- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

The Three Tenors and their monster concerts were legendary throughout the 1990s. Like triple-platinum rock stars, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras packed gigantic stadiums and public parks with teeming multitudes of frenzied pop and opera fans. However, even as the tenors’ great wave was peaking, a new superstar, Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky was quietly building his own impressive base of loyal followers, attracted as much by his dashingly Romantic visage as they were by his dark and lustrous voice.

Although Mr. Hvorostovsky’s legion of fans might not be quite sufficient to sell out the MCI Center today, they’re sure to fill the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall to capacity on Jan. 18. That’s when the Washington Performing Arts Society has booked him here to sing a program of popular and patriotic Russian songs from his latest CD collections along with a selection of classic opera arias. He’ll be assisted by the Philharmonia of Russia and the District’s own Cathedral Choral Society, all under the baton of Constantine Orbelian.

With his signature mane of prematurely white hair and matinee-idol good looks, Mr. Hvorostovsky cuts a distinguished figure in the world of serious singing. He also has proved quite the favorite with female opera fans, who might be tempted to switch their allegiance from equally dashing American bass-baritone Samuel Ramey.

Alas, the Russian singer is no longer available. “Perhaps they will be disappointed. I married an Italian girl,” Mr. Hvorostovsky reveals, speaking in impeccable, nearly unaccented English. (An earlier marriage ended in divorce.) He and his wife reside in London, which the Russian singer has called home since 1994.

“My career really began in the U.K.,” he says. “London is a fantastic city. You can travel anywhere in the world easily. I could have lived in Italy — one of the dream countries — but London is so friendly. Once you settle in, it feels like home.”

London is a long way from where Mr. Hvorostovsky got his start. Born in the city of Krasnoyarsk in far-distant Siberia in 1962, he displayed musical aptitude at an early age. He first studied piano as a child but gradually moved to vocal music at the Krasnoyarsk School of Arts. Later he became a soloist with the Krasnoyarsk Opera, where he might have remained had he not copped first prize at the 1987 Glinka National Competition. He went on to win the Toulouse Singing Competition the following year and grabbed another victory at the 1989 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, where he bested another budding superstar, Welshman Bryn Terfel, on his home turf.

Mr. Hvorostovsky’s career began to take off as he debuted in Europe in a variety of operas, including Tchaikovsky’s “Pique Dame” and “Eugene Onegin.” Much sought after as a recitalist throughout the world, he built an eclectic repertoire that encompasses Russian and international opera as well as Russian popular and liturgical music. However, he also felt it important to bring classical music in concert to a younger Russian generation. “Without classical music and literature,” he says, “it is hard for a culture to survive.”

Mr. Hvorostovsky has become a well-known international recording artist, cutting numerous CDs ranging from operatic to popular repertoire, and recently recorded on DVD a performance of “La Traviata” at historic La Fenice, Venice’s newly restored opera palace.

His newest popular CD, “Moscow Nights,” is what he calls a “semi-crossover recording.” It follows a previous release, “Russian Songs of the War Years,” highlighting Russian popular music of the World War II era.

Mr. Hvorostovsky regards “Moscow Nights” as a continuation of the earlier disc, reviving popular Russian songs written in the 1940s and 1950s. “It brings these historic moments back for older people while allowing younger people to explore a world unknown to them. The response has been overwhelming. Young pop singers are picking up the music, and everyone is proud to sing this repertoire. It’s like Sinatra and all the holiday songs in America and reminds us of our own golden heritage in music.”

Will Washingtonians see Mr. Hvorostovsky sing with the Washington National Opera anytime soon? His Web site indicates that he is scheduled to sing here in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” — but possibly not.

“I have spoken with Placido [Domingo] on various things, and we have penciled in several opportunities,” he says. “Perhaps I will do [Ambroise Thomas’] ‘Hamlet,’ maybe something else. But I will make my debut here. It is almost criminal so far to always seem to avoid Washington.”

WHO: Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky with the Philharmonia of Russia and the Cathedral Choral Society

WHAT: Program of patriotic Russian songs of World War II and opera arias

WHERE: Kennedy Center Concert Hall

WHEN: 8 p.m. Jan. 18

TICKETS: $40 to $85

INFORMATION: Call 202/785-WPAS

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