Although his tour schedule is mapped out for a few next years, the famous "velvet baritone" Dmitry Khvorostovsky, who was born in Siberia but now lives in London, has made an exception for his homeland. On May 28 he will give a concert in Moscow. The singer, nicknamed "the Siberian express" in the 1990s for his rapid rise to international fame, will perform on Red Square - after Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and Carnegie Hall. This will be the 41-year-old singer's first open-air concert, described as a sensation by the media and as a tribute to Russian history by the singer himself.
The programme includes Russians' favourite Soviet songs from the World War II period. Khvorostovsky has been singing them for two years, while in 2002 he recorded them in an effort to make the musical chronicle of the war more up-to-date. "It is a tribute to those who died," Dmitry says. "When I started rehearsing I felt a lump in my throat. Those people who declare wars have a very short memory; they do not think about their ancestors or their descendants. It won't hurt to remind [them] of this once again."
The war songs are in the second part of the programme, while the first half includes the opera arias that have made the Krasnoyarsk native so famous in the West. As he was adding new parts to his repertoire (which now includes over 30 arias), his fan clubs started appearing in Europe. Shuttling between Europe and the US over the years, Khvorostovsky has performed Yevgeny Onegin from Tchaikovsky's eponymous opera, Verdi's Germon and Rigoletto, Figaro from Rossini's Barber of Seville, Mozart's Don Juan, Prince Andrei from Prokofiev's War and Peace and many other roles.
Khvorostovsky says he is a forced cosmopolitan and admits that he misses "Russia, Russian speech, and Russian faces." Moscow and St Petersburg concerts for him are the most serious events, while it is always more difficult to perform in Russia than in the West because Russian audiences are often more demanding than European and American ones. The "holy mission" of the arts in the country has traditionally been to improve reality.
Khvorostovsky's career in the West began in the late 1980s. In 1989, Dmitry, at that time the leading singer of the Krasnoyarsk Opera, won the title of the world's best baritone at the Word's Best Singer contest in Cardiff, Great Britain, which was broadcast all over Europe. His voice produces "the most beautiful sounds that surround us", wrote The Guardian. "He came, he sang, he conquered!" echoed The Times. Many pointed to the "spellbinding quality" of his baritone, its warmth, strength and dramatic expressiveness. Soon magazines were calling the dark-eyed Siberian singer with premature grey and handsome hair a sex symbol.
Then he received a shower of more than attractive proposals: contracts with La Scala, Covent Garden, theatres in Chicago and San Fransisco, solo concerts and records. And there really was something to record. Producers were contented with the singer's repertoire after learning it. When he graduated from the Krasnoyarsk Arts Institute Dmitry had already performed almost all baritone parts in the local theatre. In short, the Western campaign of the irresistible Khvorostovsky, who was 26 at that time, was destined to bring him to heights of international opera.
Yet "the final battle" in Britain was preceded by no less important, although less famous victories. "Everything in art should be born in struggle and doubt," Khvorostovsky maintains. A year before the Cardiff contest, he won the international singer contest in Toulouse. By that time he had already taken part in the Mikhail Glinka All-USSR and All-Russian contests. It was these contests that opened the door to the West for Dmitry. The time was also right: the Iron Curtain had been lifted and contract work in the West became a reality.
Khvorostovsky has recorded dozens of albums and justified his title of the world's best baritone. His opera programme is supplemented by Russian romances by Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rakhmaninov and folk songs. He immediately conquers Western audience with their sadness, valour and passion of the Russian soul. The vocal series performed by Khvorostovsky include the heartfelt Petersburg by "the last Russian classic composer Georgy Sviridov" (who died in 1998) with the libretto supplied by the great Russian poet of the early 20th century, Alexander Blok.
Dmitry is rather reserved about works of modern composers, as he is not ready "to sacrifice the beauty of the voice for the sake of experiments". At the same time, he does not want "to shut out avant-garde completely" and willingly sings "Don't Grieve" by Giya Kanchely for voice and a symphonic orchestra, which "unites different styles like a mosaic".
The singer insists he will not choose the road taken by the three outstanding tenors, Domingo, Pavarotti and Carreras, who turned the performance of popular opera pieces into a mass show. "I do not see myself as a showman," he said, explaining his refusal to sing a duet with Madonna. Film versions of operas are a different thing. In 1999, Dmitry starred in a Canadian version of Don Juan, singing two parts: the great seducer and his companion Leporello. He did all the stunts, jumps and falls without a double.
"I have a long list of dreams - parts I have not done yet," Khvorostovsky says. The "Siberian express" is rushing forward. For him, music is "the beginning of the way, the goal and the final destination".