Oman Leisure: ‘Pure as an Angel’
December 12, 2017 | 7:27 PM
by Patricia Groves
Dmitri Hvorostovsky was one of the greatest opera singers of the modern era who performed at the ROHM. -Photo Khalid AlBusaidi, ROHM.

Last month when the world lost Dmitri Hvorostovsky, one of the greatest opera singers of the modern era, a signature aria, “Pura siccomeunangelo” or “Pure as angel” from Verdi’s La Traviata came to mind. More than one heartbroken fan commented on social media that they liked to think of him singing with angels in heaven. With his flowing mane of white hair, classically beautiful Siberian face and commanding Apollo-like presence, Dmitri Hvorostovsky inspired such lofty imaginings.

The tragic loss of Dmitri Hvorostovsky to brain cancer in mid-career at the age of fifty-five is deeply felt in the world of opera. In the words of Plácido Domingo, “My pain is beyond words. Dmitri’s voice was of incomparable beauty. That voice and his consummate artistry has touched the souls of millions of music lovers.”

The universally acclaimed American soprano, Renée Fleming, who is known to Muscat audiences from her wonderful performance during the inaugural season of the Royal Opera House Muscat, and who performed many times with Hvorostovsky, held him in the highest regard. Her heart-felt tribute accorded him the highest praise: “His timbre, musicality, musicianship, technique, and especially his capacity for endless phrases, were second to none. I have no doubt that he would have sung beautifully for another twenty years or more, had he not been taken from us... He brought an innate nobility and intense commitment to every role.”

In an earlier interview with the New Yorker magazine, Fleming concluded, “There have been many beautiful voices, but in my opinion none more beautiful than Dmitri’s.” Muscat patrons experienced the incomparable beauty of that voice in January of 2016 when the Royal Opera House Muscat presented the magnetic baritone in a recital with the Orchestra of Teatro Carlo Felice Genoa under the baton of Constantine Orbelian.

In a concert that featured stunning arias from Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Rossini, Borodin and Verdi, Hvorostovosky sang with the fierce intensity, rich melodic rendering and mesmerising legato for which he is justly renowned – and the audience went wild in ecstatic applause. Very few present on that occasion were aware that Dmitri had been suffering from brain cancer for more than a year.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky performing in 2016. -Photo Khalid AlBusaidi, ROHM.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s bravery and extraordinary commitment to his art meant that, even during the fragile last two years of his life, he performed as often as he could. In addition to the Royal Opera House Muscat, Hvorostovosky sang in major roles at London’s Royal Opera House, the Vienna State Opera and Austria’s renowned Grafenegg Festival. Remarkably, just six months ago, Hvorostovsky made a dramatic, unscheduled appearance at New York’s Metropolitan Opera for an anniversary gala where he sang Cortigiani, vilrazzadannata (Courtiers, vile cursed kind) from Verdi’s Rigoletto. It was his 183rd appearance on what is arguably the world’s most prestigious stage. Although ill and thin, Dmitri stood tall and sang with the passionate Herculean approach, natural elegance and robust fervour that characterised his career. Many in the audience were moved to tears.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky was not only a superstar singer, but also a well-loved professional for whom musicians in the orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera once threw white roses during curtain calls. He was a golden soloist who delighted crowds at the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms in 2006 with his glamorous rendition of the thrilling “Toreador Song” from Bizet’s Carmen.

Like the truly great stars in any domain, Hvorostovsky wore his fame with humility, as I found when I happened to encounter him outside the doors of the Hyatt the morning after his incredibly charismatic 2016 performance at the Royal Opera House Muscat. When I congratulated the Superstar, saying how much he had enriched our lives, he thanked me in a way that was surprisingly natural and diffident, almost shy. Then, with a gentle smile, he slipped into a taxi. In a flash the great Baritone was gone, his glorious white mane lighting up the back window of the cab.

Carrying on with life in our ordinary ways, we may ask what opera lovers can do in coming to terms with this great loss. Joyce Di Donato,the world-famous soprano who gave a magnificent performance at ROHM in May 2015, offered practical, comforting advice when, after the news of Hvorostovsky’s death, she said, “The best way I can think of to honour a life as voracious, generous and as beautiful as that of beloved Dmitri is to share in the healing, communal power of music.”

How fortunate we are to have just such opportunities at the Royal Opera House Muscat.

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