Today is November 23, the day before Thanksgiving, that great American holiday for giving thanks, for being with family, for cooking, baking and cleaning until your house sparkles. And exudes the smells of roast turkey, sweet potatoes, maple syrup…apple and pumpkin or mince pies and tarts…. whatever tasty morsels are steaming or boiling or roasting in your now gleaming palace of delights.
It’s cold. It is November after all. But just back in October it was almost 90 and the flowers were blooming and people were jogging by in shorts and tank tops. Today it is cold and frosty. I have not adjusted. My mind is on flowers and fragrance and dew on the grass and the pink clouds at 5:30 a.m. when I still was happy and the world felt new or like it might begin again. My sump pump is still churning out water from the rain storm last week, and now it flows down the driveway and onto the street, freezing into a narrow river in front of my house only. The river of water comes more and more often these days. It feels sometimes like it’s just going to take everything away.
I left all the chrysanthemums out in the garden last night. It was starting to be tiring to take them into the garage every evening so they would not freeze, and then bring them out again in the morning. The weather, once again, is so erratic so strange so like a schizophrenic human being. One does not know what to do what to wear what to think what to feel or how to breathe anymore.
So much I want to preserve these flowers, these colors, that sharp, elusive, slightly weird earthy scent, that sometimes still makes me feel alive and happy even when I’m freezing. Oh let it rain flowers! Let each and every petal live as long as possible before the winter comes. And that big pot of pink mums, that looks like a giant cloud about to float up into the stratosphere. Let it stay awhile.
There was ice on the streets but looking out the window early this morning, I see they made it. The flowers. A little duller in color, a little frozen, but now, in the strengthening sun they are almost perking up, almost brightening, almost coloring again.
I’m sitting here at the kitchen table. I had all these things to do today. But suddenly I can’t even move.
When I turned on the radio this morning the announcer said that Dmitri Hvorostovsky had died. In London at 3:20 a.m..
There are some people, when they die, whether you know them personally or not, when they die someone digs a deep hole in your heart. Makes you feel dizzy like all the blood just drained out, like all the evil vampires just got you. Makes you cold and frightened, uncertain of where your hands or feet or face are.
I’m glad I am not cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year because I would just stop, as soon as I heard the news that Dmitri H died…. it would just stop. All the sweet potatoes, cranberries, gravies, pies, and tarts, all the flowers to be put in vases. All of it would stand there shock still in the pantry, on the counters, in the jars, and boxes and bags, all the food in the fridge would freeze even more until it turned into powdery dust. All the interesting recipes sitting on the table, to thrill my dinner guests, they too would shrivel up like winter flies on the windowsill and die.
I feel a great noise like an old rattling carriage plunging down a steep slope and the horses shrieking as they break free, and running wild over the rocky hills, and the old guy at the top falling onto the ground hitting his head on a big rock. My head is split open now and I am flat like a cartoon. I cannot pick up a fork or knife or spoon.
The big news headlines are about the highest paid models, the death of a serial killer, the latest sexual predator, another sitcom star is dead, the Victoria Secret models will soon be parading their stuff, the White House is still a circus and next year 100 earthquakes will come.
The sun is coming out and the chrysanthemums are turning deeper and bolder and it almost looks like a nice autumn day.
But Dmitri Hvorostovsky is dead at 55 of brain cancer. Placido Domingo said that he felt “anguish” at the announcement of his passing and that “The heavenly choir may add a marvelous voice and soul to her prestigious angels.” And Renee Fleming that ” … there have been many beautiful voices, but none in my opinion, more beautiful than Dmitri’s.”
I’m listening to him now as I sit here unbelievably bereaved for someone I did not know in the flesh. He was so beautiful. It’s hard to separate the beautiful man from the beautiful voice. That white hair flowing down like snow, like ice, sometimes like silver. I’ve been listening all morning to a recording of the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff romances and he’s singing “Oh! this is the eternally weeping ocean devoted to the silent shore.” And “Let me not hear you sing my beauty, you with your songs of sad Georgia; they remind me of another life and of a distant shore.” You have to hear them in his native Russian to know, really know what a true love song is, what a true broken heart is, what a truly desolate place the heart can be. How you wait and wait for someone who never comes home. Even if you do not understand Russian you will understand every word he sings.
He’s a baritone, but sounds sometimes, almost like a tenor. He can sound like a deep roaring ocean, and other times his voice is drenched with honey. Each Russian vowel and consonant perfectly enunciated and lengthened, widened until the whole language pours over you like. Like what? Music critics the world over have described his voice and all the shadings and nuances far better than I can. I can’t. It’s overwhelming. Words fail me in describing his voice. I only know how to describe the absence of he who was that voice. How desolate it feels that he’s gone.
I wish I had some drug to make this sad feeling go away. Like when my father died, and then my mother. You just want to get away from that aching heart. Actually a heart can’t ache, we call it an ache I suppose, but it is worse. It has no sharp, actual pain, no raw, excruciating, nerve ripping, torture. It’s just dull, endless, sightless, colorless, textureless, yet it’s there, the emptiness of emptiness. Beyond empty. When you can’t sit or stand or see or think or feel and you do it anyway but all you experience is emptiness, nonsense, meaninglessness, but still you have to wander, move around, and flee because sitting still is excruciating, but there’s nowhere to go. Emptiness is all around you. Waking up one day you go to the bathroom to brush your teeth, and you wonder. How many times have I brushed my teeth now and how many more times will I brush them… And, you might drop the toothbrush in the sink and leave it there.
It feels like all the beauty, all the really beautiful ones, all the good ones, all the gentle ones are falling off the face of the earth, slowly one by one and those of us left behind, well we are simply left behind and it feels sad, so sad that you don’t even know what sad is and you can’t even describe your own state of mind because words suddenly don’t even have a meaning and without meaning you are in a state of limbo.
He was so physically beautiful and I wonder if that’s it. He really did look like snow. He was like a whole snowy country! They called him a lion, the Elvis of opera, the “Siberian Express.” He was young. He was sexy. He was charismatic. Youth and sex always sell. Looking at him in some photos he’s so strong, muscular, almost bulging out of tea shirts in those early publicity photos. But listen to him sing and you can hear the love he had for his country, for his family, for beauty. You can almost see his Babushka.
Even when he was a very young singer, and sang about old age or death or sickness or war you believed everything he said. I see and hear my own parents when he sings. My grandparents and theirs. The country that I never knew but heard about whenever they were too sad or too happy or had too many drinks or listened to old Ukrainian songs on the radio or record player.
I’m wandering around the house now listening to the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff romances and don’t know what to do with myself. All I can think of is to go somewhere, a bar, a club, a Russian restaurant. And I want it to be filled with weeping Russians.
I want to run to that Russian tea house now and see Clara again and my mother and my father, my whole crazy family, especially the dead ones. The wild ones, the unruly ones, the weepy emotional ones, the distorted twisted ones, who felt all the rage and pain and emptiness of war and ravaged homelands. The ones who never found a place to be home again. Those are the only ones I want to see now. Because I think they are the only ones who would understand, now, how I feel.
I want to drink a dozen tall icy glasses of coriander vodka with all of them, and listen to Dmitri Hvorostovsky sing all night long about nightingales and lilacs and poplars in the moonlight. I want to sit with my drunken broken down father now and listen to him sing “Dark Night.” I want to hear Moscow nights over and over and over again .. “Oh it’s hard to speak and yet not speak of the longing in my heart….”
I researched all over the internet for the English lyrics to this song and there are dozens of versions and I scribbled them down and they’re all over my desk in bits and pieces and I can’t read them now, and then I would go back on the internet and listen to a YouTube recording of him at that concert in Moscow Square from 2014…. and it doesn’t matter really if I know the words or not anymore. It’s the way he sang each word, the way he put his hand on his heart repeatedly. He did that a lot, put his hand on his heart when he sang. When he received applause. He also blew kisses at his audiences and those kisses seemed so heartfelt and natural. I never saw anyone blow better kisses.
He received dozens and dozens of bouquets at his concerts, masses of them, from people in the audience who walked down the long aisles with their flowers and offered them to him. Often white roses, that when he picked them up and clutched them against his black satiny and jeweled lapels, and then against his hair… it was such a sight. At the end of concerts he often distributed all of his many bouquets to the women musicians in the orchestra. I saw him do that after a concert in October of last year while he was very ill, but where he sang beautifully, and powerfully. He must have been so tired, handing out all those flowers.
The vodka must be icy icy cold, the glass slightly frosted and the liquid clear and clean and fresh like water. Running through your mouth and trickling down your throat that is choking on tears. The coriander slightly bitter and bracing, slightly medicinal, slightly life-giving slightly fortifying to make you stronger so you can drink again and again and again and again.
I just sat all morning and listened to Dmitri Hvorostovsky on YouTube. Singing in Italian in Russian and in French. Singing opera, singing Russian and Ukrainian folk songs, singing French pop songs. Looking more and more handsome and more and more white-haired and more and more like winter. Did any one look better in black? Could anyone stand as ramrod straight and still look as supple as a reed?
He sang with the most beautiful women in the world– Anna Netrebko, Aida Garifullina, Elina Garanca and whenever they were on stage they were dazzling they were beautiful they sang gorgeously but you only saw him, the Snow Prince. They had eyes and lips and skin and arms and shoulders and hair and dazzling smiles. They wore dresses of silk and satin and brocade and diamonds. But he eclipsed them. He was the sun and the moon and the stars and the black night all in one.
He sang a song called “Toi et Moi” with someone called Lara Fabian. A beautiful woman as golden-haired as he was snowy white. And I noticed his skin and teeth, his glowing face, more soft and velvety smooth than any model on TV advertising miracle creams. Then he sang “Cranes” the song about Russian soldiers not coming home from bloody battles and turning into cranes. Beautiful white cranes flying home again to the skies and it sounded like he was singing about himself, soon to turn into a white crane and fly away.
He smiles a lot when he sings. Big, genuine, wide and sunny smiles with very strong white teeth. Everything about him looks strong. His face his arms his torso his legs. His face, if it were not so beautiful it could be somewhat brutish because of the large head set on a thick strong neck, but it’s that skin again, almost with a slight pinkish pearly sheen like a baby’s. But that smile, it’s almost shocking. It’s like the sun and the moon and the stars. Truly. I keep going back to the sun and the moon and the stars. Because those really are the most beautiful, the most enthralling, the most eternal things and no matter how often you see them you wonder, you gasp, you’re amazed that they exist and you are there staring up at them. His smile and dazzling looks had a little bit of all of them. Just be in a dark room and the door opens and he walks in.
His face sometimes looks like a baby and toddler and teenager and young man and young woman and almost old man but not an old woman. The older he gets the more beautiful he looks the better the hair looks. In his last concerts he had shadows under his eyes. A concert he gave about six months before he died. The shadows are dark and slightly purplish and make him look not sick and close to death but just more beautiful like the moon in a violet sky.
Oh what a sadly deafening street there is somewhere in London town oh what tear-stained children and wives and mother and father. Oh how that old Russian town must be weeping now at their white-haired lion gone, leaving them with dreamless sleep as he dreams peacefully on his own.
“Let me not hear you sing, my beauty, you with your songs of sad Georgia; they remind me of another life and of a distant shore,…”. One can say that of Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Let us not hear him sing again because at least for now it’s too sad too emotional too painful. Oh what songs he could have sang for twenty more years!
I came home late last night from a concert by Dhaka Braha the Ukrainian quartet from Kiev and was still full of the excitement of the evening. The music, the four strong voices, the beautiful harmonies, the gorgeous costumes, the high energy of the drummers… At the end of the concert they always unfurl a Ukrainian flag to riotous applause…It was a truly wonderful concert but through it all I thought about another singer the whole time.
Getting out of the cab the night took my breath away. The sky was dark violet and there were immense whole mountains of pink clouds that looked like they were raked into a huge V shape and in between the clouds tiny stars twinkled.. the moon was a perfect crescent, blazing yellow, almost cartoon like and it was so far away from this earth so far and yet so close. I stood there not wanting to go inside just stood there in the silence with those tiny stars flickering in and out of the pink clouds. The air was fresh and cold.
Renee Fleming said that there were many beautiful voices but in her opinion none more beautiful than Dmitri’s. None more deep, more sorrowful, more glorious, and soaring like some eagle to the forgotten skies, none more lush and velvety. None more missed then now looking up at the violet and pink and inky sky with that moon so bright, so sharp like a scythe. I wanted it to stab me so I could have some peace.
The voice as it soars then falls like the softest flake of snow and then even softer and silkier as it melts into a puddle of our tears “Only those who long to see someone know how I have suffered……” he sings as only a Russian can sing and weeps as only a Russian weeps. I never thought I would say that as a Ukrainian, knowing all the sad and violent history of our two countries. But he transcended all that and it was that voice and that longing for truth and beauty and love that he sang about that matters most. Oh how he sings in Russian. I never wanted to learn Russian more then when I hear him sing. So I can understand every single word every little smile every little tear every little frown every little hand gesture to his heart.
I’m living in a world where a top news story is who the highest paid model in the world is. More important than the ending of wars. More important than the hunger and torture and death of thousands. Someone’s sexual misconduct more important than life than beauty than art.. more important than the death of one of the most beautiful voices we have known.
I hardly have any heart left and I feel cold, old, and alone, as wintry as it gets in what we call our soul.
I am glad I am not cooking a big fat turkey this year and scrubbing and cleaning and dusting and fussing with flowers and placements and maple souffle’s and madeira gravies. And trying to make brussels sprouts more interesting by shaving them and mixing them with crushed hazelnuts and topping them with pomegranate seeds…..
I am going to sit here instead and listen to Dmitri and I may go out and buy a big bottle of real Vodka like they make in Sweden or Russia or Poland or Ukraine, and I might put it in a freezer for awhile until it is so cold it is almost hot. Icy icy cold like my heart feels now.
And I will pour it into my most beautiful most precious vodka glass and I will drink the entire bottle and listen to Dmitri sing of broken hearts and ice and snow and empty shores and Kings and Queens of gladness Kings and Queens of madness.
I feel so sad I can smell the ink in my pen as I write this down. I smell the ink like sweat and tears and shrieking drops of some liquid coming from some dying little broken down animal… some wailing thing that is still eeking out small sighs thin as a thread, like in “A Hundred Years of Solitude”… the little girl, it comes out of her poor chest as she walks down the road with the rattling bones of her dead parents…
Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Look at him. Look at that face wide as some Siberian landscape. Endlessly beautiful endlessly fascinating and that white hair, yes that white hair that was white and silver and it was the whitest and most beautiful hair anyone had, that could make someone so beautiful even more beautiful. He was both young and old simultaneously. He was winter fall and summer simultaneously. Sometimes walking across the stage in his long and elegant, slightly sparkly tuxedos, when the hair was longer, it swayed just a little, sashayed like a new kind of fabric, looked like moonbeams walking by, probably smelled like a thousand Siberian winters…
His voice can rip your very heart in two and he had a face and breathtaking smile to match… Let it rip. It feels good to have it ripped in two, to have it ripped out completely from your breast so it won’t ache anymore.