Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky
(Washington Performing Arts Society)

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the Russian baritone who will give a recital for the Washington Performing Arts Society at the Kennedy Center Wednesday night, has one of the finest voices of our time. He doesn't mind saying so himself.

"It is still a perfect instrument," the 50-year-old Hvorostovsky said from New York, where he recently wrapped up well-received performances as Rodrigo in Verdi's epic "Don Carlo" at the Metropolitan Opera. "Of course the color has changed, but I've managed to keep it fresh. The voice doesn't wobble, which is surprising. It is very rich, full of timbre,  a beautiful instrument."


Fans of the Siberian-born baritone will not likely dispute the singer's self-assessment.  Since his victory in 1989 at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, Hvorostovsky has enjoyed a stellar career at major opera houses and concert halls. Even his looks earned him attention; in 1991, he landed on People magazine's list of 50 most beautiful people.

For his Washington recital, accompanied by pianist Ivari Ilja, the baritone will focus on two Russian composers: Rachmaninoff and Georgi Sviridov. The latter will be represented by "Petersburg, a Vocal Poem," composed in 1995 for Hvorostovsky three years before Sviridov's death.

This darkly beautiful song cycle, with early-20th century poetry by Alexsandr Blok, has much to say about Russia's past and, by implication, its present and future. A sample:

"We, children of Russia's dreadful years, can forget nothing/… In the days of war and freedom a blood-red shimmer appeared on our faces/We have grown dumb; the alarm bell has forced us to close our lips."

Hvorostovsky put the song cycle aside after the premiere.

"This is my big comeback to it," the singer said. "At first, I thought, oh my God, I can't do them again. They are hard to sing. It requires an almost instrumental type of singing, with no vibrato sometimes. I've changed a lot since I sang them. I ask myself what kind of new message I can bring to the table with this music.  There is a lot of suffering onstage [because of the texts]. I know it sounds banal, but you have to feel the music with your heart and soul."

As for the future, Hvorostovsky has plenty on his plate, including large helpings of Verdi. He will be back at the Met next season in the title role of "Rigoletto" -- "It will be the Met's modern production, the one set in Las Vegas," the baritone said. "I still haven't been to Las Vegas and I try not to gamble.

"I will do my first Iago [in 'Otello'] in September in Vienna, which is a big step for me. I will be singing with my old buddy Jose Cura [in the title role]. He's going to eat me up completely and won't even chew. Eventually, I hope to do 'Forza' and, hopefully, 'Macbeth.'"

Outside of opera, Hvorostovsky said he is "moving in all directions -- chamber music, recital, pop and crossover."

Meanwhile, he is just anxiously awaiting spring. Who says Russians love cold weather?

"I am looking at it through the window now," he said. "I hate it so much. Believe me I hate it with all my soul and heart."