Mikhailovsky theatre (Mussorgsky state academic opera and ballet theatre), St.Petersburg
History of theatre
The theatre on Mikhailovsky square had a fate to be born twice and it is hard to say which of those dates is more significant for the theatre's history and formation.
On 8 November 1833 the first performance took place on the stage of the Imperial Mikhailovsky Theatre just built by the architect A. Briullov. The building, very well included in the architectural ensemble of the Mikhailovsky square, became the third Imperial stage in St. Petersburg. But unlike the Mariinsky and the Alexandrinsky Theatres, there was neither fixed company nor the definite sense of repertoire and genre purpose at the Mikhailovsky. At first the theatre building was mainly used as a concert hall. Though, in the course of the first years besides the dramatic plays performed by the Alexandrinsky Theatre's company or by French and German touring actors, the opera performances happened here. It caused an enlargement of the stage and auditorium. The reconstruction of the theatre building in 1859 made its inside dimensions adequate to the requirements of the large-scale opera and ballet performances. But it was a very long time till the musical performances would be firmly established on the Mikhailovsky Theatre's stage. The French and German dramatic companies, as rivals, performed here for many decades. The rare opera performances have been given by the Imperial Russian Opera (Mariinsky Theatre) on the Mikhailovsky's stage. Owing to the reparation of the Mariinsky Theatre in 1894, the opera performances became more frequent and within several years the Sunday opera performances traditionally took place. But soon that habit has been passed away.
The October revolution radically changed the Theatre's destiny. The French company left the Mikhailovsky Theatre. It was necessary to form regular troupe here. On the initiative of the People's Comissar A. Lunatcharsky the theatre became the second opera house of Petrograd (St. Petersburg).
An epithet "Born by Revolution" for a long time came to be deeply attached to the opera company founded four monthes after the Soviet power's victory.
The second birth of the Mikhailovsky Theatre, as opera house, took place on 6 March 1918. That evening the theatre opened its doors once again and showed the opera "The Barber of Seville" by Rossini. However it was a symbolic date because The State Mikhailovsky Theatre had no yet its own opera company and the Mariinsky's troupe performed here as before. The own orchestra, choir and extras appeared only one year later but the soloists had to be invited from Mariinsky Theatre till the early 1930s.
Nevertheless it was a new theatre. The events of the next few years surpassed all expectations. Very soon the young theatre found its identity and aesthetic creed.
By its main artistic intention, the second opera house was determined to be a theatre of "actor-singer" what happened thanks to N. Smolitch, one of the first theatre's directors, who brought a culture of dramatic stage in opera performing, and to S. Samosud, theatre's chief conductor and artistic director. A clear notion of direction, a thorough elaboration of a performance's outline with the actors characterized N. Smolitch's productions and caused the audience's devotion. The company searched, aspired to what was a new. There was not a particle of usual opera routine here. At first even a rejection of serious opera helped to form company's own technical manner.
A preponderance of amusing repertoire context was reflected in new name, The State Academic Comic Opera Theatre, received in 1920. But in 1922 the opera house was renamed as Maly Academic Theatre and in 1926 it was given a name of Leningrad Academic Maly Opera Theatre (Malegot).
Malegot did not admit any limit of genre of its repertoire and produced with equal ardour and effect the classical operas as well as "light" operettas or experimental contemporaneous works. Not encumbered with "age-long" traditions, the company keenly perceived its epoch and inevitably depended on it.
In the middle of the twenties, when the New Economic Policy was at its height, the company performed more operettas (a great success of the "Yellow blouse" by Legar was due rather to social and psichological circumstances than to artistic value even if not disregarded mastery).
The second half of the twenties was distinguished by the "contemporaneity" confirmed by productions of notably experimental models of recent opera art (of E. Kshenek, E. Dressel, D. Shostakovitch). Later the critics defined that period as "the extremest point of deflection from realistic trend" but now it is perceived as one of Malegot's brightest historical pages that entirely reflected vigorous search in the "golden" 1920s.
In the thirties, as far as conception of socialist realism took deep root in the soviet art, Malegot became "a laboratory of the soviet opera". The company shared all its epoch's errors and achievements. Its elevations and falls completely manifested a curve of social and artistic life. We consider that the theatre's services to soviet opera art reflected an official aesthetics and policy. But a repertoire choice did not ever depend on obsequiousness. The world premieres of the masterpieces such as "The Nose", "Lady Macbeth of Mzensk" by Shostakovitch and "War and Peace" by Prokofiev, that caused so many disputes and contradictory opinions at that time, took place just on the Malegot's stage.
Since the very beginning Malegot was a theatre of direction and its own performing style was formed thanks to the great directors. But at war time and afterwards Malegot mostly lost the previous positions. For a long time the theatre had no one director who could be compared by the creative individuality and aesthetic views with the first chief director N. Smolitch and especially with V. Meyerkhold, one of the brightest innovators whose the only Malegot's production, "The Queen of Spades", caused storm of arguments in 1935 and still nowadays attracts the critics' attention.
In the 1940só1960s the conductors became the real Malegot's leaders. The outstanding musicions such as B. Khaykin (he assumed the charge of the chief conductor after S. Samosud who was for a long time N. Smolich's like minded colleague), . Kondrashin, E. Grikurov, Iu. Temirkanov, K. Zanderling conducted here. It looks like paradox but musical quality of the performances reduced. It had happened because a continued deficit of skillful systematic direction that also brought to pool-acting.
Tire return to direction theatre was outlined in the seventies with E. Pasynkov as director.
But only S. Gaudassinsky, who is at the head of the theatre since 1980, could revive the former Malegot's tradition of "singer-actor" performing. He made theatrical comprehen≠sion of singing, inherent synthesis of corporal plasticity and vocal word to be the cornerstone of everyday rehearsal activity. The choir was absolutely altered becoming uncommonly vivacious, multifarious ensemble instead of indifferent mass. The stage turned into a real performing mastery school for the soloists.
The repertoire policy essentially changed. The main strategic task was a reviviscence of Russian classical operas. One after the other, the Russian composers' masterpieces such as "Boris Godunov" and "Khovanshchina" by Mussorgsky, "Eugene Onegin" and "The Queen of Spades" by Tchaikovsky, "The Golden Cockerel" and "The Tale of Tsar Saltan" by Rimsky-Korsakov, "Prince Igor" by Borodin enriched the repertoire.
The Russian opera turned in theatre's aesthetic creed. The assignment degree brought once again to revise the theatre's name because the epithet "Maly" (small) was not in accordance with the extent of ideas. In 1989 the opera house was renamed as St. Petersburg Mussorgsky State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. Mussorgsky's name was not casually confered to the theatre. The production of "Boris Godunov" became the greatest and crucial success that confirmed the theatre's improvement on its way to replenish the Russian opera repertoire. Certainly, along with Russian classic masterpieces the European great operas are performed. Such a popular opera as "La Traviata" by Verdi attains here a new sonority and unforeseen freshness. The modern operas such as "Le Fou" by M. Landowsky, "Tartuffe" by K. Mechem were produced here. The company's repertoire also includes the operetta and one of the recent theatre's production, "Die Fledermaus" by Strauss, convincingly demonstrates the company's extensive range of expression.
The Mussorgsky Theatre is remarkable for the actors, directors and conductors. F. Shalyapin, P. Zhuravlenko, A. Popova-Zhuravlenko, B. Geft, M. Rostovtsev, N. Pechkovsky S. Preobrazhenskaya, N. Velter, A. Modestov, P. Lissitsian, A. Sokolova, S. Golovina, I. Pichuguin, V. Ovtcharenko, A. Stupalskaya S. Shaposhnikov, V. Kudriavtseva, T. Lavrova, V. Levando, S. Lemeshev, G. Skopa-Radionova, M. Dovenman, V. Matusov, K. Izotova, S. Baskova, E. Shumskaya, M. Petrova etc. sang here.
The productions realized, by A. Feon, N. Smolitch, Iu. Petrov, E. Kaplan, V. Meyerkhold, B. Zon, A. Kireev, B. Pokrovsky, N. Okhlopkov, S. Lemeshev, S. Lapirov, A. Muzil, E. Pasynkov, R. Tikhomirov, A. Petrov, A. Bashlovkin etc. were performed on the theatre's stage at different times.
D. Pokhitonov, S. Samosud, K. Kondrashin, E. Grikurov, K. Zanderling, A. Naydenov, Iu. Temirkanov, A. Dmitriev, V. Kozhin, V. Ziva etc. conducted the theatre's orchestra. Since 1992 Andrey Anikhanov is Chief conductor of the Mussorgsky Theatre.
Many singers became here highly skilled soloists. Nowadays they perform on prestigious stages of the world. There are N. Okhotnikov, E. Nesferenko, S. Leyferkus, Iu. Marussin, G. Seleznev, E. Gorokhovskaya, T. Novikova, V. Vaneev, V. Vassiliev, V. Ognovenko, K. Pluzhnikov among them. The Honoured Artists of Russia N. Romanova, L. Tedtoeva, E. Ustinova, A. Nenadovsky, N. Kopylov, V. Iuzvenko, V. Pishchaev, the laureates of
Russian and Inernational Competitions K. Kotelnikov, T. Cherkassova, N. Ostrovsky, the artists Iu. Ivshin, A. Matveev etc. adorn the company.
However, the main proof of the company's high level is a world wide acknowledgment. The first opera company's tour abroad took place in 1984. Since that time the opera company successfully toured in Italy, England, France, Greece, The Netherlands, Japan, USA, Portugal, Germany. The company worthily presents the traditions and achievements of our opera art. From the experimental stage and opera laboratory the theatre developed into a creative organism with- considerable artistic faculty and became intrinsic part of culture heritage of St. Petersburg.