Dmitri Hvorostovsky, "Rigoletto" (Delos Records)
The opera world cheered last May when Dmitri Hvorostovsky made a surprise appearance at a Metropolitan Opera gala to sing an impassioned account of Rigoletto's big solo, "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata."
Diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2015, the beloved Russian baritone had all but given up live performances, and his prognosis remains uncertain.
But now his fans have a chance to hear him sing the entire role of the tragic jester with an audio CD release of his first complete recording of Verdi's opera - made in July 2016 - that shows him in close-to-prime form.
Rigoletto is a touchstone role for a baritone, and Hvorostovsky has sung it live. Though his voice is not of the immense size associated with some great Verdi baritones of the past, he makes a splendid impact here. His very first utterance, mocking the cuckolded Count Ceprano, comes with a snarl that deliberately coarsens his trademark silken sound. It's not until the next scene, in his tender duet with his daughter, Gilda, that the burnished tones we normally associate with Hvorostovsky emerge.
The rest of the cast is first-rate, without overshadowing the main attraction. Soprano Nadine Sierra has a delicate yet full-bodied lyric sound that makes for a spirited Gilda. Tenor Francesco Demuro as the libertine Duke may put off some listeners with his slightly nasal sound, but he gets points for capping his Act 2 cabaletta with an often-omitted high D. Bass Andrea Mastroni is suitably hulking as the assassin Sparafucile and mezzo Oksana Volkova sounds alluring as his sister, Maddalena.
The Kaunas (Lithuania) City Symphony Orchestra is conducted in a workmanlike performance of the score by Constantine Orbelian.