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       Maxim  Malkov

                                          SOPHIA    (PETROVNA)   PREOBRAZHENSKAYA 

   

        At the last days of January memory of inhabitants of the city, situated on the banks of Neva, imperiously brings them back  to their past - to those far-off days of 1944, more than half a century ago, when the town of Peter the Great was completely free from hated siege, when invaders were thrown down from its borders and longed «hour» for retribution and victory has come.

       «Here the hour has come» was heard from « plates» and megaphones of loudspeakers, installed over the all ice-bound Leningrad - it was appeal of legendary Jeanne d’Arc from «The Maid of Orleans» by P. Tchaikovsky. It especially affected people, because it was singing - the artist, loved by citizens of all ages, whose voice attended them throughout unspeakable hard blockade epopee, encouraged their hearts and called them for feat. It was the voice of Sophia  Preobrazhenskaya.

       Sophia Preobrazhenskaya... It is difficult to call another remarkable artistic name of vocal performer so  inseparably bound  with the town on the banks of Neva. It was here in Petersburg, where she was born  on the 14-th ( 27 by New Style) of September in 1904; it was here, where she became attached to music and stage; it was here in the Kirov ( Mariinsky) theatre, Philharmonic  House and at radio had all her artistic life ( more than 30 years) passed; it was here, where on the 21-st of July in 1966 she prematurely died - faints from hunger, heaviness and hardship of war-time shortened her life.

     Preobrazhenskaya grew up in a family, that lived with music: her father, who graduated the Petersburg conservatory in class of theory and composition, played the violin, the violoncello, the piano; her mother in youth  sang  in the famous church chorus of Alexander  Archangelsky; her uncle - Nicolai Preobrazhensky was soloist of the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow, where he sang leading parts of dramatic and heroic tenor

     «I began to sing very early...» - remembered Sophia in her autobiography - «my fine ear for music and good memory gave me an opportunity to remember fragments of operas, a great number of romances and, at last, Russian  and Ukrainian songs. The first musical performance, that I have heard, was opera «Eugene Onegin» by  P.  Tchaikovsky at the Mariinsky theatre. I was 11 years old at that time. The performance deeply   impressed me. I became  so much fond of singing, that in summer, when we lived in the country, I went away alone far into the forest and was singing there in all the tunes, gesticulating and reproducing mise en scenes in my own way».

     In the years of civil war and disorganization large family of her parents lived not easily. «For a large family and the poverty of my parents I often must earn money myself, - the singer wrote afterwards. - For instance, in 1919, in summer and for some time in the autumn I worked  as  a nurse  in a countryside of Minsk province, and on  leaving the  school in 1921 - as an office worker in the state farm Skreblovo of the  Leningrad region».

     It was the early acquired habit to work, familiar not by hearing, the hard physical work, the feeling to be a part of working collective, that gave spiritual endurance  to young girl; her first strides in musical walk of live have required a good deal of self control and  purposefulness.

     «Overmastered with desire to become an artist, I early began to study singing myself, and later I succeeded, - continued Preobrazhenskaya - having pretended to be 17 years old ( instead of 14) to enter into the music school named N. Rimsky-Korsakov (class of singing of professor P. Andreev)». 

     It has failed to conceal the truth - Sonya was expelled from the class, she was advised to wait for reception of school-leaving certificate. Pavel Zacharovich Andreev, having been subsequently partner of Preobrazhenskaya in the Mariinsky theatre during many years, liked to remember this trick and joined himself for fun with her teachers. At that time the young singer tried to succeed in getting a listening by the teacher of Maria A. Slavina , the best Russian mezzo-soprano of the beginning of our century (with whom habitues of the Mariinsky theatre compared Preobrazhenskaya subsequently very often). It was Natalia A.Irezka, but her sudden death induced the young girl to appeal for advice to a daughter of the deceased - to  Akzeri (her pseudonym was anagram of her mother’s surname), who also gave singing lessons. 

     But the hopes of finding in her such an understanding and gifted teacher, as it was Irezka, did not come true. Many years after, Sophia with humour, so characteristic for her, told about her first (and the last) visit to Akzeri: « It was springtime, March, but I wore big heavy felt boots. Our family was large and we lived in great poverty { ...}. I came to Akzeri. Nice, young military man opened the door, behind the door somebody was squeaking. There are charming fur-coats on hat-and-coat-stand, it smelt of nice perfume  - but my felt boots were wet and I left dirty foot- marks. The mistress came out and invited to go to the next room - communicating and cold. She sat down at the piano, told to sing gamut - I have sung do-re-mi-fa-sol, and she spoke: «I find nothing - no voice, no ear for music» and  shut down the piano».

     But  convinced of her vocation, girl was not discouraged by this: «Then, I went to Nadezhda N. Zaitseva-Bogomolova. She received me cordially. To the question, what I used  to sing, I answered: «Everything, you want», because I knew a lot of music and accompanied myself... Zaitseva listened my singing and said: « If you will be admitted to conservatory, I shall take you in my class».

     The emotions of that determinative day of 1923, when her artistic future was decided, Sophia has remembered for all her life: «The day of examination has come - it seemed to be the 16th August. On the way to conservatory I was caught in the heavy rain. I came, water squelched in shoes - I rushed to wring the water out of my stockings, of a sudden I heard a cry: « Preobrazhenskaya - to the 13th class!» - but my stockings were wet, I could not put them on. I came in the class, and there - Ivan V. Yershov, Sophia V. Akimova, Nadezhda N. Zaitseva... were seated. I sang vocalise № 12 by H.Panofka and aria «Lascia ch’io pianga» by Händel ( in 1959 she recorded this aria of Almirena «Give me in tears» from the 2 act of opera « Rinaldo» on Leningrad radio and, certainly, remembered at that time ceaseless palpitation, rainfall and fiery eyes of Ivan Yershov).

       If N.Zaitseva became the singing teacher of young Sophia, then her «first and the last teacher of scenic art in opera», according to the singer herself, was a great Russian artist  Ivan Yershov. Just in the student days of Preobrazhenskaya at the Leningrad conservatory was opened the Opera Studio - at that time it was the first educational  opera theatre - made by the initiative of I.Yershov and worked under his direction. It was here, where Vera Davydova, Olga Kashevarova, Alexey Ivanov, Pavel Lissitsian, Alexander Baturin, Georgy Nelepp began their artistic activities; it was here, where Eugene Mravinsky, Alexander  Melik-Pashaev, Sergei  Eltsin, Eduard Grikurov got up at the conductor’s podium for the first time; here Sophia Preobrazhenskaya got through «her universities» of opera-singer.Yershov didn’t teach singing in itself, but, of course, every remark of the brilliant master was made with bearing in mind this aspect of opera - his class was called as the class of  «master of stage» in accordance with tradition of Russian theatre and with reality. Discovery and training of young talents was the principal work of  Yershov.

     «In 1924 - remembered Preobrazhenskaya - Ivan Vassilievich for the first time saw me on the stage of Opera Studio in a chorus of water-nymph in «Rusalka» by Dargomizhsky, in which students-pianists and violinists took part ( there were not sufficient singers for mass scenes). I was rather tall and Yershov offered me to climb on to the oak-tree and lied down myself on its branchs. And he himself walked underneath the tree and all the time looked at me. But I was singing without having idea of what kind of singer I was. Our professors came up to me from theatre hall and said, that was sounding good and the voice was soaring above the whole chorus. Yershov said at once: «But you should not sing in chorus!». Two years later Sophia was already singing significant parts in his productions, among which passionate, striking, «Spaniard», as Yershov called, Laura in «The Stone Guest» of A. Dargomizhsky...

     About what Yershov has taught her - Preobrazhenskaya herself said best of all: «Ivan Vassilievich uncovered all secrecy of my heart. I was always shy in frank avowals. It was he, who took all out of me and then put it skillfully into stage settings». The great result of training with the master was the first leading role of young singer - Lyubasha in «The Tsar’s Bride» by N. Rimsky-Korsakov. « I was 22 years old at that time, - continued Sophia, - and Lyubasha seemed to me inconceivable. But Yershov has seen my perplexity at once and calmed me down. We began with the second act. And here he has taught me to listen pauses, which were so wonderful in music of Rimsky-Korsakov in that scene, where Lyubasha crept into the house of Sobakin. It was awfully hard to pleaseYershov. Ivan Vassilievich, just after praises: «The beauty! Goddess! Well done!» - could declare with irritation: «Nothing will come of it!», but only 5 minutes has passed between his remarks. During two weeks of troubles and stress I became so thin, that nobody recognized me... And to say the truth, I didn’t recognize myself...».

       Fortunately, «everything came well of it» and Yershov could be proud of vocal and dramatic creation of his favorite pupil ( recording of culminating scene from second act of opera - meeting of Lyubasha with tsar’s physician Elissey Bomeli, whose part was performed by Nicolai Chessnokov, also the pupil of Yershov  - will remind  of dramatic power and psychological pro-foundness with those Preobrazhenskaya  revealed the essence of this character).

     The musical society of Leningrad began to speak about young singer, her success in the part of Lyubasha has determined the future life of the artist - it was invitation to sing in GATOB (the former Mariinsky theatre).

     A colleague of Preobrazhenskaya on the Opera Studio Boris M. Freidkov, who subsequently was her partner in the Mariinsky theatre during many years, remembered: «Before the first entrance of Preobrazhenskaya-Lyubasha on the  stage of the Opera Studio Alexander K. Glazunov with father’s kindness asked Sonyushka not to worry and has warmed in his hands her cold and, as she said, «trembling from horror» fingers; then in the next 1928th year, cheerful and laughing Vladimir A. Dranishnikov dressed in tail-coat with sparkling plastron, having  come behind the scene to Preobrazhenskaya, who had debut in the former Mariinsky theatre, said ( ha-ving removed by the end of baton a bluff from the forehead of Amneris): « Well! Let us try to risk?» - and, kissed her hand, went to begin a performance... The question was not occasional.  As it happened sometimes in the opera, she didn’t  rehearse with an orchestra - her preparation was confined to singing a part with a piano. You can understand the artist, who would speak many years afterwards: « Even now, I couldn’t remember  without horror, how my hands were trembling and drumming on unfortunate throne in the second act».

     Undoubtedly scenic training by Yershov and rare gift  for music of Preobrazhenskaya gave significant chances to risk with a hope for success. Daniil Pokhitonov was of the same opinion, when he approved of Preobrazhenskaya’s rendering; excellent and experienced conductor of Napravnik’s school, he remained at the conductor’s podium in this theatre more than a half of century. Pokhitonov said about this meeting: « We began to rehearse the scene from the forth act of « Aida» - a touchstone of mezzo-soprano. After a few phrases of future Amneris I understood what a splendid vocal phenomenon was before me. Extraordinary, some peculiar, penetrated into the heart beauty of her voice, power, plasticity, wide and free cantilena, perfect intonation and rhythm struck me. All variety of emotions - from anger, jealousy, longing to revenge up to passionate imploring and humiliation before relentless priests - all these feelings had proper and bright reflection in amazing voice of the singer...».

     The debut was more than successful - Preobrazhenskaya received unconditional recognition from the public and from her stage mates, immediately occupied the leading position in troupe (in 1950 the singer recorded on radio «grand scene» from the part, in which she made her debut in the Mariinsky theatre, with participation of the best Aida of those years in Leningrad - Nina A. Serval; the conductor was again Daniil I.Pokhitonov).

     In the same 1928th year Preobrazhenskaya  in the group of young singers of the Opera Studio (on the stage of it she continued to sing) went to the international musical festival in Salzburg.  Emmanuil Kaplan, singer  and  stage-manager, wrote about this tour: «The attention of the public and the critique was concentrated mainly on Preobrazhenskaya’s singing ( she sang the part of Kashcheyevna in the opera «Kashchei the Immortal» by N. Rimsky-Korsakov and took part in concerts). Foreign impresarios crowded  and escorted her, having offered rather tempting contracts. They addressed in this  connection to  our embassy and to the leaders of the tour. But Preobrazhenskaya, who at that time has  just graduated from conservatory and has been admitted to the troupe of the Leningrad Academic theatre, categorically refused from all proposals». Has written in her diary after debut performance such words: «In this theatre I shall remain for all my life». Sophia, indeed, remained faithful to the stage, where such roles appeared before the footlights: it was her Azucena in « Il Trovatore» by Verdi, Fricka in « Das Rheingold» and Waltraute in « Götterdämmerung» by Wagner, page Urbain in « Les Huguenots» by Meyerbeer, Oktavian in « Der Rosenkavalier» by R. Strauss ( the premier performance in Russia); where she remained in our memory such a Russian, real, homelike nurse Filippievna in «Eugene Onegin», a hostess of an inn, performed « in rich colours of Surikov’s pictures» ( definition of Valerian Bogdanov-Berezovsky), in «Boris Godunov»  or tragic countess, contained the theme of a person, survived herself and her time, from «The Queen of Spades» and, at last, where the superior achievements of this splendid singing actress were got - Jeanne in «The Maid of Orleans» by Tchaikovsky and Marfa in « Khovanshchina» by  Mussorgsky.

     About his work with Preobrazhenskaya at the latter part Daniil Pokhitonov said: «The most serious and responsible  for profoundness and variety  of  emotions work of singer was the role of Marfa in «Khovanshchina». The vocal part perfectly suited outstanding resources of her voice. One could say without exaggeration, that the author has written this part exactly for such a rich, colorful voice, with what nature endowed the singer. The artist used the riches of her voice correctly and profoundly in all manifestations of her heroine, having begun from love and jealousy to young Khovansky, gloomy prediction of  Golitsyn’s future, remarkable song « Isho-  dila mlad’oshenika...» ( «Young girl has passed all meadows and bogs»), ardent, flagellated confession to Dossifei  - up to expression of religious fanaticism before be burnt in a fire. Dramatic aspect of the role was going hand in hand with vocal part, when it was performed by Preobrazhenskaya».

     Having spoken about artistic success of Preobrazhenskaya in this role, many critics remembered words of Feodor Chaliapin: « It should be great fame to a singer, because Marfa is one of those striking in her complex depth characters, to whom only Russia alone is able to give birth and for whose expression the genius of Mussorgsky was necessary. In the soul of Marfa it storms earthly love, passion, ardent desire, burning jealousy, religious fanaticism, ecstasy and pure affection to faith and all these  contradictions come together in some terrific semicircle over a flame of fire...». In the scene of fortune-telling by Marfa from  the second act of opera, that by the words of academician Boris Assafiev « in its inspired expressiveness is close to miracle», she, foretelling disgrace and exile to prince Vassily, also sings farewell song to her own raskolnik’s  surroundings, and in her words there are so much of convincing force, that superstitious and cruel Golitsyn orders to destroy fortune-teller... (recording was made in 1946).

     Once Goethe said, that « the master is recognized in self-restraints». Such a self-restraint, precise understanding the essence and peculiarity of her talent was extremely typical for such a master, as Preobrazhenskaya. The appearance herself of the artist, with her big, majestic figure and severe, masculine features predetermined her choice of significant characters - tragic, heroic and quite distinctive (brightly characterized). Extreme self-discipline of Sophia revealed itself also in the following - because of this discrepancy of her outward form to the desired character, she never  sang in the  theatre Carmen - crown part of mezzo-soprano, Charlotte in « Werther» by J.Massenet and Vanya in «Ivan Susanin». Such reasons could stop not too much of singers, but for artistic conscience of Preobrazhenskaya they were highly significant.

     At the same time Sophia very loved sincere lyric opera and in the days of her youth she sang with pleasure the part of Hanna in «May Night» by N. Rimsky-Korsakov, the music of which was  fragrant with poetic aroma of Ukrainian night, depicted by N.Gogol.

     The war time, the time of blockade bound her closely with tenor Ivan A.  Nechaev, the leader of opera-ballet collective, that worked in besieged Leningrad. Together  with Pavel  Andreev, Natalia  Bolotina, Pavel Bolotin, Nadezhda Welter, Klavdia Kuznetsova, Valentin Legkov and other soloists of this unique theatre in our history Sophia gave her exciting high art to defenders of the town.

     The concert activities of the singer and her work on the radio during many years were not the less significant than her creations in the opera. Although her appearances on philharmonic stage were not very frequent, it should be explained by the same strictness to herself, the same  self-restraint of the master - Sophia did not allow herself to exploit popular repertory, to sing the one and the same programs. That is why the concerts of the singer every time became great events, that deeply impressed the audience.

     Young Preobrazhenskaya for long remained in memory of philharmonic audience as a participant of quartet of soloists in requiems of Mozart and Verdi, in Passions of Bach and Missa Solemnis of Beethoven, in oratorios of Händel, in the part of  Orfeo from opera of the same name by the father of this genre - Claudio Monteverdi. She was welcome as a soloist to vocal-symphonic concert evening, performed under direction of such conductors, as Albert Coates, Ernest Ansermet, Nicolai Golovanov, Eugene Mravinsky, Alexander Gauk...

     Works of great old masters were constantly in her concert’s programs.  In memory of  elderly generation of the Petersburgers there are is alive - Preobrazhenskaya in a simple, black evening dress is on the stage of the Grand Hall of the Philharmonic  House, at the organ is professor Issaya Braudo and it is heard the music of Bach, Händel, Purcell...

     Alexander Glazunov, whose romances she usually sang in her concerts, was not only the classic composer for Preobrazhenskaya, but he was also the director  of the conservatory, where she studied, «The Godfather» of her debut in the Opera Studio. « At my first examination, - remembered Sophia, - the chairman was  Glazunov himself, {...} having been a calm and well-balanced man, he never was indignant at anything, {...} he always came to our dressing-room and congratulated us with low, level voice. But what he told me, I couldn’t remember for emotion. And only  afterwards, my school-friend, who worked in the conservatory’s office, showed me his critical report, kept in archives, that I remembered for all my life: «Great voice of beautiful, sweet timbre and fine artistic performance» - this was quite enough, that I was at the top of happiness»...

     Another favorite composer of the singer was Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who presented her with grateful material for creation of great number of various and vivid characters ( Lyubasha in «The Tsar’s Bride», Lyubava in «Sadko», Hanna in  «May Night», Kashcheyevna in « Kashchei the  Immortal», Babariha in «The Tale of Tsar Saltan», Lehl in «The Snow Maiden»). In the romances of this composer Sophia appreciated, in particular, the rarest unity of high poetry with wonderful music, that was attained, for example, in vocal-instrumental embodiment of the verse «West is fading in feeble rose expanse» by Alexey K. Tolstoy.

     Having been truly Russian person in everything, Preobrazhenskaya loved olden romances and songs, created by composers galaxy of so called « dilettantes» ( Alexander Varlamov, Alexander Gurilyov, Alexander Dubuc, Peter Bulahov et others), such a definition would be legitimate, if we recalled, that dilettantes arose from Italian « diletto» ( delight, pleasure), and appreciated how these authors democratized Russian music, having brought it in  everyday life of towns and country-sides of Russia, having made happy by their sincere art many generations of singers and listeners. Her understanding of their true style, sometimes lost in our time, feeling of fine, artistic measure, so typical  for Preobrazhenskaya, made these recordings of the singer  one of the most charming pages of her versatile art of performance ( the part of the piano, as a rule, was performed by the constant partner of Sophia during many years, the professor of the Leningrad conservatory, the teacher of the chamber music singing class Adolf  B. Merovich).

     The heartfelt words of old songs and romances, sang by Preobrazhenskaya, were heard the mostly often during 900 days  of Leningrad’s blockade, when the singer, performed her civic duty of an artist, has given more than 1000 ( thousand) concerts. The places of their performance were dug-outs, air-raid shelters and mobilization points, factory shops, hospitals and front lines near Novaya Ladoga and Schlissellburg. It was not possible to sing with the piano there, but it can be - with guitar or duet of guitars; and it was heard a hearty Russian song, such as «Don’t scold me, darling» in the arrangement of A. Varlamov, having inspired with  convinction, that a person of such spiritual power could not bow down  by hardship and distress.

     Her creative inspiration, ardour of her heart and even blood were given by Preobrazhenskaya to defenders of the stronghold on the banks of Neva. And it is not only a high metaphor, because among the orders with  those the country marked  heroism of the singer - order of Red Banner, medals «For defence of  Leningrad», «For Valiant Labour in the Great Patriotic War» there is an honorary badge  «Excellent donor of Public Health», with what she was honoured as a donor of  one of Leningrad’s hospitals.

     The phonographic legacy of Sofya Preobrazhenskaya is various and rather large, if regards it in  comparison with recordings of other singers, who represented vocal art of her town and her generation, among those she was doubtless the first.    

     Naturally, that number of gramophonic publications, represented her artistic activities, would be much greater, if she did not reject more than once repeated proposals to go over to the Moscow Bolshoi theatre, having remained faithful to the Peter’s (Petersburg) audience, that loved her passionately and to the Mariinsky theatre, where all her artistic life had passed. The All-Union Recording Studio worked in Moscow and having realized the large-scale projects of complete opera recordings - it was usually confined to not very broad circle of soloists of the Bolshoi theatre. The only exceptions of the established order of things for a long time were just  the gramophonic sets of operas « Khovanshchina» by M. Mussorgsky and « The Maid of Orleans» by P. Tchaikovsky, in those Preobrazhenskaya performed leading parts in company of her constant partners; thanks to them, the voices of singers of the Mariinsky theatre of the forties were preserved for history of operatic art ( Ivan Shashkov, Boris Freidkov, Ivan Nechaev, Nina Serval, Ivan Yashugin and others).

     Naturally, that three complete recordings of vocal parts from operas (to Marfa and Jeanne from the named masterpieces of Russian classic it could be added Old Countess from “ The  Queen of  Spades” by Tchaikovsky, that, however was  reserved only as a sound-track of film-opera, had produced in 1960 by director Roman Tikhomirov, where Preobrazhenskaya only had made the sound of one of her famous roles, had performed in the film by Ye. Polevitskaya) - it  was surely extremely little for a singer of such vocal and artistic abilities ( in comparison with her contemporary Maria Maxakova, whose discography, owing to her residence in Moscow, had 6 opera completes, and the Italian mezzo-soprano Ebe Stignani, who was just of the same age, had more than 10 completes).

     However, fortunately, the top vocal achievements of such a splendid opera-singer, recorded at the peak of her artistic form -  stable in her spiritual endurance Marfa in musical folk drama of M.Mussorgsky and ardent maiden-warrior from Domrémy Jeanne d’Arc - the roles particularly fitting to heroic nature of this woman, singer and actress of powerful, sound and very Russian by origin talent.

     The recordings of Preobrazhenskaya convincingly reflected her principal artistic bent and aspirations: there is here high classical music ( J.S. Bach and so rarely heard in our philharmonic halls and in broadcasting, apart from our theatre,.F.Händel) and undeservedly forgotten works of Russian composers  (« Goblet» by Anton Arensky, «Oresteia» of S. Taneev), suitable  with her open and poetic heart the creators of Russian everyday romances ( A. Gurilyov, A. Dubuc, P. Bulahov and others), folk songs and melodies of modern for her time repertory... It is a great cultural wealth, that should be made accessible in its full capacity to the audience of vocal admirers in our country and all over the world.

 

                                                                               Maxim Malkov

                                                                                  (St.-Petersburg)

                  English translation by  Tatiana Yakovleva.

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