Verdi: Rigoletto / Hvorostovsky, Orbelian, Kaunas City Symphony
Giuseppe Verdi may have written his most glamorous and heroic roles for tenors, but he often assigned his more psychologically complex and conflicted character portrayals to baritones- and Rigoletto is just such a role: perhaps the greatest baritone role ever written. It demands not only a magnificent voice, but also a supremely gifted actor who is able to convey a broad range of emotions, human qualities, and inner subtleties. Enter universally beloved Dmitri Hvorostovsky: a prolific Delos artist and supreme Verdi baritone. The resplendent beauty and incomparable versatility of his voice is matched only by the depth of his interpretive soul. In this- Dmitri’s first ever (and long-awaited) complete recording of Rigoletto- he performs the title role magnificently, along with an all-star supporting cast. Choral-orchestral splendor comes courtesy of renowned maestro Constantine Orbelian, his Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, and the men of the Kaunas State Choir.
It is hard to ignore the impressive performance of tenor Francesco Demuro, seductive as the lecherous and duplicitous Duke. His bright voice is splendidly in tune conveying that special Italianate sound together with the ability to reveal a tear in the voice. My only quibble is that Demuro determinedly sings full volume at every opportunity which becomes a touch unsteady. In ultra-confident mood, the Duke’s opening aria ‘Questo o quella’, expressing the belief that any woman is fair game, is buoyantly sung while in the act 2 aria ‘Ella mi fu rapita… Parmi veder le lagrima’, singing of his sorrow as Gilda is stolen from him, Demuro effortlessly realises his high notes with accomplishment. From act 3 it’s difficult to forget the celebrated aria ‘La donna e mobile’ as the Duke boasts of his disrespect for women, being most handsomely sung by this Italian tenor.
American soprano Nadine Sierra establishes herself as a suitably innocent yet enchanting Gilda. Displaying a bright, if small voice, soprano Sierra is suitably girlish and most comfortable in her high register easily achieving her top notes. Especially memorable from act 1, scene 2 is Gilda’s aria ‘Gualtier Maldè… Caro nome che il mio cor’ as she sings affectionately of her new-found love and Gilda’s duet with her father Rigoletto, ‘Figlia! Mio padre!’, is also most affecting. As Rigoletto, Hvorostovsky is in his element, soon establishing the complex and deeply troubled character, notably able to traverse the high baritone demands. Best of all from act 2 in the punishing ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’ Hvorostovsky excels as the angry and distressed Rigoletto, venting his fury on the courtiers to return his daughter. Although his voice is not at his peak, what remains evident is the baritone’s rich and velvety tone, which draws the listener in, and his excellent breath control together with his innate ability to generate real drama.
Displaying total commitment in the part of Maddalena, Belarusian Oksana Volkova is in impressive voice, firm, ripely potent and expressive too. I will make a point of hearing the mezzo-soprano as Carmen, one of her leading roles. On record there have been several convincingly menacing Sparafuciles for example Cesare Siepi, Niccolo Zaccaria, Martti Talvela, Nicolai Ghiaurov and Robert Lloyd and any bass in the role has a lot to live up to. Nevertheless, Italian bass Andrea Mastroni sings the role of the professional assassin creditably, with an appropriate dark and sinister edge, holding the exposed and sustained low note F to pleasing effect. In the justly famous act 3 Quartet ‘Bella figlia dell’amore’ I greatly admire the 1971 Decca recording by Luciano Pavarotti, Huguette Tourangeau, Joan Sutherland and Sherrill Milnes. Despite the excellent competition, the quartet of Demuro, Volkova, Sierra and Hvorostovsky don’t disappoint and sing with an appealing sense of drama.
In lusty voice, the Men of the Kaunas State Choir have been clearly well drilled. There are no problems whatsoever with the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra who play with plenty of expressive thrust and Constantine Orbelian’s tempi are well chosen, allowing plenty of room for the singers. Recorded at the State Philharmonic concert hall at Kaunas the engineering team has provided cool, clear sound, although I would have liked a slightly warmer sound and a balance less in favour of the strings. In the exemplary presentation by Delos I am delighted to report that the full Italian libretto with English translation is provided, together with an informative essay by Lindsay Koop and a synopsis. Pleasing additions are the cast and production photographs including several of Hvorostovsky.
Of the numerous recordings of Rigoletto my primary recommendation is the above mentioned 1971 Decca account conducted by Richard Bonynge with Pavarotti in his first attempt as the Duke. Worthy of praise too is this well-cast Rigoletto on Delos a fine achievement and most suitable tribute to the art of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who will be much missed.
-- MusicWeb International
Fans of the Russian baritone have a chance to hear him sing the entire role of the tragic jester with the release of his first complete recording of Verdi’s opera — made in July 2016 — that shows him in close-to-prime form.
Rigoletto is a touchstone role for a baritone, and Hvorostovsky has sung it live. Though his voice is not of the immense size associated with some great Verdi baritones of the past, he makes a splendid impact here. His very first utterance, mocking the cuckolded Count Ceprano, comes with a snarl that deliberately coarsens his trademark silken sound. It’s not until the next scene, in his tender duet with his daughter, Gilda, that the burnished tones we normally associate with Hvorostovsky emerge. The rest of the cast is first-rate, without overshadowing the main attraction.
– Associated Press (Mike Silverman)
Release Date: November 10, 2017
Catalog Number: DE 3522
Number of Discs: 2
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Constantine Orbelian
Orchestra/Ensemble: Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Kaunas State Choir
Performer: Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Nadine Sierra, Francesco Demuro, Andrea Mastroni, Oksana Volkova
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Ensemble: Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Kaunas State Choir
Performer: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Baritone), Nadine Sierra (Soprano), Francesco Demuro (Tenor), Andrea Mastroni (Bass), Oksana Volkova (Contralto)
Conductor: Constantine Orbelian