Close-up: Dimitri Hvorostovsky -- The romantic Russian woos fans with his powerful baritone

Acclaimed by critics as one of this generation’s great voices, Siberian baritone Dimitri Hvorostovsky (that’s pronounced ”Var-as-toff-ski”) sounds almost too good to be true. Just two years after winning his first international vocal competition in Wales, the silver-haired, 29-year-old heartthrob has accelerated so meteorically he’s been dubbed ”the Siberian Express.” Now in the middle of his third American solo tour, which ends Nov. 1 in Washington, D.C., he’s just released a new recording of Cavalleria Rusticana with Jessye Norman, and his solo album, Russian Romances, a moody collection of songs by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, recently bumped Vladimir Horowitz from the No. 2 spot on the classical charts. Doleful music, says the soulful baritone, is his forte. ”Sadness, Russian sadness — it’s my normal emotion.”

A self-admitted former ”hooligan” and ladies’ man (”When I was young, I had a very big collection of girlfriends”), Hvorostovsky lives in Moscow with his wife of two years, former ballerina Svetlana Alexandrovna, 32. His musical triumphs, he says, have had a bracing effect. ”When growing up (in Krasnoyarsk), my success was a romantic dream. Now it’s a reality. It’s here. It’s a reality I must face — like dying.”