Elegy to Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Updated: Oct 6, 2018

In Memoriam, Loving Dmitri

Living Through the Death of Ethical Beauty in This World

The night the movie on Van Gogh, Loving Vincent, was being screened at our ashram (12/2/17), Shunya showed me some clips of the film on his computer. The beauty of Van Gogh’s art, his numinous aesthetic, moved me strongly.

I then went to listen to "Starry, Starry Night", the only pop-folk song I have really still wanted to sing…and on the same YouTube page popped up the shocking news of the death of the great Russian opera singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky. I had been on youtube since his death (11/22/17) and nothing had appeared about it before. My heart was immediately overwhelmed with anguish. I had already been emotional over feeling identified with Don McClean’s song; that is, identified with the tragic life of Van Gogh, and the oppressive feeling that such beauty is not allowed to enter this world, because the world, as it stands (or falls) now, does not want it. And so this world sentences itself to death.

Hvorostovsky in 2015 as Count di Luna in Il trovatore at the Metropolitan Opera

Yet already there was a dialectical process underway in my soul: Yes, the world did want Dmitri’s voice—and even more deeply did they want the quality of Being he promised through his handsome presence—and though indeed he (not just his voice but his charisma) was not as sublime as that which shines through Van Gogh’s greatest paintings (Shunya says he painted Brahman appearing as samsara)—nonetheless, Dmitri’s voice was the heroic achievement of a noble soul—a noble but tormented soul, one who failed to live up to his own rarefied and austere demands of greatness. And in some paradoxical way, as Shunya has made clear through all the Sat Yoga teachings, Dmitri’s paradigm of greatness was his undoing, because it was still contaminated by ego, by worship of the Object, rather than the Source, creating an impossible prison out of the very radiance of his artistic beauty.

But Dmitri as an individual being was also interlaced and pervaded for me by his embodiment of what remains of the ancient royal soul of Russia (whose culture has produced some of my greatest musical mentors), itself the remnant of Grand Tartaria, and that dynastic realm the descendant of an even more aboriginal Hyperborean culture. As such, Dmitri constituted and personified the ideal of consummate discipline that characterizes imperial Russian musicality, especially the formation and development of superbly refined classical talent.

I cried as I watched video after video of him, wondering what was literally moving me to tears. It was an uncanny event of truth for me. I was moved also to continue reading a book I had before merely leafed through, without giving it full respect or attention. The title is Acting Beautifully: Henry James and the Ethical Aesthetic by Sigi Jottkandt. A voice told me: read that book now. I read the last chapter: Lighting a Candle to Infinity. I started to get clues, symbolic concepts to help me dialecticize the pain I was feeling.

Zeugma: a figure of speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses

“John and his license expired last week”

“Dmitri and my partner died on November 22nd”

(The realization that the partner to my aesthetic soul was what I had always been seeking—in all my male friends, teachers and mentors, and yet must at last be found internally; as Florence Hvorostovsky—his widow—found out tragically. Even when one seems to find him, the interlocutor to connect one to the Self—he dies too young, it is over too soon…Now that ”he” is not to be found in this world anymore, the last of that ethical aesthetic has died. Of course I have the ultimate interlocutor-toward-ego-death that I could hope for in Shunya, and yet for the very reason of his own ego death, he no longer exists in this world. Shunya is Shunya.

At the same time, I felt the loss and despair of still being identified with ego and still agonizing for its apotheosis, so that I could not embody both sides of the Yin/Yang wholeness in myself—I could not integrate both the divine masculine and feminine—still needing an Other’s appreciative gaze, but it must be an Other whose gaze is informed by musical knowledge and aesthetic purity. Music has become the paradigm in which Truth and Beauty can finally merge and be expressed through this bodily instrument. But still it seeks the affirmation of the Other. So it was not yet possible for me to work alone as a composer, to be free of this undying need to find the male teacher who would guide me to my artistic Self and help it flower.

How do the zeugma, Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s death, singing/higher culture/ethical aesthetics, and Dmitri as Siberian opera singer, as husband, father and divine masculine, as partner—all relate? Through this soul’s dialectic, as and only as the logic of the soul, the significance became clear: I was reading Dmitri as my animus, my internal partner, who had died. I wept like a wife. How much I have loved those few men who came close, who touched me, touched my soul, and made me more able to realize myself as the soul’s Beauty! And I never could interiorize that as part of my Being. My tears that night were the soul’s tears, that no one—until Shunyamurti—had ever seen her beauty, and more so, that Dmitri’s death signaled the end of the presence of that ethical beauty in the world, as art. ”And I could’ve told you, Vincent-Soul, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

“The Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent was myself as Soul, who died a long while ago in chronos Time, when people stopped being able to receive my Beauty directly. I first intimated that perhaps Dmitri died of brain cancer because his own ego could not handle the Beauty coming through (Rilke’s “Beauty is the beginning of terror”), or had to critique it, as he said (“I hear the mistakes”) or, that perhaps his ego felt unworthy in relation to the Beauty pouring through him, and had to block it—or the thoughts that attacked it—with a tumor, and before that, with alcohol. And on another level, perhaps his early death was his reconciliation with his life and art. He did what he came to do and it was over (in an era so keen on alternative health, one wonders why he didn’t seek a kind of healing that has been proven to have the best chance to succeed, such as the kind we offer at the ashram—healing through the facing of unbearable Truth? Or does that definition reveal its own limitation of suitable clientele?)

Dmitri sang like a god, and had the sublime charisma on stage of a god, or at least of a larger-than-life hero, and he proudly expressed that archetype for the inspiration of his culture, his audience, his people. Dmitri radiated the life energy that was the carrier wave of a soul-nourishing ethical aesthetic, one that uplifts the privileged witness to the heights of spiritual empowerment—his regal comforting majestic voice and his concentrated gaze and radiant smile takes the subject into the super-sensuous realm of the Soul’s Dreamfield—the beautiful potency of the purified Symbolic and the Higher Imaginary (the vocal archetypal image that is also a linguistic cultural image and the embodiment of the Master Signifier of the Self) to the edge of the Real, to touch for a precious moment the power of the Supreme Real.

Dmitri’s image contained everything within it, that singing baritone of such elegance whose image exuded the true divine masculine, a monk devoted to his art, united with utter strength, endurance, capacity, skill, and the grace of the sublime. The hero who learned from his mistakes (failed first marriage, alcoholism) to flower again for a new family, who rose past his quasi-orphan childhood to attain seemingly effortless success, despite his life’s beginnings wounded by the emotional abandonment of the parents.

Dmitri sang on stage the last year of his life, knowing he was already dying of cancer, in such joy and freedom that it seems an impossible gift of grace. In one of his final interviews, his last words were: “Live for love, happiness, and belief in yourself.” He was telling us perhaps where he himself failed internally. Something ate away at him, some inner self-critique, no doubt some ego-dystonic attachment, from which he could not separate, yet which eclipsed his God-Self and left him in an inner inferno of despair, that he could not overcome even by giving of himself so ceaselessly and inspiringly to the world. Applause could not heal him. Love could not heal him. He had many friends—in itself a rarity in the professional singing world—and he exuded a loving and playful spirit with at least most of those he worked with. How then to understand his death, how to digest it? Must we not conclude that it was his relationship to God that failed?

“…if we are to remain faithful to the event that such “reading” engenders, [we must] refuse to repress that knowledge or otherwise engage in an ‘aestheticization’ [that would] close the gap” (Acting Beautifully). This is not just about an opera singer’s life. Every death has a deeper symbolic meaning that brings us to touch or at least to face the Real—and our actual distance from God—within our own innermost Heart.

Will we read this death in a “mechanical, dispirited, repetitious” way? Or in such a way that we are changed forever, in which Death reveals the Abyss that each is facing in his or her frightening and always avoided loneliness, the poisonous affect that withers the ego into a weakling that must settle for self-betrayal in order to stabilize its existence? There must be accomplished such a deepening to create conditions that can alter our course to the Self, or rather, if completed ethically, sets again our course in the most beautiful way, as the Self.

“The very concept of the self gets undone by deconstructive reading events.” (p.109, AB) The pain of the ego-loss of a partner, loss of the gaze—even if imaginary—the loss of a symbolic father, of beloved artist, the loss of a beacon of greatness, becomes a new way to swallow death as the bitter soul medicine for the redemption of our own access to Beauty. In digesting a death that symbolizes so much, the shell of one’s understanding is cracked open, as Gibran wrote so perfectly, and what flows is love, the free energy of Life.

Dmitri was able to give that free energy its artful expression. He was a gorgeous man offering us a taste of the purity of the Aryan soul, the Christ Self, the embodiment of Krishna, of Hanuman. But also of course, he portrayed the Dark Side—as Iago in Othello and as archetypal villains such as Don Giovanni.

We can choose to “betray the knowledge we have just learned, forget it,” and go on as before—what Jottkandt calls the politics of perversion—or we can “accept this tragic knowledge and embrace the repetitious automaton of a symbolic system that can only refer to itself,” celebrating either just the “pleasures of the text” or also, and more profoundly, its “performative dimensions.” I play with this author’s terms freely, taking them out of context of a literary critique to help elucidate how the nectar of simple but significant events in life can be thrown away by the ego—through its denial of the negativizing, alchemical effects of such events, or through focusing on imaginary highlights of a singing career and someone’s stage prowess as being the point: staying in the first position of the soul’s dialectic, as we have learned recently[1]. Jottkandt calls this the politics of psychosis—that which is “founded on foreclosure,” the stopping of the dialectic in its tracks. That is what most people do with death, or knowledge: they freeze or collapse and do not allow either to open the Heart to its true sense of loss and its true lack of knowledge, its Other non-appearing half, that is always its unknown God Self, passed through the imaginary of a gendered being.

To be open to death is the path, to use again another term from Acting Beautifully, of “feminine sexuation,” a Lacanian term that Lacan himself could not explain (nor elucidate how one reaches it): a non-phallic jouissance of love. Is that not as close as a post-Freudian could come to a psychoanalytic definition of divinity? Of course, Lacan could shed no light on the actual referent of the term love. This is because it could not be the property of a subject of the signifier. Therefore, there must be a Real Self beyond the subject. This is the promised land into which Lacan could not venture. Nor can anyone who is not able to contemplate and complete the ego’s self-annihilation.

The more common response to “an encounter with the Real that material/aesthetic vision can put us in touch with” [which must include, as Shunya teaches, death, the Real, love, bliss, intelligent awareness, the horror of the false, the transcendent perfection of the Source] is to repress it, in order to “continue to defensively produce our infinitely creative signifying processes inside the field of the Symbolic.” (p.142). This self-stunting disguised as growth and insight represents “an ethics of hysteria, an ethics of fidelity to the phallic signifier whose function is to mark the place of Real impossibility within the Symbolic field.” A true ethical aesthetical judgment would bring us to the first choice over this second option, which is that of egoless love. I realized, to my amazement, that I love Dmitri. I love him as image of the Soul, and his loss in this world of the actualization of God’s powers is both infinitely resounding yet eternally healing in its correct reading. But I must go beyond mere reading. I love him as the Image that needs nothing outside itself, contains everything within itself, including his own death-as-appearance, his own self-willed demise, having shown his glory upon the stage of life, and having taught profound lessons to those who are willing to pay attention. But now, even paying attention, am I willing to learn the lesson of having to die now as Image and Symbol into the Emptiness of the Real?

The “Idea of the Totality (Kant) is generated internally.” (AB). To never lose “Dmitri”, I must internalize him forever, and create out of that negation of his death, a totality within, of my own same-soul capacity to bring forth ultimate Beauty in this world, the Beauty of the Father, without betraying Him, by an internal negativization of myself in the form of an internal attack upon my Being that is His Being. But to accomplish this, as Shunyamurti teaches, I must accomplish my own morphogenesis from Image or Symbol to the Absolute Presence that is the Self.

I could have saved you, says the imaginary.

Internalized: I won’t die of the same asphyxiation of the flow of God’s beauty[2]

I am You, and you simply came in this particular moment of truth, in the form of Dmitri, to teach me how to reach You again beyond death.

You are my projected Self. You are not. There is no I but I.

Now why did Shunyamurti want us to see this? “He was one of the last great heroes of our time, showing the limits and possibilities of an art form (and art itself) in which one represents the hero but isn’t living it internally, and that is what eats away at him. The outer man and the inner man were not in sync, and why he got sick. The post-modern man at best can only be externally a hero, but not sustain his true heroism internally; now, there are no longer even any external heroes. Dmitri was one of the last heroic embers of the human spirit.”

Why thousands went to his funeral, thousands of Russians, including rural peasants and the metropolitan middle classes, and of course the elite, they all loved him…Russia—still a culture that tries to keep heroism alive, in part because of the influence of the Eastern Church, which creates a frame of reference of the divine within, and which people still want to perceive in the world as higher beauty and heroism embodied, versus having to listen to the degrading dissonance of the ego.

“Music and ego are opposites,” says Shunyamurti. Ego muzik is all about narcissism, about oneself shining and being center stage, and not about being in love with the Source of the Beauty of Music. The Muse will not come to you if you are in love with your ego image and not with Her. If you love Her, you will do anything for her, and from that sacrifice made out of love, true discipline is born. Dmitri loved the Muse, and in memory of him, we access Mnemosyne, the remembering of all Beauty throughout time, and of which Time is made, and whose Source is our God, the Self.


[1] From reading Giegerich’s Dialectics & Analytical Psychology, from which many of the concepts of soul and dialectics in this essay derive, and further from Shunyamurti’s re-reading of Giegerich as presented to the sangha in our November book group classes.

[2] (my own reading of my symptom, not Dmitri’s per se)


About the Author 

Radha Ma is the Gyana Director and head of the teaching faculty at the Sat Yoga Ashram. She is the ashram’s first clinical atmanologist, as well as the ashram Musical Director.


This essay was written for the inaugural Divine Renaissance class, given by Radha Ma on Tuesday, December 5, 2017. As part of this class the following videos of Dmitri Hvorostovsky were presented:

Videos: Classic Talk: Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Part 1 importance of father, again, internal pain, dying of cancer

Dmitri Hvorostovsky_Non-Boring Classics (English subtitles) (at least till 8:27 or 11:19) loss of tenderness and purity

Russia: Memorial ceremony held for Russian baritone Hvorostovsky Russia mourning lost hero

Dmitri Hvorostovsky Died in London at the Age of 55 achieved 5.5 archetype

Death of Famous Russian Opera Singer Sends Shock Waves Across World

Aria & Pasta with Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1/3) youthful confidence & playfulness

Luciano Pavarotti and Dmitri Hvorostovsky!!! greatness

Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Florence Hvorostovsky (Live) The merry widow widow

Dmitri Hvorostovsky at the Met performing the hero

Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Sumi Jo: Il Barbiere Duet sumi 11/22 birthday

Anna Netrebko sings with Dmitri Hvorostovsky soul’s love affair/really best friends

Netrebko, Hvorostovsky, Onegin part 2 in Toronto 2017 first young, now old, till the end

A.Garifullina & D.Hvorostovsk✮♫ “Moskauer Nächte”/Sommernachtsgala Grafenegg dying in joy

Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Memoriam (16.10.1962-22.11.2017) re-birth as the Rose

Dmitri Hvorostovsky – Reconciliation painting: couple enters the flow of Beauty, skylight

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