Born 13 February 1873, Kazan, Russian empire
Dead 12 April 1938, Paris, France.
Russian opera and chamber singer, at different times the soloist of Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres, first national artist of the Republic, in 1918-1921 – artistic Director of Mariinsky theatre.
This artist combined in his creative work “innate musicality, bright vocal skills and extraordinary acting skills”. His influence on world opera art is really great.
Chaliapin started his career in his childhood singing in church choir under the guidance of regent Shcherbinin. During all his life he remained faithful to sacred vocal music.
Father Boris, piest, who knew Chaliapin in Paris, wrote about him in 1995 in such way: “He was a religious person, went to the church on holiday days, he loved very much and knew well church music and sometimes he used to come up to the choir and join Bishop’s choir under the guidance of N.N. Athonskiy, the great expert and master. Every year he organized a concert in one halls in Paris with the Bishop’s choir: the first part consisted of the parts, that he sang with it… His relations with confessor, skillful and significant person, were warm and constant”.
The phenomenon of Chaliapin
“Strange transformations happen before my eyes…From the kind and softly outlined face of peasant from Vyatka Mephisto is looking at me with all prickliness of his features and satanic mind, with all his devil’s anger and mystical incompleteness… During one second before my eyes there is the same softly outlined face of intelligent peasant – and step by step begins to appear proud and mournful image of tsar Boris, glorious, seamless pace that is impossible to fake… And behind Boris there is maliciously hissing tsar Ivan, so intelligen, so angry and so unhappy… I can’t believe it. What a strong force of an artistic penetration and creativity should a man have in order to overpower both space and time and environment and to infiltrate in the most sacred depths of soul”.
From the memories of Leonid Andreev.
What does the phenomenon of Chaliapin consist of? His fame may be compared with the fame of Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas. Many ecstatic memories are written about this great artist, who delighted public during almost 36 years of his opera career, that started with the memorable performance in the theatre La Scala in 1901. Till today images, created by him in the operas by Mussorgsky, Boito, Rossini, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka, are considered unsurpassed. We have several suppositions.
• Chaliapin is nugget, but not prodigy
Though in his 26 years Chaliapin already become famous in all Russia, his way was long and difficult. That’s because we can surely say that Chaliapin is not Mozart in the development of his talent, but exactly Salieri, whose role in the opera by Rimsky-Korsakov he performed subsequently very successfully. And the boy Chaliapin began his career singing in church choir (as Salieri did) under the guidance of regent Shcherbinin. For the sake of the theatre the eldest son Feodor Chaliapin left his home, despite difficult financial position, “rejected vacuous amusements” and “devoted himself only to music” ant theatre. Two cases from his biography are significant – it is the part of Susanin, that young soloist of imperial theatre volunteered to learn during two weeks ad what eventually leaded to “failure” and negative reviews at the early beginning of the career. According to Chaliapin, this case knocked out of the young man “self confidence” forever (by the way, he never sang this part during his career again). Other detail comes from memories of Edward Fazer (Finnish “Rubinstein and Diaghilev” in one person), who persuaded Chaliapin to perform in Helsinki. We see a world known star who doubts about his success and says: “I don’t dare to come to Helsinki. I am afraid to perform before new audience. What would be if I fail?” Later the performances of Chaliapin in Helsinki in 1935 had resounding success.
• Chaliapin is a “sponge” of time
Reading Chaliapin’s biography you may see that the list of persons, who helped him and directed his talent, is really colossal. First Chaliapin was Usatov’s pupil in Tiflis, then he worked with best actors in Saint-Petersburg of 1980-s – Dalsky and Yuriev. Later Mamontov found singer’s talent (he was called “Russian Medici”) and his society of outstanding painters – Serov, Korovin, Vasnetsov, Levitan, Vrubel. Sergei Rachmaninoff, being his coeval and close friend, gave him music theory and harmony lessons and studied with him the parts of Boris, Ivan the Awesome, Salieri. He took a lot for the roles of Boris and Ivan the Awesome from Vasily Klyuchevsky in particular. From Serov, Korovin and both Vasnetsov brothers he used to take much for the embodiment of his images on scene. Stasov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Zilotti, Gorky, Stanislavski, Chekhov, Meyerhold, Kuprin, Bunin, Andreev became his mentors and friends. Having the phenomenal memory, Chaliapin imbibed everything as a sponge – his coevals told.
• Chaliapin is the synthesis of art
Many art figures dreamed of the revival in a high sense of the word of the real Greek drama, in that some time ago all kinds of art joined together. At the beginning, Monteverdi and his friends created opera in Florence in such way. Plastic, word, music, make-up, stage action in images, made by Chaliapin, were one unbroken whole. Chaliapin himself became sculptor, actor, artist, Director, artistic Director later. It means that he saw opera theatre’s wholeness. So the conclusion may be done.
• Chaliapin looking for truth
When an artist penetrates into human inner world, turning inside out for us the things that are hidden inside and trying to find the truth and facts, it inevitably leads to the synthesis of arts. May be there is the phenomenon of Chaliapin in it – the phenomenon of unsurpassed artist of integral images, that are considered benchmark till today.
Chaliapin and his time
“Coevals found in him the portrait of their time, the generalized symbol of the era, the embodiment of creative and ideological searches of the whole generations”.
Dmitrievsky “Chaliapin. The life of remarkable people”
The time, when Chaliapin lived and created in Russia, was filled with global events, that contained “the beginnings and the ends” of the century, when the fate of XX century was prejudged, considered and anticipated. Recently we celebrated not only centenary of two revolutions – February and October, but also 100 years since last Appearance in Fatima, that foretold tragic fate of Russia.
“During that period of Russian history two counter flows of life met and mixed – XIX and XX centuries. First one didn’t have time to finish and the second one hurried up to unroll too much. This mix spawned cultural cataclysm of the unprecedented power: explosion of prophecies, revelations, manifestos, questions. All types of creativity – literature, theatre, music, ballet, fine art – devoted themselves to the clash of the passing and the coming centuries, trying to speak both languages at the same time… The Silver century is the intense mental life, moral tension of life of Russian intelligent people, that captured everyone at that time”. D.S. Likhachev
Historians say: that time, speaking about culture and art as a whole, is the top of the development of Russian culture, and following decade, up to our time, may be seen as the inertia after prerevolutionary rise.
Actually, when the name of Chaliapin shined on posters of the world’s opera theatres, also Rimsky-Korsakov created his music. Appeared the pleiad of such composers as Glazunov, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, young Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich did his first steps. In the field of musical performance sparkled Chaliapin, Sobinov, Rachmaninoff, young Horowitz and Arthur Rubinstein, there were first performances of Oistrakh, and Russian ballet thanks to “Russian seasons” became the trendsetter in this genre and inscribed in history the names of Fokine, Nijinsky, Balanchin.
Forward to Chaliapin
For many singers of our country and the whole world Chaliapin is the the acknowledged benchmark of vocal and theatrical performance. Beginning as chorister in his childhood and during all his life Chaliapin sang in church choir, where he liked to rest after numerous concerts and tours. In the central place of his creative work along with opera creativity there was the performing of Russian folk songs as “Cudgel”, “Along Petersburg street”, “Hey, hoot”, that entered the history since that time. And of course opera parts, in that Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin invested all his moral, mental and physical strength. Some photos, paintings and several audio recordings of unsurpassed images of Boris Godunov, Ivan The Awesome, Don Basilio, Don Quixote, Dosifei and others reached us.
The name of Chaliapin gives us principles and aesthetic pattern, that we try to follow and orient performing spiritual music, folk songs and opera music.
Can we reach the top taken once for us by Chaliapin? We think it’s possible, if everyone of us will be devoted to the artistic truth, music and art with the such zeal during his life as Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin was.