by Michelangelo Buonarroti, critic Mark Pullinger wrote: ‘Hvorostovsky offers searching readings of these rugged, jagged songs which are full of resignation and bittersweet regret, of loss and separation,’ rather presciently adding: ‘The later songs anticipate death, yet the final offering, "Immortality", thumbs a nose at death in an insolent piano part – death cannot destroy the artist’s legacy.’ In his impressive discography spanning the breadth of his repertoire, from opera to song, Hvorostovsky’s legacy will remain a richly rewarding one, for all admirers of the artform.
Hvorostovsky performing at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 1989