SF Symphony's Great Performer Series: Dimitri Hvorostovsky,
By Seán Martinfield
January 31, 2006
It was clear we were in for a series of encores - no way is Dmitiri
leaving the stage. Come the traditional Gypsy romance, "Ochi
Chyornie" (Dark Eyes), you know it's over and time to zoom
between the lines if what you want is an autograph and fleeting
exchange with the best-equipped Baritone and most striking of
Leading Men on the classical stage. Forty minutes later, out he
comes. Apollo, god of musicians and poets, has favored this man.
Back in the Old Days (when women fainted) we guys would have hoisted
him to our shoulders, raced down Market Street and filled Lotta's
Fountain with champagne - or, in this instance, the finest of
Russian Vodka. Alas, it's late Sunday night and we're all over
40 - including Dmitri and Conductor Constantine Orbelian - who
have just rendered over two hours worth of breath-taking musical
brilliance. Nevertheless, they head toward the autograph line,
and through a din of vigorous applause, I yell out in my best
cadet's tenor, "Hooray!"
I pulled out the booklet from their CD, "Passione di Napoli",
purchased at the Symphony's Gift Shop during Intermission and
the last one on the shelf. "Ah! The Music Critic!" he
says to me, raising a knowing eyebrow toward Maestro Orbelian
seated at his left. ("Ah-ha, yourself!" cries my critic
within.) Dmitiri's voice is much lighter in conversation than
the hefty equipment pulled out for PRINCE IGOR and EUGENE ONEGIN
not two hours before. Hvorostovsky is indeed the rare and definitive
dramatic baritone, separate and apart from such bass-baritones
as Bryn Terfel. In virtually accent-free English, he goes on to
suggest that - since he has such a large pen - it would be better
to sprawl his signature over the liner notes than across his portrait.
"However you prefer," I replied, with a smile, opening
my Program for one more of his John Hancocks. (Stalling, I check
out his shock of white hair, the wide cheek bones, a boxer's ski-lift
nose - so far, none of the current portraits have captured the
native Siberian's carnal appeal.) Orbelian, born in San Francisco,
a celebrated pianist prior to his appointment as Permanent Guest
Conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic, twinkles as he signs between
the lines. (He's a Russian bear.) He knows. The concert was an
undisputed two-man job, dripping with genius; a startling collaboration
packing an intense wallop and permanently piercing the heart.
Standing in straight lines behind the orchestra, is the Pacific
Boychoir, prepared by its founding director, visionary Kevin Fox.
Similar to the Vienna Boys Choir in music education and performance
skill, this Oakland-based Academy can swell with pride to have
been selected for this leg of the Hvorostovsky tour. In Washington,
DC, it was the mixed adult voices of the Cathedral Choral Society
and in Florida they took on the Chorus from Yale. (Ask any of
them - it all starts on "Ah".) The boys added harmonic
texture and spiritual poignancy to the second half of the program,
a collection of early 20th century Russian war songs referred
to as, "Songs of the Great Patriotic War", all very
dear to the Russians standing in lines around me. Dmitiri and
Constantine have recorded seventeen of these songs (by various
composers) under the title, "Where Are You, My Brothers?"
Orbelian's clever arrangements allow the weary soldiers to all
huddle under Dmitiri's umbrella while he becomes their one voice,
thus creating a new sort-of-faux song cycle for an heroic classical
Lead needing more than standard fare.
Not since Robert Merrill have I been so inspired by the baritone
voice, especially from one whose breath control can bolster the
extra-long passage while pumping plenty of warmth and vitality
into the demanding and often melancholic Russian songbook. Hvorostovsky
is still the ideal young lover; he will become the perfect "Simon
Boccanegra" and "Rigoletto". As with Merrill, he
is ruggedly handsome, looks fabulous in a tuxedo, and - from my
vantage point at the autograph table - keeps himself in centerfold
condition. Earlier at the Gift Shop, the lovely lady blushed when
she asked if I were getting my CD signed. It seemed to be the
night for nodding and twinkling. Then I inquired if she had any
posters available of Dmitri. "Ah, wouldn't THAT be wonderful?!"
And I withdrew between the lines.
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