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Powerhouse Russian baritone in concert

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky is one of the most visible and admired classical stars of our time. When he isn't acknowledging a chorus of bravos after singing in an opera with one of the world's most renowned divas, he is commanding a stage in a recital that evokes raves and standing ovations. The man from Siberia wears his silver mane like a crown, whether he is conveying the passionate romanticism of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky or interpreting the elegant Italian repertory like a compatriot of Verdi.

Direct from New York's Metropolitan Opera, where he has been starring as Rodrigo in a production of Verdi's "Don Carlo," he arrives at the Kennedy Center to sing some of his favorite recital pieces under the auspices of the Washington Performing Arts Society. He is accompanied by his pianist of choice, Ivari Ilja, who regularly joins him onstage and in the recording studio.

"He is one of the greatest accompanists in our time," Hvorostovsky said. "I first worked with him in 1989 to prepare for a competition that I won, but I didn't see him again until 2003 when I was looking for someone special. He is humble, intelligent and makes wonderful suggestions to my repertoire. I've been so happy to work with him ever since.

"I love the shift in routine because I'm a Libra and enjoy balancing operas with recitals," he said. "I've had the opportunity to give recitals since the beginning of my career. They are more intimate and allow me to sing directly to my audience. Opera singing is different. There you are focused on the character, the story and your movements onstage. The eyes of the audience follow you. I'm especially drawn to Verdi because of the vocal beauty of his roles. They are as beautiful as they are challenging. During my career, I've been conquering his operas one by one and fulfilling the dreams of a teenage boy."

Onstage
Dmitri Hvorostovsky
» Where: Kennedy Center Opera House, 2700 F St. NW
» When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
» Info: $35 to $100; 202-467-4600, 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

Since bursting onto the world scene by winning the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, Hvorostovsky has proved himself to be the ultimate Verdi hero, from Renato in "Un Ballo Maschera" to the title role in "Simon Boccanegra." His heritage, nevertheless, allows him to be supremely effective in his signature role of "Eugene Onegin" and his deep repertoire of songs by Rachmaninoff, Mussorgsky, Medtner, Tchaikovsky and other composers from his homeland, together with Russian folk songs and lullabies.

"My father was a good amateur musician and loved great singing, so it was my privilege to grow up listening to the music of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky and many Russian favorites," he said. "I dreamed about performing around the world as a little kid. Even though I was shy, I began studying music at age seven and inherited my love of classical music, fairy tales and folk music from my grandmother. Then I played rock music as a teenager."

The teenage rock musician soon evolved into an international phenomenon with a reputation today that is comparable to that of a rock star. Wherever Hvorostovsky travels, he is recognized and worshiped by adoring fans. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky recalled a time when they were walking together near Coney Island and several women ran up to them, unable to believe that they actually were standing next to the famous opera singer, their hero.

"What the audience doesn't know is that I have a sense of humor and do silly things to relax the others on stage," he said. "I spent a lot of money ordering contact lenses with a Russian flag and red and blue points in the middle. During one of my last songs with Sondra, I turned my face toward her and the chorus. They were freaked out!"

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