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Dmitri Hvorostovsky on Rigoletto

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Dmitri Hvorostovsky is one of the world’s most glamorous opera stars. With his distinctive silver hair, vocal beauty and thrilling stage presence, he tends to dominate the stage whenever he appears.

The baritone was born in Siberia and shot to international fame in 1989, when he beat Bryn Terfel to the Cardiff Singer of the Year. What a year that was for the competition! Since then he’s become one of the leading Verdi baritones of his generation, excelling inevitably also in the Russian repertoire.

He appeared in Richard Eyre’s production of La traviata at Covent Garden earlier this year, and has also appeared as Count di Luna in Il trovatore and a string of other Verdi roles, as well as Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in recent years. He returns to the house on 11 October as Rigoletto.

Let’s discuss Rigoletto, who you’ll be playing at Covent Garden again next week? Is that a character that deserves a make-over?

He’s a loving father. It’s a similar story to La Traviata – father and daughter - that’s the main point of the opera and the revenge aspect is secondary. There’s so much lyricism. I’m still a lyric baritone so I use that to colour the role. Rigoletto is not easy at all. It’s the most difficult for a baritone. It’s the highest possible vocally. And there’s so much to act. It’s very challenging. Physically as well, especially in David McVicar’s production. I did it a few years ago and got severe back pain. Being slightly out of balance makes the singing hell. You have to be very fit and prepared for the role.

Verdi is the composer you’re most readily associated with and being a Verdian baritone often means playing the bad guy. How do you feel about that?

I enjoy it. The acting is more challenging and there’s more variety of acting possibilities. It makes for a fuller character. Tenor roles can be more one-dimensional. With the roles I play you can colour them and it’s much more interesting.

What are your favourite roles?

The Verdi roles such as Germont pere, Rigoletto, Count di Luna. And Onegin is one of my best roles. Simon Boccanegra – that’s Boris Godonuv for baritones – I really enjoy it. I’m doing it next season at the Met and hope to do it at Covent Garden one day (my favourite theatre). And then Boris Godonuv himself I’d like to do one day. Maybe. We’ll see. I’d love to do it on film. Then I love doing recitals and oratorio work. And Iago (Otello), which I’m doing soon.

What about your pop career? How’s that going?

Very well. I recorded a disc called Deja Vu with Igor Krutoj, which was released last year. It’s a full album of 24 songs in Italian, French and Russian. We toured a show in Russia and did it once in New York.

Are we likely to see that in London?

Why not? I want to carry on with it. It’s a continuation of my work. It brings new people into classical music, which is a good thing I think.

Who were your heroes or the people who inspired you when you were growing up in Siberia?

My parents, especially my father, who’s a wonderful amateur musician. I had the best possible musical education. I listened to lots of recordings, people like Callas, Gobbi, di Stefano, Bastianini and I inherited a lot of LPs. I learned so much from them. I grew up behind the Iron Curtain and information was kept from us. Music was an escape. I joined pop bands as an escape route.

Why do you choose to live in London?

I don’t remember. It’s too long ago. I’ve been here nearly 20 years and I’ve lived in lots of places in London. I now live in South London in a large, wonderful house. I love it.

What colleagues do you most like to work with?

Renee Fleming. I adore her. She’s been a wonderful colleague for many years. I love Jonas Kaufmann. He’s one of the best tenors now. Roberto Alagna too. And Sondra Rodvonovsky. We toured recently and did Il trovatore four times together last year.

How about conductors?

Valery Gergiev is truly one of the best, an absolute giant. Jimmy Levine, James Conlon. I’ve been blessed to work with the very best. Abbado, Muti, Haitink, Mehta. But I like Gergiev the best.

How do you see the future of opera?

TV, cinema, reality shows even. Definitely broadcast. It’s a new age for theatre. Opera is getting younger and more controversial. Productions are more cinematic: provocative and sexual. It’s being transported into something more modern.

Rigoletto opens at the Royal Opera House on 11 October. www.roh.org.uk

- Simon Thomas


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