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Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Sondra Radvanovsky sing up a storm for WPAS

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Sondra Radvanovsky sing up a storm for WPAS

It's hard to keep up the lament about the dearth of great, or even just interesting, opera singers today when you encounter American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who teamed up for a concert Monday presented by the

at the Kennedy Center. (Hvorostovsky dedicated the evening to the memory of the victims of Monday's terrorist attack in Moscow.)

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The two artists have two of the most distinctive voices to be heard in our time, and the musical/dramatic instincts to back those voices up. By any era's standards, these are substantial singers, and that's how they sounded in a hefty program backed by the National Philharmonic and conducted by Metropolitan Opera regular Marco Armiliato.

You can carp about the limited tonal power of Hvorostovsky, if you like. He has never had the biggest sound around, and he has to push hard to reach his maximum volume. But, 21 years after his career-launching win at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, his tone remains nearly as smooth and sensual as the velvet tux he wore on Monday.

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Radvanovsky has been a major buzz-generator for some time now, and no wonder. The soprano's voice might not be conventionally beautiful in terms of tonal cream, but, man, is it alive with color gradations and expressive nuances, from the burgundy low register to an often gleaming top. You just can't take your ears off of her. And the soprano seems to live each line she sings; there is no skating through text or focusing on effect. Her every note carries expressive weight.

The two singers produced plenty of theatrical chemistry to match their vocal intensity in excerpts from

"Simon Boccanegra" and "Un Ballo in Maschera." In the Renato/Amelia scene from the latter, Radvanovsky fell to her knees to sing the plaintive "Morro, ma prima in grazia" and tapped deeply into the music's poignancy. The baritone encountered a slight crack in "Eri tu," but recovered quickly; the "O dolcezze perdute" lines in the aria were phrased exquisitely.

An aria from "William Tell" received a smooth performance from Hvorostovsky. His colleague offered an involving "Song of the Moon" from "Rusalka." The final scene from "Eugene Onegin" found both singers in dynamic, involving form -- the whole opera seemed to be conjured up onstage in those few minutes.

Throughout the evening, Armiliato provided supple support on the podium. The orchestra began in decidedly uneven form (several of the solo efforts were particularly rough), but, after intermission, it sounded almost like a new ensemble, tighter in articulation, warmer in tone, more responsive in phrasing.

All in all, a classy night for WPAS, which has announced a most attractive lineup for the 2010-11 season.

(You didn't hear this from me, but the last I checked, there was a brief, unauthorized clip of Monday's "Onegin" performance posted on YouTube by someone sitting pretty close to the stage. If that gets taken down, you'll find samples of the two artists in a 2008 Moscow concert that covered some of the same repertoire as the DC program -- a program, by the way, that will be presented at Carnegie Hall on Thursday.)

PHOTO BY PAVEL ANTONOV COURTESY OF WPAS

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