VERDI Rigoletto (Orbelian)
This new Rigoletto from Delos tragically serves as a valedictory recording. The death of Dmitri Hvorostovsky last November has robbed the operatic world of one of its greatest voices. His triumph in the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World (in a ‘Battle of the Baritones’ final with Bryn Terfel) was gripping – nobody who heard it will forget his seamless legato in Posa’s death scene from Don Carlo. Hvorostovsky’s first recording, a selection of Verdi and Tchaikovsky arias, was incredibly beautiful, a disc I still spin often. The Siberian baritone, with his silver mane and aristocratic demeanour, was the definitive Onegin of his era, the last role he sang in London in December 2015.
Vocally, the young Hvorostovsky reminded me much of Ettore Bastianini; he cited the Italian baritone as one of his great idols. Bastianini was another singer whose life was cut tragically short due to cancer. In the 1960s Bastianini only disclosed his health battles with his closest family and friends – Franco Corelli was one of his few colleagues who knew – sometimes suffering a hostile reception for some rough later performances. He was booed as Scarpia at the Met in 1965 (his final year on stage). The world is a smaller place now and, thanks to social media, we all knew of Hvorostovsky’s ongoing treatment for a brain tumour, desperately willing, praying for a recovery. The ovation for his ‘Cortigiani’ at a Met gala last May was a tremendous outpouring of love from his adoring public.
Sadly, but inevitably, Hvorostovsky’s voice in this recording (made in July 2016) is a shadow of his younger self. Gruff and effortful, it lacks the smoothness and juiciness of former years. All the artistry and intelligence is still there – there is real bitterness to his ‘Pari siamo’ monologue – though you’re conscious of his effortful snatching for breath. The opening of Rigoletto’s great aria ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’ is full of explosive bluster, but the closing section ‘Miei signori … perdono, pietate’ lacks the legato silkiness of old. The jester was also one of Bastianini’s great roles, captured on disc in his prime under Gianandrea Gavazzeni with the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, even if it is hampered by a curiously murky recording.
Delos has gathered a decent supporting cast for Hvorostovsky. Nadine Sierra, as Gilda, has a bright, forward sound – not unlike Renata Scotto on that Gavazzeni account – but it’s rather aggressive and relentless. Her ‘Caro nome’ is interminably slow, with lots of self-admiring pretty notes held for far too long, and there’s little dramatic involvement. Francesco Demuro is a breezy Duke of Mantua, a slight sob to his sound, but never forcing his tenor too hard. Andrea Mastroni is an inky Sparafucile and Oksana Volkova a fruity Maddalena.
Constantine Orbelian – a frequent Hvorostovsky collaborator on Delos – saps the performance of adrenalin in a pedestrian account of Verdi’s rip-snorting score, no match for that old master Gavazzeni. Hvorostovsky’s legions of fans will certainly want to hear this; but he will principally be remembered on disc for his other, earlier recordings: his Posa (Haitink), his Onegin (Bychkov) and a superb collection of Russian romances.