Last evening I went to see Dmitri Hvorostovsky at the Barbican, performing with the Philharmonia of Russia plus the Yale Alumni Chorus, which sang in about a half dozen of the numbers. It was a lot of fun. One wonders. Does he maybe wish he were a pop star? He looks good enough with his slim figure and completely white hair. In the second half he used a microphone like a proper pop star, keeping it a decent foot away at least.
This concert is hard to describe. The first half was standard Russian opera arias, Rachmaninov, Borodin, and most interestingly Anton Rubinstein, with a few instrumental numbers. And no microphone. Everything was translated on supertitles behind the chorus.
I hadn't heard the Rubinstein arias before, but they were very beautiful. I think these works are not performed in the places where I have been. He is a fine operatic lyric baritone.
The orchestra, conducted by Constantine Orbelian, is a little rag tag. The off rhythm triangle was especially amusing. My son assures me that it is normal for an orchestra to play behind the beat. This one was way behind the beat. My theory is that they are pretending to follow the conductor and making their own beat. Everyone has to be in on this for it to work at all, and perhaps the triangle was not.
I understand that the second half of the program is considered controversial. They performed a set of Russian popular songs from the era of WWII, the defining moment for many Russians. These were arranged for orchestra by Evgeny Stetsyuk who came up for a bow at the end. I would call the style early talkies with occasionally a bit of Doctor Zivago mixed in. After all, movie music of the thirties and forties originated with expatriates from all over Europe, including Russia.
It's controversial because this is supposed to be pop music. I wonder how you tell. He is criticized for performing them as though they were great art songs when obviously they're.... I guess it wasn't that obvious to me. They were all about war, death in battle, tragedy. There is one in particular about cranes, where the narrator says that he imagines his dead comrads were all transformed into white cranes, that when he sees a gap in the formation, he imagines that is his place. I thought it was all very moving.
Dmitri is a beautiful and very sexy man with a lovely dark baritone voice trained in the Russian style. They can't all be born with these dark voices, can they? It must surely be training.
The audience loved it. Everyone was enjoying themselves, including me.