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Anna Netrebko, soprano, Yusif Eyvazov, tenor, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone. Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Jader Bignamini, conductor. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Apr 25, 2017.
Billed as the “Ultimate Opera Gala,” the Trio Magnifico is the latest blockbuster presentation by Show One Productions founder and producer Svetlana Dvoretsky, who specializes in importing primarily Russian classical artists to these shores. Without question, it was the most exciting event in the Toronto 2016-17 opera season, and certainly one of the most memorable, ever.
This evening was extra special because it marked the belated and highly anticipated Canadian debut of the Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko. She was joined by the ringing voice of Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov, who happens to be her husband. Perhaps the most significant of all, it marked the return to the stage of the beloved Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.
It was widely reported two years ago that “Dima” was diagnosed with a brain tumour. It was around spring of 2015, and I recalled how stunned we all were at the news. He cancelled engagements over the summer and early fall for treatment, coming back to the Met in October 2015 to sing Conte di Luna in Il Trovatore. It was shown in the Met Live in HD series. I went and found him in excellent voice. He cancelled the rest of the run for more treatment. Toronto scored a coup when he returned in Feb. 2016 for a Koerner Hall recital, and I was so fortunate to be there to witness his triumph.
Unfortunately, illness continued to dog him and it was announced last December that the baritone would have to cancel all his opera and some of his concert engagements in the future. Toronto fans were relieved to note that the April 25 Trio Magnifico date remained on schedule. Only a few weeks ago, it was announced that the Dublin concert that was to follow the Toronto date has also been cancelled. We feared for the worst.
It was a huge relief to learn earlier today from those in the know that Hvorostovsky was in town rehearsing. Completely sold out, fifty Standing Room Only seats were sold this morning, in a flash. I arrived at the opera house at 7 p.m. The atmosphere at the FSC lobby was electric; people were carrying bouquets for the artists. There was a real sense of occasion.
Show One’s Svetlana Dvoretsky came on before the performance and gave a brief but moving speech, particularly to pay tribute to Hvorstovsky, eliciting huge applause. Then it was down to business. Italian Maestro Jader Bignamini kicked off the proceedings with the COC Orchestra in a spirited rendition of the Overture to La Forza del destino. Elsewhere, the Orchestra also contributed two famous Intermezzi, from Cavalleria rusticana and Manon Lescaut, plus the grand Polonaise from Eugene Onegin, all in the repertoire of the COC Orchestra.
The three soloists took turns, in a program of mostly Russian and Italian opera arias. When Hvorostovsky came out for the first piece, “Na vozdushnom okeane” from Rubinstein’s The Demon, he was greeted with tumultuous applause. He sang with his trademark vital and robust tone, the sound remained full and rich. He moved well onstage, with no hint of the much talked-about balance issues due to his illness. The originally scheduled Trio from Il trovatore involving all three was replaced by Lehar’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” sung as a duet – and in Italian! – by Netrebko and Eyvazov.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I say that everything Hvorostovsky did tonight was perfect. One was aware of some unsteadiness in his tone in the Tomsky’s aria from Pique Dame, and the lowest notes didn’t have the support of the past. In Cortigiani from Rigoletto and in the Final Duet from Onegin, the top became effortful. One became acutely aware of what a physical toll this illness is taking on the singer. But rather than focusing on the vocal blemishes, I applaud him for the courage to step onstage and sing. We attend his performances to honour and enjoy his artistry. Let’s hope that additional treatments will return him to form.
Netrebko, the mega diva of our time, is in her vocal prime. She opened with the gorgeous aria by Marfa in The Tsar’s Bride, her rich, refulgent tone was an unalloyed pleasure. Very impressive was her ability to reduce her big spinto sound to a caressing, honeyed high piano that’s the envy of any soprano. Interestingly, she sang Butterfly’s “Un bel di,” a role that is not in her repertoire, as well as Nedda’s “Stridono lassù,” also not normally associated with her. Her voice is now a bit too big for Nedda, and if her climactic high B flat in the Butterfly aria was a bit too stentorian, it’s likely a reflection of her exuberant, larger than life personality. By contrast, her “Song to the Moon” with it rich, luscious tone was fabulous. The Onegin final duet found her once again in great voice and with plenty of dramatic urgency. I saw her sing this just last week at the Met Live in HD, with Peter Mattei. Here, she’s with Hvorostovsky, an old friend, and the two have excellent chemistry. Her presence likely helped Hvorostovsky through this demanding scene.
For me, the revelation of the evening was tenor Yusif Eyvazov. I’ve only heard him on various live streams but not in the house. His is a very impressive full lyric tenor, with a bright, well focused, forwardly placed sound – unusual for a Russian voice – plus Italianate in timbre, with squillo for days, in the best tradition of a Franco Corelli. He offered a very exciting “Vesti la giubba” and he was not shy to give a 110% either! The audience certainly thought so, he was showered with as much applause as the other two, and perhaps even more! Let’s hope Mr. Eyvazov will be back, ideally in an opera like Manon Lescaut, together with Anna Netrebko! Hey, I can fantasize, can’t I?
With the conclusion of the formal program, the audience was ecstatic. Repeated ovations brought the artists back on stage time and again. I dare say there were more kisses blown from the three artists to the audience than any show I’ve attended in fifty years of concert-going. We were rewarded with the Russian chestnut, “Ochi Chernye” (Dark Eyes), almost always sung as an encore. Well, it brought the house down. In a very touching gesture, Netrebko and Eyvazov stepped back from the spotlight, and made Hvorostovsky sing the encore by himself, what a selfless thing to do! A joyous and emotional end to a marvelous evening of music-making.