Sometimes we are blessed to discover an artist whose miraculous gifts touch the soul, who introduces us to undiscovered beauty and treasured memories; I can think of no finer example than Dmitri Hvorostovsky. One of the foremost interpreters of Verdi, Hvorostovsky had the uncanny knack of making even an operatic villain a fully dimensional, sympathetic character; I am thinking now of his portrayal of Count di Luna in Il Trovatore, exemplified in the aria Il balen del suo sorriso. (The Metropolitan Opera has posted on YouTube this performance from 2011.)
Yet Hvorostovsky’s talent was not limited to opera; some of his most beautiful, powerful singing was of Russian war songs. Perhaps it is inconceivable that an American singer would forge his reputation and the love of the people of his nation by singing songs of World War II in the first decade of the twenty-first century but a recital program by Hvorostovsky of new arrangements of songs from the era of “The Great Patriotic War”, Where Are You My Brothers? was given in the spring of 2003 in front of an audience of six thousand at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow, and seen on Russian Television by over ninety million viewers, an event that made him a beloved legend in Russia.
To put the difference between the American experience of World War II and Russia’s in perspective, Professor Stephen F. Cohen has written and discussed the terrible human cost of the Nazi invasion of Russia, as much of what we learn in textbooks and especially schools and popular media is false:
Most Americans today believe that “we defeated Nazi Germany,” as President Obama wrote on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, a misconception promoted by Hollywood films that portray…