Dmitri Hvorostovsky did not record the Verdi baritone’s summa, Rigoletto, until 2016 – a year after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. This recording was released by Delos near the end of last year shortly before the singer’s death. Rigoletto was not at the core of the great baritone’s repertoire. Of his 182 performances at the Met, eight were as the cursed jester – all at the end of 2013. But three of these performances were broadcast and thus will eventually find their way around the operatic world.
The late artist’s voice was better suited for the more lyric Verdi roles, such as the Count in Il Trovatore, but he was such a good singer that he could realize most of Rigoletto’s fierce anger as well as his tender interactions with his daughter through the strength of his interpretation and subtle use of his great voice. Remarkably, though he was almost terminally ill when this recording was made his voice was still in fine shape. While he lacks the forward projection that’s typical of the greatest Italian baritones, Hvorostovsky brings a refulgent sound, thrilling high notes, and great pathos to the emotionally charged duets with his wayward daughter and to the character as a whole. He does manage to sound more sinister than was usual for him. This performance reminds the listener why, despite endless repetitions, Rigoletto is such a great opera. I must emphasize that the greatest Verdi baritone I ever heard, Leonard Warren, had a similarly placed voice. But he also had a sound that could match an organ.
Still, Hvorostovsky lacks the fury needed for ‘Cortigiani’ and the ‘Vendetta duet’. He also forgoes the cries of ‘Gilda’ after Rigoletto realizes that he has been complicit in his own daughter’s kidnapping. They are not in the original libretto, but some of the librettos provided with recordings insert them – including this one! I’m so used to these cries that the end of the scene felt empty without them. While he doesn’t blow all the fuses with ‘Cortigiani’, his performance of the great scene is compelling and moving. Cortigiani scena
While this recording was obviously made as a vehicle for Hvorostovsky, the supporting cast is quite good, especially soprano Nadine Sierra. The young American soprano (she’s not yet 30) has already appeared at La Scala and the Met. She won the Richard Tucker Award last year. She has a sweet high soprano that she uses with intelligence and feeling. ‘Caro nome’ was sung to great effect. Her only misstep was the yelling out of her last line before Gilda throws herself to her doom in Sparafucile’s tavern .
Tenor Francesco Demuro has sung both Rodolfo and Alfredo at the Met. Next season he’s singing Fenton in Falstaff. The last role is more in keeping with his light voice which is best suited for bel canto roles. He has a strange top; he has more trouble with a high B flat than he does with a high D flat. His passaggio may be much higher than that of most tenor. Regardless, the Duke is really too big a part for his slender instrument.
Oksana Volkova is is a rich voiced Maddalena. Andrea Mastroni is sufficiently menacing as her murderer brother, though Kostas Smoriginas, who sang Monterone, is so full voiced that he could have switched roles with Mastroni to a better effect.
The Kaunus City Orchestra is hardly a well known ensemble, but they play very well. The Lithuanian orchestra was led by Constantine Orbelian. He has a firm grasp of the score and gets a good, though not an unusually incisive, reading of Verdi’s great work.
This valedictory performance by a great and charismatic singer evokes considerable pathos on the part of any listener who is saddened by the premature departure of such a major artist. His fine effort on this recording is both a gift to his audience and a marker of a great loss.
The recording’s liner notes and libretto are below.