Dmitri Horostovsky, a singer possessed of a penetrating baritone as deep as his Siberian soul, along with matinee-idol looks that made him a star beyond the classical-music world, died Wednesday. He was 55 and had waged a heart-breaking battle with brain cancer since revealing his illness in June 2015. His management agency, Askonas Holt, said he died in hospice care near his London home.
To roles as diverse as Verdi’s tragic court jester Rigoletto, Mozart’s faithless Don Giovanni and his signature character, Tchaikovsky’s callow Eugene Onegin, Hvorostovky brought ruminative, insightful performances along with assured technique. Combined with his imposing presence – he was over six feet tall and nearly as well-known for his white mane as for his vocal abilities – Hvorostovsky (hvor-uh-STOV-ski) packed opera houses and concert halls from the Met in New York to Covent Garden in London and La Scala in Italy.
Hvorostovsky made his Met debut in 1995 as Yeletsky in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades. A frequent concertizer, he was devoted to the Russian repertory and had often appeared with his compatriot Anna Netrebko, another superstar in the opera world. Together they performed “Live From Red Square,” a critically acclaimed 2013 concert that has been a best-selling DVD. Like many of his contemporaries, including Renée Fleming and Dawn Upshaw, he dabbled in popular music as well, adding crossover albums to his catalogue and solo concerts. But they never matched his classical work.
Stardom took its toll early in his career, which was marked by a cavalier attitude toward engagements and public carousing that were the stuff of gossip columns. By the turn of the new century, however, he had settled into a more gracious kind of public figure, marked by seriousness of intent and raising a family. Hvorostovsky was familiar to the many opera fans who listened to the Met’s Saturday afternoon live radio broadcasts, and, in recent years, its increasingly popular television broadcasts.
Illness caused him to cancel many appearances, and those he did make were greeted with rapture by grateful audiences, including performances at the Met with Netrebko, in the fall of 2016, where he sang the Count di Luna in Verdi’s Il Trovatore. That was followed in the spring with a Carnegie Hall recital that earned similar accolades.
Most stunningly, Hvorostovsky made a surprise appearance last May to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Met’s home at Lincoln Center. Frail but determined, he sang an aria from Rigoletto before an audience in which sobbing could be heard throughout the hushed house.
In an obituary in The New York Times, chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini wrote that “Hvorostovsky felt an increasing attachment to his homeland. In his interview with The New Yorker, he recalled a concert he gave at 22 with fellow singers and instrumentalists in a bread factory in central Siberia in below-freezing weather. The audience, wearing fur hats and warm boots, was overcome. Those tears, Mr. Hvorostovsky said, ‘were more precious to me than all the applause I could ever get again.’ ”
Hvorostovsky is survived by his wife, Swiss-born soprano Florence Illi; their two children, Nina and Maxim; twins from his first marriage, Daniel and Alexandra; and his parents, Alexander and Lyudmila.