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Recordings

Decca 0440 074 3383 6 GH [DVD]
27 Oct 2011

Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky: A Musical Odyssey in St. Petersburg

Exactly what makes this entertaining, handsome video of Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Renée Fleming in concert an “odyssey”?

Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky: A Musical Odyssey in St. Petersburg

Renée Fleming, soprano. Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone. State Hermitage Orchestra. Conductor: Constantine Orbelian. Directed for video by Brian Large.

Decca 0440 074 3383 6 GH [DVD]

$27.99  Click to buy

Would it really have been unacceptable to call the program “A Musical Travelogue in St. Petersburg”? There are no adventures with sirens or one-eyed giants, nor is there any sense of homecoming and redemption. Instead, soprano Fleming (Hvorostovsky apparently otherwise engaged) walks through some of the more appealing tourist locations of the city, in three segments that take up about 20 minutes of the main program’s 90-minute running time. At least Decca provides an additional four musical selections for the DVD release.

Putting aside persnickety complaints about language, the DVD is very enjoyable. It gets off to a great start by skipping introductions and immediately joining Renée and Dmitri in front of the State Hermitage orchestra and conductor Constantine Orbelian. Credits roll as the singers launch into the fourth act duet of Il Trovatore’s Leonora and Di Luna. Other than Violetta and Desdemona, Verdi hasn’t played a big part in Ms. Fleming’s career, so it’s fairly surprising how well she does in this scene. Hvorostovsky has sung the Count many times, and in this smaller hall, he is able to bring all of his skill to the performance without having to push as he would in a larger venue. Next, after 10 minutes of Renée guiding us through the Winter Palace, we return to the concert and an extended scene from Simon Boccanegra. A briefer travelogue is followed by several Russian songs, with Olga Kern at the piano. This is Hvorostovsky’s home territory, of course, and he shines; Ms. Fleming looks and sounds ravishing.

Another travelogue section precedes the return of the orchestra for selections from three Tchaikovsky operas, listed in the booklet as Pique Dame, Oprichnik, and the reliable Eugene Onegin. Hvorostovsky sings Yeletzki’s aria handsomely as expected, and the rare opera’s aria for Renée is quite beautiful. Then the pair performs the final scene of Onegin with a potent mixture of elegance and dramatic force.

The bonus tracks are all worthy and undoubtedly only edited out of the main program only for reasons of timing (the main program was offered on PBS in the Great Performances series). Dmitri sings Hamlet’s drinking song from the Ambroise Thomas opera and a rare and very entertaining Anton Rubinstein number. Ms. Fleming gives us her creamy “Casta Diva” and Lisa’s first act aria from Pique Dame.

The Decca set has rudimentary packaging, but the performance itself is classy, and as the travelogue sections are separately tracked, they can easily be skipped on repeat viewings. If one doesn't expect the rollicking adventure of a true odyssey, this set should prove to be high-quality musical entertainment.

Chris Mullins

Click here for a track list.

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