CM: Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin (Фёдор Ива́нович Шаля́пин, 1873-1938) was the most famous Russian opera singer of the 20 th Century. Owing to his powerful and flexible bass voice, employed in conjunction with a mesmerizing stage presence and superb acting ability, he is considered one of the greatest performers in the history of opera. He is often credited with establishing the tradition of naturalistic acting in his chosen art form.
Feodor Chaliapin was born into a peasant family on 1 February 1873 in Kazan , in the wing of merchant Lisitzin's house on 10 Rybnoryadskaya Street (now Pushkin Street ). The dwelling was expensive for his father, Ivan Yakovlevich, who served as a clerk in the Zemskaya Uprava (Land Council), and in 1878 the Chaliapin family moved to the village Ametyevo (now a settlement within Kazan ) behind the area of Sukonnaya Sloboda, and settled in a small house. Largely self-taught, Chaliapin began his career at Tbilisi and the Imperial Opera, Saint Petersburg in 1894; he was then invited to sing at the Mamontov Private Opera (1896-1899). The Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow then engaged him, where he appeared regularly from 1899 until 1914. During the First World War, Chaliapin also appeared regularly at the Zimin Private Opera in the Russian capital. From 1901, Chaliapin began appearing in the West, making a sensational debut at La Scala that year as the devil in a production of Boito's Mefistofele, under the baton of the 20th Century's most dynamic opera conductor, Arturo Toscanini. At the end of his career, Toscanini observed that the Russian bass was the greatest operatic talent with whom he had ever worked. The singer's Metropolitan Opera debut in the 1907 season was disappointing due to the unprecedented frankness of his stage acting; but he returned to the Met in 1921 and sang there with immense success for eight seasons, the taste of New York audiences having grown more broad-minded in the meantime. In 1913, Chaliapin was introduced to London and Paris by the brilliant entrepreneur Sergei Diaghilev, at which point he began giving well-received solo recitals in which he sang traditional Russian folk songs as well as more serious fare. Among these songs are Along Peterskaya, which he recorded with a British-based Russian folk-instruments' orchestra, and the song which he made famous throughout the world: The Song of the Volga Boatmen. In 1926, Chaliapin toured Australia to acclaim.
In terms of his private life, Chaliapin's personal arrangements had been disrupted in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917. At first, he was treated as a revered artist of the newly-emerged Soviet Russia. However, the harsh realities of everyday life under the new regime, and the unstable psychological climate which became manifest during the ensuing Civil War, combined with, reportedly, the encroachment on some of his property by the Communist authorities, caused him to remain perpetually outside Russia after 1921. He still maintained, however, that he was not anti-Soviet. Chaliapin initially moved to Finland and later lived in France. Cosmopolitan Paris, with its significant Russian emigre population, became his base, and ultimately, the city of his death. He was renowned for his larger-than-life carousing during this period - but he never sacrificed his dedication to his art. Chaliapin's attachment to Paris did not prevent him, however, from pursuing an international operatic and concert career in England , America and further afield. His most famous part was the title role of Boris Godunov (excerpts of which he recorded 1929-1931 and earlier). But he is remembered also for his impersonations of Ivan the Terrible in Rimsky-Korsakov's Maid of Pskov, Mephistopheles in Gounod's Faust, Massenet's Don Quichotte, King Philip in Giuseppe Verdi's Don Carlos and Bertram in Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable. Owing to his irresistable advocacy, Russian operas such as Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina, Glinka's Ivan Susanin, Borodin's Prince Igor and Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride became well known in the West. He made one sound film for the director G.W. Pabst, namely, the 1933 film version of Adventures of Don Quixote. Rather than going out in one version with subtitles, the film was made in three different versions - French, English, and German, as was sometimes the prevailing custom. Chaliapin starred in all three versions, each of which used the same script, sets and costumes, but different supporting casts. The English and the French versions are the most often seen, and both were released in May 2006 on a DVD. Pabst's film was not a version of the Massenet opera but a dramatic adaptation of Cervantes' novel, with music and songs provided by Jacques Ibert. § Chaliapin recorded prolifically for His Master's Voice, beginning with acoustical recordings at the dawn of the 20th Century and continuing through the electrical (microphone) era. Some of his performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London were recorded live in the 1920s, including a vividly memorable version of the Death of Boris from Boris Godunov. His last disc, made in Tokyo in 1936, was of the famous The Song of the Volga Boatmen. Many of his recordings were issued in the United States by RCA Victor. His legacy of recordings is available on CDs issued by EMI, Preiser, Naxos and other labels.
In 1932, Chaliapin published a memoir, Man and Mask: Forty Years in the Life of a Singer, prepared in collaboration with Maxim Gorky. Chaliapin's last stage performance took place at the Monte Carlo Opera in 1937, as Boris. He died the following year, on 12 April 1938, of leukaemia, aged 65, in Paris , where he was interred. In 1984, his remains were transferred from Paris to Moscow with elaborate ceremony. They were re-buried in the Chaliapin Family Grave in Novodevichy Cemetery.