Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dmitri Hvorostovsky Recital, or I am a xenophobic asshole

I was going to post a review of the Dmirti Hvorostovsky recital I went to on Sunday afternoon, but all the the reviews I started seemed to revolve around how much Russian people suck. Which is incredibly mean and unfair, particularly because I don't actually know any Russian people personally. Americans tend to be very xenophobic, so I guess I'm not that different. When Americans are rude in other countries, it seems like they behave that why because they're so dumb that they can't understand why or how another country or culture could be different from theirs. When I visit other countries, I try my best to just blend in; not everything is going to be the way it is at home, but that's part of the fun of traveling. Anyway, with the Russian audience on Sunday (many of whom actually live in the US, and have probably done so for at least 15-20 years), it was more like they didn't care that we have different rules here. That made for a very bizarre experience, like being in another country, a country populated by weird, gnomish old people who all looked alike, people who looked like they'd just stepped out of a time machine from the '80s, and people who just wouldn't shut the hell up.

I'm not Richard Wagner's biggest fan by any means (I did, after all, Photoshop his likeness onto a douche bottle), but one innovation of his that I can get behind is his idea that opera audiences should sit in the dark, face the stage, and BE QUIET during a performance. I really have no idea how popular Wagner is in Russia, but if the theater-going habits of the Russians I sat among on Sunday afternoon are anything to go by, I'd say not very. Russians are good at writing, composing, ballet-dancing, sports, clinging to outmoded economic and political ideologies, but they're not very good at listening apparently.

The audience at the Dmitri Hvorostovsky recital I went to on Sunday was at least 75% Russian (and I mean people who immigrated to the US, Russian-speaking Russians, not just people of Russian ancestry), and it was also the rudest audience I have ever been in. Correlation doesn't prove causation but... People talked constantly throughout the recital. Not just whispering talking, but full-on conversation talking. Everyone applauded before the music was over; they applauded when they recognized a song; they whooped and screamed and made all kinds of noise. The lady next to my mom had a big stabby knife that she used to eat an apple during intermission (so many things wrong there). At least 20% of the audience was late and was seated during the performance (which is the ushers' fault, they're not supposed to do that). I did get the feeling though that most of the audience doesn't normally attend recitals, and had just come because Hvorostovsky is Russian, so they probably just didn't know how to act. I thought not talking during a performance was a pretty standard, widely known rule, but maybe not.

Now that I've probably offended everyone with my ethnocentricity, I'll get to Hvorostovsky. The man is so full of himself that I fear he'll soon collapse under the weight of his own self-importance and become some sort of extremely smug white dwarf. If cities could be run on an overinflated sense of self-satisfaction, I'd say hook Hvorostovsky up to a generator by his nipples and let him power the entire West Coast. He's really the most overrated baritone in the world today, in my opinion. As with Anna Netrebko, people make a big deal out of him because he's supposedly good-looking, and they conveniently ignore everything else. He's not even that good-looking. Yeah, his famous silver hair is pretty, but his smile is reminiscent of a young Val Kilmer and you half-expect (how do you half-expect something?) there to be a little "ding!" noise like a toothpaste commerical. But that smile never reaches his eyes. They're always just flat and dead, like two shiny black beetles drowning in a bowl of borscht.

Hvorostovsky has a nice voice, but I don't think it's the ideal baritone voice (as I've heard other people say before). He does very little with it other than trying to cram as many measures as he can in before he has to take another breath. Duff "Kiss the Fattest Part of My Duff" Murphy almost creamed himself in the pre-recital lecture over Hvorostovsky's breath control, but he never bothered to mention that, in order to achieve that "amazing" breath control, Hvorostovsky takes huge, very audible breaths. During the first part of the recital, which was operatic arias, I could barely hear his voice up in the balcony, but I could still hear those damn, ginormous, shuddering inhalations. Part of the problem is that Hvorostovsky is really a lyric baritone, but because of the darkness in his voice (which is apparently a common feature in Russian singers), he's expanded into roles that are probably too heavy for him. He's trying to be a Verdi baritone, and he could probably sound like one...if he was always miked. Usually, Hvorostovsky is better in the Russian repertoire, but not on Sunday. He was flat and boring; he didn't act with his voice or with his body language. He never varies his tone or volume or shades his voice with different colors. Maybe he thinks that his voice is so good on its own that he doesn't have to do anything with it beyond just singing the notes, just like he refuses to wear wigs because he's got such a lovely head of hair. Whatever. Because of all that flatness, his voice tends to drone.

After the intermission, they brought out a microphone for him, which I thought was odd. At first, I wondered if someone had complained that he was almost inaudible in the balcony, but no, it was just because the second half was all popular war-era songs, and at LA Opera, if you sing a non-classical song, you get a microphone. Weird. Simon Keenlyside has said that microphones can only capture changes in volume, and not much else, but it wasn't so with Hvorostovsky. With the microphone, his voice sounded less flat and he seemed to do a lot more shading. Of course, this might have been because all the songs in the second half were cabaret-like songs. All the old ladies in the audience loved that; when he'd start a song and they'd recognize it, they'd applaud, bounce in their seats, and start chattering among themselves. Some old guy behind me sang along with almost all of them. Gah. In some of the songs, Hvorostovsky was just melodically spinging. He seemed to be making more efforts with interpretation, but I had to wonder if he wasn't just copying some popular singer, the way an American singer would just copy Frank Sinatra's style of delivery. Hvorostovsky seems to be an imitator; when I saw him in recital a few years ago, I knew exactly what gestures and "emoting" vocal tricks he was going to do before he did them...because I'd seen Vladimir Chernov (a nice guy, but not as famous as Hvorostovsky) do them all before while singing the same arias.

So yeah, no more Hvorostovsky recitals for me. I just hope it isn't too awful when he comes back in September to sing Giorgio Germont in La Traviata with *gag* Renée "I just wet myself with the power of my voice" Fleming and Rolando "Spawn of Atkinson" Villazon.

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At September 19, 2009 at 11:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this post is a few years old (I found it by Googling) so you might not see my comment, but I just wanted to say thank goodness I'm not the only one on the planet who thinks Hvorostovsky is overrated and should not be singing Verdi! Also, that taking huge, audible breaths that totally break any suspension of disbelief is not what I'd call "breath control". Makes me want to get the man a paramedic. ;)
Ah well...just have to wait for another Bastianini, I guess. :)

At February 18, 2010 at 6:34 PM , Blogger frufru said...

OK, first of all, like Felicia, I found this via Google search.

Second, as far as the audience is concerned: You're forgetting just how popular DH is in Russia (C'mon, he sang on the Red Square with Putin present), and that what you got on the concert are not regular classical music concert goers. Try to take an average American to a concert of classical music, and see what happens. He'll probably start clapping to the rhythm.

Third, concerning Hvorostovsky: You were obviously unlucky enough to get to a concert focused on Russian-Americans who adore him without that much knowledge of opera singing. He plays the part of the adored "best baritone in the world" - that's what they call him there. If you really want to see the best of him, go to a recital of Russian romances, or some Verdi (yes) concert or opera.

Fourth, yes, I'm his fan, and no, it's not because I'd know little about singing or his white mane.

Felicia, do you think Bastianini was flawless? And still he's my favourite baritone of history.

At August 15, 2014 at 11:00 AM , Blogger Sarah Turnage said...

I'm glad someone else thinks that DH is overrated.

At August 25, 2015 at 9:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guess the judges in Cardiff who voted for Dmitri as Singer of the world back in 1989 were clueless. ( Insert Heavy sarcasm) They should have consulted the author of this article or one of the other"experts" who have commented above. Everyone is a critique pfffttt! Hvorostovsky is brilliant in every way and not because of his pretty hair or hunky looks but his voice and stage presence and the passion he expresses when playing a role. Sure the good looks are an additional bonus and part of his appeal but the man knows how to reach his audience.


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