Paul J. Pelkonen of the Superconductor blog reviews Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s complete recording of Verdi’s Rigoletto:
“The death of baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (from brain cancer, last week) sent an earthquake through the opera world. ‘Dima’, as he was known was a beloved figure, for his velvety instrument and leonine stage appearance. Those qualities made him a star: an ideal leading man (in a few operas) or a bad guy you loved to root for in many others. His final recorded achievement, made earlier this year in Lithuania, is the title role in Verdi’s Rigoletto. He was well suited to play such a complex character, one who is both leading man and villain at once. … As a capstone to a great Verdi career, it is entirely appropriate.
The opening is brisk and businesslike under the baton of Constantine Orbelian. The men of the Kaunas State Choir open the action with the Banda efficiently separated from the main orchestra in the clean stereo picturee. Tenor Francesco Demuro establishes himself with a pleasant, slightly sharp tenor that has a slightly wide vibrato. He reaches aptly above the stave and navigates the little ornamentations in the Duke’s short aria. But then the real star of the show arrives as Mr. Hvorostovsky enters, every word pointed and barbed.
The character’s true nature is established in the next scene. He utters a haunted “Quel vecchio maledivami!”. The voice, finally heard in splendid isolation, caresses every syllable, probing each beat for nuance.… The key to any performance of this opera comes in the ‘Para siamo.’ Mr. Hvorostovsky gives his all here, using his stage experience and musical intelligence to put meaning and depth into each word. His self-loathing, cowardice, and frustration is only hinted at in the opening lines. As the plucked bass strings turn his thoughts toward his boss, the real anger comes roaring out but always carefully sung. Mr. Hvorostovsky pours it in here, singing gloriously over the rising orchestra and bringing his fury to a boil with that last high passage and the breathless, third repetition of ‘Quel vecchio maledivame.’ He manages one last turn as his daughter enters and his performance turns bright and passionate. … The finale, with Mr. Hvorostovsky again injecting meaning and experience into every wept line over Gilda’s body is affecting, just as it was if you ever saw him sing this role live.”