It is with great sadness that we learn that the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky has died aged 55 following a long battle with brain cancer.
Hvorostovsky rose to fame when he won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year competition in 1989, beating bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in a memorable final round. From there he went on to enjoy acclaim in opera houses across the world and released a string of highly-rated recordings. His repertoire was wide-ranging, from Caccini to Sviridov, but he was renowned for his Verdi and had few peers as Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Tall with prematurely silver locks, he cut a striking figure, and his seamless legato and burnished baritone earned him fans across the globe.
Born in 1962, Hvorostovsky was brought up in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, where he started his musical studies at the age of seven. As a teenager, he became obsessed with rock, disco and jazz, but soon realised his voice was better suited to opera and art song. After four years of study, he became a principal artist at Krasnoyarsk Opera House at just 23, and it was here that he made is operatic debut as Marullo in Verdi’s Rigoletto.
First prize wins at the 1987 Russian Glinka Competition and 1988 Toulouse Singing Competition paved the way for Hvorostovsky’s Cardiff Singer victory, after which he moved to London and embarked on a career in the West. Appearances at Nice Opera, La Fenice in Venice and Chicago’s Lyric Opera consolidated his reputation, and he went on to perform at almost all the major opera houses.
Yet his Russian roots remained important, and he regularly toured his home country. Condolences to his family were offered by The Kremlin, with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov describing Hvorostovksy as ‘a treasure not only of the Russian but also world culture.’
Hvorostovsky was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2015, and the resulting balance problems led him to withdraw from staged productions in 2016. He continued to sing, however, delighting New York’s opera fans in May earlier this year when he made a surprise return to the Metropolitan Opera stage to sing extracts from Rigoletto in a gala concert. It was his 183rd appearance at the Met. Hvorostovsky’s first ever complete recording of this great baritone role is due to be released on 24 November, performed with the Kaunas Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Constantine Orbelian.
He died in London’s Royal Marsden Hospital on the morning of 22 November, surrounded by family. ‘May the warmth of his voice and his spirit always be with us,’ said the official statement.