Sunday, June 18, 2017

Remembering Cardiff's 1989 epic "Battle of the Baritones"

Dmitri Hvorostovsky at Cardiff in 1989
As we wrap up the 2017 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, we're recalling the most famous show down of all, which was the 1989 "Battle of the Baritones" between Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Bryn Terfel.

The Siberian barihunk went on to win the competition and, of course, both men have gone on to sensational international careers. Hvorostovsky sangs two pieces from Verdi, Rodrigo's aria "O Carlo, ascolta" from Don Carlo and "Eri tu che macchiavi" from Un ballo in maschera, "Ja vas lyublyu" from Tchikovsky's Queen of Spades.

The late, great soprano Elizabeth Soderström, who was one of the judges in 1989, famously marked a series of exclamation marks on her scorecard as she listened to Hvorostovsky sing. The performance wasn't as easy as it looked, as Hvorostovsky has just listened to Bryn Terfel over the speakers and, for the first time, realized that he could lose the competition. When he went out on stage, he was determined to give it 110%, but almost fainted when he took, not one, but two long phrases in Rodrigo's aria on a single breath. The gambit obviously paid off and the singer is still known 28 years later for his ability to float long Verdian phrases on a single breath.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky's 1989 performance at Cardiff:

The win also came with a bid of levity, as an excited Hvorostovsky grabbed the crystal trophy from the Lord Mayor before she could hand it to him. He also won more than the trophy and prize money, as Russian President Boris Yeltsin gave him a huge apartment in the middle of Moscow as a prize for his win.

He later moved from Moscow to London after his family felt threatened by the Russian mafia.

The "Battle of the Baritones" has never been repeated, although many believed that this year's competition might have been the year, with its rich crop of top notch low voices. However, in 2013, there was a "Battle of the Mezzos" when Jamie Barton squared off against Daniela Mack, Barton grabbing the crystal trophy.