With Russian Love Songs, Baritone Woos His Audience

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dmitri Hvorostovsky sang Russian love songs Tuesday evening to a packed house at the Music Center at Strathmore, presenting a taste of the country's vocal tradition. But on another level, the Russian baritone also used the program to present an idealized image of manliness, a picture that played up the singer's obvious sex appeal.

The good Russian man is apparently religious, so Hvorostovsky started out with sacred works. Passion has to enter the scene, so in came dramatic arias from operas -- Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov compositions, of course. And, whatever the country or language, there is nothing more alluring and hunky than a good crooner. Hvorostovksy unbuttoned his black tunic in the second half and belted out popular numbers.

All of this could have easily dissolved into kitsch. Yet his baritone instrument remains undiminished, at once powerful and agile, full and nuanced. The liturgical songs were filled with tenderness and ardor, while the arias rolled out with idiomatic flair. If Hvorostovsky took to a microphone in the pop stuff, he came off as something far more than a Russian version of Andrea Bocelli. In this live setting, Hvorostovsky colored and shaped phrases with far more sensitivity and detail than the Italian crossover king has displayed in retouched recordings.

The baritone got support from several Moscow-based groups, including the Academy of Choral Art, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and the folk trio Style of Five. Constantin Orbelian conducted the concert, a presentation of the Washington Performing Arts Society.

-- Daniel Ginsbeg

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