Silver-haired Dmitri Hvorostovsky, a celebrated operatic baritone from Siberia, returns to Los Angeles Opera on Thursday for a recital of classical music from his native Russia and Western Europe.
This is your third recital in L.A., and half the program is devoted to Russian songs. Last year you sang Russian war songs. Are you trying to raise the profile of Russian music in the West?
As a Russian musician — Russian born and raised — that’s what I do the best on the concert stage. As an opera singer, I mostly sing Italian opera with a touch of Russian and French music. So as a recitalist, I mostly enjoy doing Russian music and I feel still as an ambassador to your people as a Russian singer.
How would you characterize Russian music?
It’s something that belongs to me. How can I characterize what is part of my nature? Its depth, sadness. It’s sort of positive optimism, a certain amount. When you start talking about it, it becomes somehow cynical, and I don’t want to do that.
I know you tour Russia and Eastern Europe every year, and you’ve performed in Moscow many times. Is it important for you to keep close ties to your native country?
Yes, it is. Because I have the most grateful audience and I’m most satisfied performing in front of my compatriots. That’s what most of my American colleagues enjoy doing, to perform in front of audiences in America. So that’s quite understandable, isn’t it?
How has the Russian music scene evolved since your international career was launched 20 years ago?
Well, it’s been changed very much, and I don’t really follow what’s going on because I’m mostly occupied with what I’m doing. But I’ve been able to expand my geographical appearances across Russia compared to what I’d been to prior. So my geography is absolutely outstanding in terms of traveling to even remote places in Russia. I’ve been a few times to the far, far east of Russia.
What was that like?
Nature-wise, absolutely gorgeous. Wild. In a way looking very much like the other side of a border in China or Korea or Japan, mountains with forests and beautiful lakes, and of course the ocean is bordering with this land, cities such as Vladivostok. But on the other hand it’s abandoned, so it needs a lot of money to be invested in order to make everybody’s life as comfortable as it is across the border. But the hunger for culture is amazing. People really seek classical music and to see the art. So in a way it’s a very gratifying place to be performing.
Do international classical music stars ever travel there?
Not of my level. Some Russian artists perform there with orchestras, but it doesn’t happen too often.
Maybe you’ll inaugurate some fabulous new music venue there.
I completely forgot that they decided to build an opera house in Vladivostok. They’ll build one of the largest bridges in the world across the [Golden Horn] Bay to a little island. So on that little piece of land they’re going to build the new opera house, which I hopefully will see and sing there.
Can you talk a little about your collaboration with Russian composer and pop music producer Igor Krutoy and your “Deja Vu” project?
I sang it last year a number of times. It’s amazing music that was written by top Russian composers — 24 new songs, written in French, Italian and Russian. I made a recording, I made a music video, and I performed this program in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev a number of times and once at Radio City Music Hall. I’m going to perform it again in Moscow in March this year, and Igor is writing something new, which hopefully includes some of the play theater, so it might become kind of a Broadway show. We’re only creating the story, and we don’t know what kind of genre it’s going to be, but some music has already been written. If it’s good enough, I’ll probably bring it here, but the text will be written in Russian, so we’ll have to write an English text. But so far I enjoy working and expanding my career into a different type of a genre, which brings me an excitement and challenge to my professional life.
And presumably expands your fan base.
Also I’m reaching a public that has no idea of the existence of opera music. But that’s what I’ve been doing all the years of my career, always reaching across.
You mentioned your career singing Italian opera. Specifically, you mainly sing Verdi. Why does Verdi resonate with you?
It’s something I grew up with. As a little boy listening to Verdi’s music and great Italian singers singing “Aida” or “Othello.” I had the little dream that if I ever become an opera singer, which was always there, I was probably going to sing at something like Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan Opera, New York. We all know that Verdi was a baritone himself, and this is why he has written probably the most remarkable music, not just for other voices, but mostly for baritone. All the greatest baritones in the world sang Verdi. I always thought one day I would become a typical Verdian baritone, which I have. I’m really happy about it.
So how did you react when People magazine named you one of its 50 most beautiful people?
It was 1990. In 1990, I was a different man. I took everything for granted, and I thought that was quite reasonable. [Laughter.]