Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky
An Early Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Hvorostovsky (Дми́трий Алекса́ндрович Хворосто́вский), born 16 October
1962, is a Russian operatic baritone.
Hvorostovsky was born an only child in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. He
studied at the Krasnoyarsk School of Arts under Yekaterina Yofel and
made his debut at Krasnoyarsk Opera House, in the role of Marullo in
Rigoletto. He went on to win First Prize at both the Russian Glinka
Competition in 1987 and the Toulouse Singing Competition in 1988.
Hvorostovsky came to international prominence in 1989
when he won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, beating
local favorite Bryn Terfel in the final round. His performance included
Handel's "Ombra mai fu" and "Per me giunto...O Carlo ascolta" from
Verdi's Don Carlos. His
international concert recitals began immediately (London debut, 1989;
New York 1990).
His operatic debut in the West was at the Nice Opera in Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades (1989). In
Italy he debuted at La Fenice as Eugene Onegin, a success that sealed
his reputation, and made his American operatic debut with the Lyric
Opera of Chicago (1993) in La
He has since sung at virtually every major opera house, including the
Metropolitan Opera (debut 1995), the Royal Opera House at Covent
Garden, the Berlin State Opera, La Scala and the Vienna State Opera. He
is especially renowned for his portrayal of the title character in
Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin; The New
York Times described him as "born to play the role."
In 2002, Hvorostovsky performed at the Russian Children's Welfare
Society's major fund raiser, the "Petrushka Ball". He is an Honorary
Director of the charity. A tall man with a striking head of prematurely
silver hair, Hvorostovsky has achieved international acclaim as an
opera performer as well as a concert artist. He was cast in People
magazine's 50 most beautiful people, a rare occurrence for a classical
musician. His high, medium-weight voice has the typical liquid timbre
of Russian baritones.
A recital program of new arrangements of songs from the World War II
era, Where Are You My Brothers?,
was given in the spring of 2003 in front of an audience of 6,000 at the
Kremlin Palace in Moscow, and seen on Russian Television by over 90
million viewers. The same program was performed with the St. Petersburg
Symphony Orchestra for survivors of the Siege of Leningrad on 16
In recent years Hvorostovsky's stage repertoire has almost entirely
consisted of Verdi operas such as Un
Ballo in Maschera, La Traviata
and Simon Boccanegra. In 2009
he appeared in Il Trovatore
in a David McVicar production at the Metropolitan Opera with Sondra
In June 2015 Hvorostovsky announced that he had been diagnosed with a
brain tumor and canceled all his performances through August. Family
representatives say that he will be treated at London's cancer hospital
Royal Marsden. In spite of his illness Hvorostovky returned to the
stage at the Metropolitan Opera in September as Count di Luna in Il Trovatore for a run of three
performances opposite Anna Netrebko. He received strong reviews from
both critics and audiences for his performance.
In doing interviews for twenty-five years, I have met with musicians at
various stages of their careers. Some were older and shared their
experience; some were midway, and Janus-like looked both forward and
back; and a few were at the outset of what turned into either long
service or a brief flash. Dmitri Hvorostovsky, whose conversation
is presented on this webpage, became a legendary artist, and had a
brilliant reputation onstage, in recital and concert, and on
recordings. Today (mid-2017) it is only his devastating health
issue that keeps him from continuing along this magnificent path.
We met backstage at Lyric Opera of Chicago in September
of 1993, when he was making his American operatic debut as Germont in Traviata with June Anderson and
Giuseppe Sabbatini, conducted by Bruno Bartoletti. He would
return to Lyric two years later for Valentin in Faust with Richard Leech,
Renée Fleming, and Samuel Ramey, led by John Nelson and
directed by Frank Corsaro, as well as another Traviata in 1998-99 with Andrea
Rost and Frank Lopardo, Ballo
in 2002-03 with Veronica Villaroel, Neil Shicoff, Maria Kanyova, and
Larissa Diadkova, conducted by Mark Elder, and
finally, in 2007-08 Onegin
with Dina Kuznetsova, Frank Lopardo, and Vitalij Kowaljow, led by Sir
Andrew Davis. Hvorostovsky and Fleming would give a Subscriber
Appreciation Concert in June of 2012, and he also sang a solo recital
in February of 2016. [Names
which are links refer to my Interviews elsewhere on my website.
Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my Interviews with Kiri Te Kanawa, Alfredo Kraus, and Zubin Mehta.]
His English was quite good, though, as always with non-native speakers,
it was filled with hesitations, mistakes in tense, oddities of
structure, as well as the occasional made-up word. Much of that
has been straightened out here, though a few of his delightful turns
have been left in the text. Needless to say, though, I have not
changed any of his ideas nor altered anything more than simple
corrections he himself would have made if he had been given the chance.
Even at this very early stage of his career, he understood his voice,
as well as the necessary trajectory to stay at the top of his
profession for many years.
Bruce Duffie: Do
you find operatic life in Western Europe and America more exciting and
more challenging than in Russia?
I’m not based in Russia anymore. The very few times
coming back, usually I’m giving concerts or recitals.
Because I’m not working
in the opera house, and I’m not based anywhere, I can be just a
guest singer. Of course, instead of a regular relationship with
Theatre in St. Petersburg, I can do some things there. Actually
I’m doing some things there, but not very much. I can remember my
expression the first time I was brought
here to the U.S. I was very excited, but after a while you take
it just naturally because you’re
BD: You’re asked
to sing all kinds of roles.
How do you decide which roles you will learn, and which roles you’ll
postpone for awhile?
It wouldn’t surprise you if I
tell you that four years ago, right after my wining
competition in Cardiff, I’d been invited to sing parts like Simon
Boccanegra, or Rigoletto, and Posa, and Renato, etc. Of course I
realized that I couldn’t do them so soon because I was rather too young
for those parts. So I had to
choose very carefully which way I would go. This is why I was
taking more recitals in the beginning, and actually it
helped me in my career. Afterwards, kind of step by step,
slowly, I began making my operas, but still I can’t sing so many operas
like I’ve just mentioned above. Probably in five years I can
put much more pressure and much more attention on the Verdi
operas. Now I’m doing Donizetti and Rossini, and a few, though
not very many Russian works, unfortunately, because the main baritone
parts are written for bass-baritones in Russian music
— like Gryaznoy in Tsar’s Bride (photo of recording shown below), or
Prince Igor, or even Boris Godunov. It’s very good for the
baritone, but they’ve been
taken over by the basses.
BD: They’re jealous and
they want those roles.
DH: Well, yes, and
unfortunately I can
just sing Onegin and a very few Tchaikovsky roles, and that’s all.
BD: Is Onegin a
satisfying role to sing?
Absolutely! It’s very interesting to sing and to act. It’s
great music, still.
BD: Is he nuts?
Well, sort of, yes. What is
interesting is you can play this role in many different ways. It
be even nice. He can be loved by the audience
because they would feel sorry for Onegin. Don’t
forget that in the last act Onegin becomes completely different
person. When he wants to win the love of Tatyana, it changes him
lot, and it changes the subject in this dramatic line
in the opera.
BD: Could they
have been happy if he had realized his
love earlier in the opera?
DH: [Thinks a
moment] I don’t believe he would realize it. If he would
realize that he is in love sooner, we wouldn’t
have this subject and this story! [Both laugh] There has to
be some intrigue. I would describe
the story in a very usual way. I would say it can happen
naturally in any age, in any time, even now. It will show weight,
a kind of nobility of the behavior
of the age, the personage which has been described at the beginning of
nineteenth century. People will forget themselves for a while,
and immerse themselves in the
rest of the subject. You will see it can be happen,
BD: Does the opera
adhere closely to the
Pushkin, or does Tchaikovsky take liberties?
DH: It’s quite
close to Pushkin, but Tchaikovsky
kind of simplified it, made the subject much more simple because of
the music. It’s too much to put it all into an opera. It’s
such a high level of poem, actually. It’s one of
the most well-known poems of Pushkin, and has such a nobility of the
language. It’s very
high language, full of sarcasm, full of real humor, and full of really
high poetic lines. It’s far too much to even
imagine this put into an opera because opera expects some kind of
BD: And more
DH: More realism,
and a more simple presentation I would say.
BD: Does it please
you to know that because of this
opera, the Pushkin poem is somewhat more known in the West?
DH: I am sure lots
of people do
know Pushkin’s poems. Because Tchaikovsky had the same genius,
this is the connection of two
geniuses, so it makes twice as big an effect for ordinary people who
probably don’t know
about Pushkin or Russian poetry.
|Eugene Onegin (Евге́ний Оне́гин, Yevgeniy Onegin)
is a novel in verse written by Alexander Pushkin.
Onegin is considered a
classic of Russian literature, and its eponymous protagonist has served
as the model for a number of Russian literary heroes (so-called
superfluous men). It was published in serial form between 1825 and
1832. The first complete edition was published in 1833, and the
currently accepted version is based on the 1837 publication.
Almost the entire work is made up of 389 stanzas of iambic tetrameter
with the unusual rhyme scheme "AbAbCCddEffEgg", where the uppercase
letters represent feminine rhymes while the lowercase letters represent
masculine rhymes. This form has come to be known as the "Onegin stanza"
or the "Pushkin sonnet."
The innovative rhyme scheme, the natural tone and diction, and the
economical transparency of presentation all demonstrate the virtuosity
which has been instrumental in proclaiming Pushkin as the undisputed
master of Russian poetry.
Sometimes it does work for people who are not
aware or who do not understand something. I
would say it’s like a compromise which is used to be done by someone
like Pavarotti. In the last few
years he contributed a huge part to make people, who just
simply ignored classical music, understand it. Of course it has
been ‘cooked’ in a way to be more simple, but it’s still classical
music, and it’s very high-level of performance. Because I’m a
have to do something to get to these people, to make them pay more
attention to classical music, which is very important.
BD: Do you feel that
recordings help this?
DH: Everything and
anything — recordings, television
shows, radio, anything — but it always has to be
of broader then you get usually. I wouldn’t step over on this
level, because it could immediately be bad taste. It’s
BD: Do you feel
that opera and concert music for
can be for everyone. I’m
quite sure because opera is such a synthesized genre. It includes
everything. Lighting now is a huge thing, as well as art work,
acting, musical ideas, orchestra, everything. And it has to be
interesting. Unfortunately, opera is the most conservative genre,
but the stories and
this wonderful music will never die because most of them we love
very much, especially when it’s written by geniuses.
BD: Do you only
perform the operas by geniuses?
DH: Well, I’m
trying to! [Has a huge laugh]
protesting] Is there not a place for some of the
DH: It has some
place as soon as
you realize it’s worth it to do. You can be disturbed by this
music too often because most is
contemporary, and is written with completely new ideas and new
profiles. They can always make you a very
interested in that.
BD: Do you have
any advice for a composer who would
like to write an opera around you?
You better ask someone else. I’m far too young to give advice for
from my point of view, if I’m hearing, and listening, and seeing
something interesting, I immediately react. I wouldn’t give you
examples, but I do love contemporary music. When I was
much younger, I used to do it a lot when I was a member of Krasnoyarsk
Theater, when I lived in Krasnoyarsk, my home town. I was doing a
lot of contemporary music written by our young
composers. It was almost all twelve-tone music, which was
very difficult. Also it was a very nice part of my
education to get through the quite complicated melody line. It
was okay for me.
BD: So then you
might come back to some contemporary
DH: Yes, why
not? I have so many things to do, and I haven’t done even three
per cent of what I could do. I have to put so much
work into the classical stuff, and then when I get
over forty I’ll do something more and new and contemporary.
[Laughs] I don’t know. You can get bored
with classical music because don’t forget, all
musicians are quite crazy. [Both laugh] Actually I simply
six times for two weeks singing Traviata.
quite difficult for me. I have to refresh my mind all the time,
otherwise I will be terribly bored from this music. Maybe when I
will get a really tired of singing classical stuff — which
is very doubtful — maybe I’ll do something
BD: [With a gentle
nudge] You won’t be a rock singer, will you???
DH: I used to be a rock
singer when I was a
teenager. I was doing a lot of rock music and pop music. I
feel very pleased now, and I’m very grateful to my
friends who brought me to this stage, because I
received my first stage experience when I was so young, and actually it
was very helpful for me.
BD: Is there a
huge difference singing rock music and
DH: I would say
yes and not because
yes, it’s a different way and style of singing, even a different way of
performing. You probably would be
surprised if I would say you’re going to use different muscles in
your throat when you sing pop music. This is not because you have
be very concentrated and honest. The major reason is
you wouldn’t be loved, you wouldn’t be understood. You would be
booed immediately if you make some kind of shit!
BD: You’ve made a
number of recordings. Do
you sing differently in the recording studio than you do in the concert
hall or the opera house?
DH: It’s a very
good question. You can ask a hundred people and they would all
answer you differently
because it’s quite difficult to imagine yourself just alone
in front of a microphone. You have to be clear, like what you
have brought to the live performance. You have to imagine that
exists in front of you – not only the mike but the audience. In
that case you will receive some nice results. If you can’t
imagine it, you have to find other clues,
because it’s very important. Most of new recordings are very
clean, and they’re very, very similar to
each other. They are very much the same because you use the same
machines, the same type of very clever mikes, but
something very fresh and delicate is gone because you don’t have this
kind of atmosphere. It is a different atmosphere, a different
you have in a concert or in a live performance which is recorded.
Most of the Toscanini records were
live, and we will enjoy them for many centuries because they really
some purity. Also Furtwängler, etc., and most of genius
conductors in the middle of this century are still
worthy of adoration.
this point we are interrupted by a phone call, in which he speaks
Russian, and then we return to our conversation...]
BD: Now you’re
back to thinking in English?
DH: Yes. I’m
dreaming in English!
[Surprised] Are you really??? Good... well, I say
‘good’, but is that good or not?
DH: I don’t
spent already many hours talking Russian, and it’s quite difficult.
BD: When you go to
a new city in America, do you
try to make contacts with the Russian community there?
DH: I never do that,
no. Maybe it’s strange, but somehow I am a little bit of afraid
to be disappointed, because most of the Russians here in America are
different. Honestly I have
a lot of Russian friends here, but the first contact is
difficult. It is just
probably my mental problem because I’m not very connected with them in
my mind. The first contact is
always very scary for me... not really scary, but somehow I’m too
BD: But you’re
the opera house, so that’s your main contact here?
BD: We were
talking a bit about recordings. Would
you prefer to have some of your performances issued on disc?
DH: Of course I
would. I keep talking
about it, and I keep asking my colleagues to do some live recordings,
sure it’s going to be sooner or later that I will record some of my
stuff. I also know lots of interesting musicians,
including conductors who keep telling the same things. Probably
to wait just a little bit more until the recording equipment and the
machinery will get to another generation to make it as clean and
brilliant as possible.
BD: Would you wear
a little mike in your costume?
DH: Why not?
My generation has been accustomed to the use of mikes even in fancy
programs. I haven’t sung pop music,
but I had to sing some folk music stuff just recently in LA
with Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. It was a huge place with about
20,000 people, and I had three
evenings. It was a real Hollywood fancy concert.
DH: Yes! John Mauceri gave
nice talks to the audience, explaining some music and introducing
artists. It was very nice and I loved his way. I loved
what he did. I was aware of the different
style, and I had to sing Tchaikovsky’s arias with a very
professional orchestra but in a more pop way, I would say. The
second half had some Russian folk music, and I practiced talking to the
was really nice. I wouldn’t say that I felt disappointed.
Besides I was very, very much surprised and I was very happy. I
would make this clever compromise to make people to love music
BD: Would you be
interested in doing a concert with domras and balalaikas?
DH: I did!
BD: I mean here in
the United States?
DH: Yes, why
not? You reminded me about a balalaika
orchestra, and I was always thinking “Oh, my
more than eighty members with quite huge stuff to carry!”
[Both laugh] There has to be some negotiation, and
there has to be some sponsorship. That is what I’m
thinking about, but it’s not my problem at all because I’m the
soloist. I would be happy to introduce this music in a real
way. In LA I had to
sing with the orchestration for the symphonic orchestra,
which was done very, very well. I had been accompanied by Julian
Reynolds [biography below], a
of mine who is a great musician, but the most exciting result you
would receive is with the full orchestra because it does make
enormous sound, a very, very interesting sound. You would never
probably even imagine, but it can sound like waves in the
ocean; so quiet but so deep and so bright. Something of this
sound should be recorded on folk music. I could hear it.
Let’s come back to some of your operatic roles. You’ve sung
several of these roles a number of times.
Do you like coming back to these ‘old friends’?
DH: Yes, because
usually you are
meeting different directors with different kinds of reading on the
it’s fine, but I would like to do more
operas and more different roles. The time has come already, so
I’m learning a
lot of new stuff. Next season I will be doing quite a
lot of new parts, and I’m really looking forward to this.
The one you’re doing here in Chicago is Germont. Do
you like playing such an elderly man when you are such a young man
interesting because you can improve your acting, not only
imagining yourself older but trying to be yourself older,
and even trying to think like an old man. I’ve never had
that experience of helping my son. I
don’t have any son; I have a daughter who is much younger, but to
communicate with such a great like
actress like June Anderson is just remarkable. I’m feeling that
up just by working with her. I also enjoy singing with Giuseppe
Sabbatini. We were already nice friends because it’s not the
time we are working together, and we’re going to have
our next opera together, Onegin
at Covent Garden in London. We’re going to fly from Chicago to
London together, so we are really working as a team. And, of
course, it’s a gorgeous music. [The
Onegin also featured Catherine
Malfitano and Gwynne Howell, conducted by Mark Ermler.]
BD: It’ll be
interesting to change from a
father-son relationship to a friend-and-friend relationship.
Friend-and-friend, but I’m still older!
BD: The baritone
is always the older man.
DH: Yes, it’s our
destiny. [With humor] What can we
BD: Would you
rather get the girl?
DH: Well, if you
Giovanni, he takes the girls sometimes, but he’s
BD: But when we
meet Don Giovanni, he really is at the end of his conquests.
DH: That’s right,
yes, but he endures, trying to get someone.
BD: Have you also
sung the Count in The Marriage of
DH: No, I haven’t
sung it yet. I’m loving this stuff now, and I’m
going to sing him later.
BD: Again, the
can be happy in the opera, so we will have to deal
BD: Do you enjoy
roles that require
flexibility in the voice?
DH: Yes, very
much. Thank God I can still sing some coloratura stuff. I
used to do a lot of Italian Arie
Antiche, including sometimes quite crazy coloratura. You
can find some different
cadenzas because most of them are da
capo, so you can sing anything you
want, but it very much depends on your taste. If you pick up the
oldest scores which describe coloraturas from the end of eighteenth or
beginning of the nineteenth
century, you can sing that stuff, which is quite enough for
our generation because the real ‘bel canto’ singers have gone.
But you can try, and I do enjoy this very
much, and my voice responds to this. Of course, if you
still doing the trills, that means you still have your voice in a fresh
condition. It’s a very, very good school, and a very healthful
your voice. However, I’m more curious
for more dramatic stuff because I’m far too wild to just do delicate
like Arie Antiche.
Personally I would love to do more
dramatic parts, but again I have to wait.
BD: Do you adjust your
vocal technique for the
size of the house — from a big house to a small
DH: This house
here in Chicago is quite big, but the acoustic is
enormous. It’s very good acoustic. Actually I’ve never
seen such a combination with a great and
gorgeous-looking theater, and a gorgeous acoustic. It’s quite
remarkable. It’s quite
unique because in comparison, for instance, in Covent Garden and La
Scala, these houses are much drier, and
sometimes you find yourself screaming, which is very
dangerous. If you scream, it never will help you
enough. That’s the secret of singing, but it provokes you, and
have to be very careful not to scream. There is a theater in
Barcelona which is almost the same size... well, probably a bit
smaller, and it has a very natural and good
acoustic. I should go and see some more opera houses, but this
one is first for me. I’m really very nicely surprised.
BD: Now you say
you should be doing this, or you
should be doing more of this. Do you make sure that you pace your
career so you don’t sing too much, too often, too heavy?
DH: That’s very
easy to check, actually. I
have it all written in my diary for four years ahead, so you can count
it, and if I don’t need something, I can simply throw it away and
say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this, I can’t do
this, I have to rest here,
or I need some time to learn things.”
So I hope I’m doing well, but
it’s quite busy, and I have to work quite hard. But it’s only the
fourth year of my career, and I understand I have to work very hard to
be more relaxed later
BD: Are you at the
point now where you
want to be in your career?
DH: Kind of,
yes. I’m very practical, very cool, and I
understand what I’m doing. So I think I’m in a right way, and I’m
doing quite nicely, quite fine. I used to get my goals.
I used to get what I wanted sooner or later, and I think I’m doing
BD: Is singing fun?
Are you coming back to Chicago?
DH: Yes, I
will. It’s booked! Even if I wouldn’t be
booked, I will come back because of how nice this town is. It is
pleasure to work in such a great opera, with a great company.
Really I am very pleased.
BD: Thank you for
coming, and I look forward to more of your performances.
DH: Thank you.
© 1993 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on September 23,
1993. Portions were broadcast on WNIB two weeks later, and again
as well as in 1997 and 1998.
This transcription was made in 2017, and posted on this
at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una
Barry for her help in preparing this website
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975
its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His
interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since
and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well
on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.