Сб, 22.06.2024
Максим Павлович Мальков
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Pavel Maximovich Zhuravlenko, bass

           "Harmonic synthesis of skill and talent" — these words of the academician Boris Assafiev in the article published in 1928 on the pages of “ Krasnaya Gazeta (Red  Newspaper)” (Leningrad) and devoted to the first performance of the original version of “Boris Godunov” — the opera by Modest Mussorgsky — on the stage of the Academy Opera and Ballet theatre (GATOB): "The most skill in conveying Mussorgsky's intonations was demonstrated by Pavel Zhuravlenko, who created an extremely rich image of Varlaam. This work of the singer means a new stage. Reproducing exactly the text and music and intentions of Mussorgsky, Zhuravlenko brings to any expression so much of his own artistic, true and keen sense, so much of life experience that one can only get surprised at the exceptional harmonic synthesis of skill and talent".


Varlaams of P. Zhuravlenko

          The man, who deserved these words, happened to become one of the masters of vocal-scenic culture of the Nothern Capital, where all his artistic life passed. Creative activity of the soloist of musical theatres of Petersburg-Petrograd-Leningrad Pavel Zhuravlenko was by right marked by the title of the People’s artist of Russia.

          Pavel Maximovich Zhuravlenko was born on June, 29th (July, 11th)1887 in the village  Nikanorovka of Yelisavetgrad district, Herson Government (later Kirovograd region, Ukraine), in the family of a peasant. When Pavel was 9, the family moved to Yelisavetgrad where, having finished a three-class school, he started working as a clerk in the district court in the office of the senior notary A.Yakubovsky.

          His son, advocate N. Yakubovsky was the first to pay attention to the vocal talent of the young man and recommended him to the teacher of a private musical school, a former opera singer (baritone) Dolinov. In autumn of 1906 he is in Moscow, at the trial to conservatoire. Absense of serious musical training was a sufficient reason for the examiners to fail the candidate with the soft ukrainian accent. At that time - so hard for Pavel — he got help from his fellow countryman - a newspaper reporter of "Russkoye slovo" — K. Danilenko,/ who arranged the audition at the famous at that time singer and teacher A.Sequard-Różański. The teacher of the Moscow philarmonic college highly estimated the gift of the young man. Due to important circumstances Sequard-Różański leaves Moscow and goes on tour around the towns of Russian province, his pupil following him taking up casual and hard jobs of a freight handler, mimic actor, stage worker. Love and faith of Pavel to his teacher had enough grounds — Anton (Antoni) Vladislavovich Sequard-Różański (1863-1952) was one of the leading figures of prerevolutionary russian opera and came in history of our theatre as the first and famous Sadko, in the opera by Rimsky-Korsakov. In the private opera of Mamontov the tenor sang at the first performances of "The Tale Of The Tzar Saltan" (Guidon) and "The Tzar’s Bride" by Rimsky-Korsakov, the operas especially loved by P. Zhuravlenko, the future reliable Saltan and Sobakin on the stages of the musical theatres of Petrograd-Leningrad .

          In 1911 in Kasan opera, where Sequard-Różański sang at that time, the young basso happened to make his debut in a small part of Varsonofiev in Khovanschina by Mussorgsky, which opened the first season of his theatrical activity. Since his systematic lessons with the teacher were not long, his main teachers became opera stage, great singers and musicians that he met in his creative life, highly developed feelings of observation, artistic susceptibility and self-discipline He studied ail his life long...

          When the season in Kazan expired, in spring 1912 Zhuravlenko came to Moscow, where, in the agency of Rassohina dealing with the actor's employment, he signed a contract with the managers of the new opera troupe under name - Petersburg Theatre of Musical Drama (TMD).

          The theatre of democratic creative aspirations, sticking to the unique ideology of scenic truth, giving really synthetic opera singers, became for Zhuravlenko an excellent school of theatrical skill. It was on the stage of this theatre that Zhuravlenko started working on many of his favourite parts, that he polished during his whole Iife of actor (Varlaam and Prince Ivan Khovansky in Mussorgvky’s operas, Bartolo and Basilio in “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini, Gremin in "Onegin”, Gogol heroes, which had been dear to his heart since his childhood - Solopy Cherevik in “Sorochintsy Fair” by Mussorgsky and the Mayor in "The May Night" by Rimsky-Korsakov.

On the Stage of TMD


            An expressive portrait of the singer and the characteristic of his fast creative development in the Musical Drama was given by his colleague, a bariton Sergei Levik:

          “It was with two perfectly ironed suits in the suitcase and two roubles in his pocker that P.M. Zhuravlenko came to the TMD. Black hair parted distinktly und falling a bit down in the right side, expression of eager curiosity. Elegant, of middle hight and well built man with loud voice and rumbling laughter- this is Zhuravlenko of 1912… Zhuravlenko rightly concentrated his forces to overcome successfully character and comic repertoire. He started with Zaretsky und Duda, then passed to Zuniga and Varlaam, brilliantly overcame Don Bartolo and triumphantly went to Khovansky, Saltan and Dodon..."

          In 1918 F. Chaliapin attended the performance of "Parsifal" by R. Wagner in the Musical drama, where Zhuravlenko sang the part of Gurnemanz. After it he invited the singer to be his colleague and join the troupe of the former Mariinsky theatre (later GATOB, Kirovsky Theatre) . Soon their duet found one more stage: in the former Mikhailovsky theatre, in March 1918 (later - Maly Opera theatre - MALEGOT), and they used to sing there together. (Zhuravlenko remained the soloist of these leading opera stages during the whole life).

          Zhuravlenko became a permanent partner of F.Chaliapin in "Don Quixote" by Massenet (Sancho Pansa), "The Maid of Pskov" by Rimsky-Korsakov (Prince Tokmakov), "The Barber of Seville" by Rossini (Bartolo), "Boris Godunov" by Mussorgsky (Pimen, then Varlaam), "Judith" by Serov (Eliakim), "Prince Igor" by Borodin (Skula), "Demon" by Rubinstein (Gudal). Mastering in shortest terms enormous new repertoire (especially in conditions when he had to sing as a main partner of the great master of opera stage) became for the actor the crucial test proving the scale of his musical and scenic talent: “The scale of timbres of Zhuravlenko, sometimes sentimental, sometimes joyful and exultant, expressions of his face, plasticity were developed in detail". (S.Levik).

  As a partner of F.Chaliapin

          Years of work with F.Chaliapin (1918-1921) gave to P.M.Zhuravlenko priceless experience which he later generously shared with his new colleagues in the theatre, with the creative youth, with the readers of his "Notes of the actor". Pavel admired not only the natural complex of striking artistic features of Chaliapin, but — to special extent— his hard-working, thirst for knowledge, exceptional will-power. Since their acquaintence (it took place in 1916 at M.Gorky's flat) Zhuravlenko got convinced in the absurdity of the narrow outlook that "Chaliapin got everything from God", that he did not have to work, to rehearse etc. Even famous Chaliapin's "improvisations" — as Zhuravlenko remembered -proved to be — as if according to Stanislavsky — thoroughly prepared beforehand, but scenic surprises of the others could take by surprise even this unsurpassed master:

           Remembering the winged Chaliapin's phrase: "Everything on stage must be done artfully but not artificially!", which became creative credo of Zhuravlenko himself, Pavel remembered how indignant the great actor was about professional self-tranquillity, negligence, indifference, conceit. Most furious he was about the apologists of "pure" singing, slightingly considering such "details" as make-up, costume, scenic movement, plasticity, historical realities, peculiarities of style.

           It is not without reason that in the memoires of Irina Chaliapin we find the following words: "My father loved... P. Zhuravlenko, the singer of Mariinsky theatre, and prepared parts with him".

          P.Zhuravlenko got from Chaliapin a very unusual and surprising present that the great actor never gave to his other colleagues. It happened in the time of development of the future Malegot. Its soloist A.I.Popova-Zhuravlenko, the wife of Pavel, speaks about it on the record.. 

Fiodor Chaliapin's dedications for Pavel Zhuravlenko

          In summer 1919 all the singers of Mariinsky theatre (they also sang in Mikhailovsky theatre) were mobilised to act for the Red Army, the Baltic Navy and civil population. The conditions of work were extremely hard for the theatre. Due to the lack of fuel in autumn and winter of 1919 the temperature in the hallswas close to zero. Trams did not work and after the performances the actors had to go home on foot (the performances started at 6 p.m.) "The work of the opera and ballet actors must be called a heroic deed. The troupe became much smaller but the leading actors of the theatre - F. Chaliapin, I. Tartakov, P. Andreyev, I. Yershov, P. Zhuravlenko, Ye. Bronskaya, R. Gorskaya... bore the burden of hardships of intensive scenic work".

          Just in this hardest for the "muse servants" time Pavel creates the images of Baron (" The Covetous Knight" by Rachmaninov) and Sobakin (" The Tzar's Bride" by Rimsky-Korsakov), which go beyond the usual bass-buffo repertoire. "The real school of singing is actually proved not by some abstract beauty of sound, but with the abilities of the interpreter to use his voice to embody maximally wide range of images - lyric, epic, dramatic, tragic, grotesque",- this expression of F. Chaliapin was eagerly supported by Pavel.

          Bass was convinced that in the combination of words making a concept "singer-actor", the first one must characterise the interpreter as a man of music (his publications had usually a title "From the notes of the singer-actor"). The words devoted to this side of Zhuravlenko's creative activity by the conductor G. Yudin show his place among the greatest singers of our opera stage: "Pavel Zhuravlenko was an adornment of both opera theatres for many years... It really was a universal singer and actor. Character and mezzo-character parts were most close to him, but he sang with permanent success almost all parts for bass and even for bariton – Falstaff by Verdi and Baron in "The Covetous Knight" by Rachmaninov... His expressiveness, artistic skill and musicality of performing seem to be directly next to those of I.Yershov. His vocal and speech intonations were inexhaustibly rich, and his technique-virtuoso. But even in the most character intonations as well as in comic situations he always retained a sense of proportion and subtle taste. It always was a real; pleasure to listen to Zhuravlenko and to watch him. In the parts of Leporello and Osmin in "The Abduction from Seraglio"  , he sparkled with coloraturas, and bottom re and was really acrobatically mobile in the scenes where he used a ladder to the best effects making it an original gymnastic trapeze".

          Falstaff was a memorable part of the singer. Almost at the same time with the colourful Falstaff he created another image of the opera classics - Osmin in "The Abduction from Seraglio"   - staged in Malegot by the chief conductor of Wien Staatsoper F.Stiedry, who worked in Leningrad from 1920- still 1937.

          In the 1920-s the singer successfully combined his work on the greatest parts of classic opera with his beloved genre of operetta. "The actor of sunny smile", as he was called in the newspapers, is remembered by many people as the organist Celestin ("M-lle Nitouche" by F.Herve) and vice-roi in "Perichole" by Offenbach.

          During the first years of his work in the former Mikhailovsky theatre Zhuravlenko added to his repertoire parts of both classic (Sergeant and Gaspard in "The Corneville bells" by Planquette, Zupan in "The Gipsy Baron" by Strauss, general Bum-Bum in "The Duchess of Gerolstein" , Kalhas in "The beautiful Helen" by Offenbach, Ollendorf in " The Beggar Student" by Millöсker) and new-viennese operetta (prompter Madrazio in "The Spanish nightingale" by L.Fall, many characters of Lehar - Dagober in "Eva", Bucket in "The dance of dragonflies", Mya-U in "The yellow cardigan", Paly in "Where the lark sings").

In operetta

          The character of the old hungarian peasant — old Paly, a responsive and trustful man, whose love to his granddaughter Margit, faith for justness and kindness are subjected to cruel ordeal — was created by the actor so lively and truthfully, with such a range of tragic-comic nuances, that according to the contemporaries, it belongs to the greatest scenic works.. It is hard to imagine tears during an operetta performance, but many people cried when Pavel sang a touching song of Paly "I do not care of the people, I do not care of the whole world" . The author of " Peasant Actress (Kholopka)", "The Black Amulet" and other  operettas, composer N. Strelnikov wrote after the first performance: "Among the participants P. Zhuravlenko is inimitable, inimitable in all respects, and his mimics is really wonderful".

          Just in this part the actor became known for the theatral public of Moscow during the first tours of Malegot in the capital. The performances of Leningrad actors took place on the stage of the Mirror theatre of the Hermitage garden in June-July 1926, and the article of the criticist M.Zagorsky was called : "What the lark in the "Hermitage" sang".

          "First of all this lark from Leningrad sang about a wonderful actor Zhuravlenko. I saw him for the first time on stage only now, in "The Yellow Cardigan" ( 1st  version " The Land of Smiles" ) and in the "Lark". If I’m not mistaken, he was completely unknown to the moscovites. By the way, in the sphere of musical comedy, comic opera and operetta he represents an extraordinary scenic phenomenon. In his manner of interpretation there is something reminding both early Chaliapin and latest Monakhov (N.Monakhov is a famous russian variety, operetta and drama actor). He possesses diction, accentuation and skill of chanting of Chaliapin and softness and emotionality of sound, the art of the subtlest transitions from light to shade from shout to wisper, from laughter to smile of Monakhov. Add to this wonderful and distinct rythm in movements, nimbleness and brightness in dialogues, ability to make role from the main parts of the image presented in the score, but not only from the elements of his own unchanging actor's mask - and you will have an impression how Zhuravlenko acts”.

           If the cosy Maly opera theatre was the stage extremely convenient for operettas, ancient musical comic repertoire and chamber performances, the vast stage of Academy opera and ballet theatre was first of all the place for singing the greatest national classics, where the singer actively took part ("Russlan and Lyudmila" — Farlaf   , "Khovanschina" - prince Ivan Khovansky,"Boris Godunov" — Varlaam etc.). It was here that M.Reisen, invited to Leningrad from Kharkov, first met him.

          A.N. Rimsky-Korsakov, the son of the great composer, wrote about the first performance of "Khovanschina" (Chaliapin's staging revived by V.P. Shkafer and V.R. Rappoport), which took place in December 11 1926: "The revival of "Khovanschina" is one of the most memorable events in the history of the theatre... Four main male parts were presented most brilliantly: Golitsyn (Yershov), I. Khovansky (Zhuravlenko), Dossifei (Reisen) and Shaklovity (P.Andreev). In the scene of the dispute the actors seemed to compete with each other in performing characters, in the skill of declamation and in singing".

          Artistic life, development of new opera repertoire are closely connected with creative activity of Zhuravlenko. His name was on the playbills of such operas as "Ice and steel" (Wisperer) by V. Deshevov, "Komarin peasant" (Shuisky) by V. Zhelobinsky, "The nose" (Kovalyov) and "Lady Macbeth of Mzensk" (The priest) by D. Shostakovich, "Love for the three oranges" (Chelio, King Tref) and "War and peace" (old prince Bolkonsky) by S. Prokofiev, "The Quiet Don" (old Sashka) and "The Lake-Prince" (Mikhei) by I. Dzerzhinsky, "Armoured cruiser Potiomkin" (The doctor) by O. Chishko...


1st  Interpreter on the Russian Stage



          Image of the old Sashka in the opera "The Quiet Don" by Dzerzhinsky (1935) became the most important musical and scenic work of modern repertoire of Pavel Zhuravlenko. The gift of the actor made this secondary character one of the most memorable heroes: "Among the singers the first place belongs to Welter (Axinya) and Zhuravlenko (Sashka)... He appears in a worn out coat, shaggy, with frosted beard, touching and pitiful. His story how he caught the criminal for the tzar was interpreted with the real "Falstaff’s humour" (I. Sollertinsky).

          This work of the singer was emationally described by his partner in the performance N.Welter: "In "The Quiet Don" I met again my favourite actor Zhuravlenko. His intonations, where jokes combined with surpassed anguish were extremely expressive. Sashka's story was conveyed by Zhuravlenko with surprising humour. The last phrase :"Get up, - the tsarina cries to the tsar,- heat the samovar and have a wash! Sashka has come" - was always supported by tempestous applauses. Leaving laughing servants, Sashka, Iaughing himself and wiping tears with his hand, went to Axinya and changed completely. Consoling her he stepped back stooping and shaking his head. One could feel enormous artistic force in the great skill of the singer".

           It seldom happens when the composer speaks about the interpreter of his main creation with real admiration that I.Dzerzhinsky addressed to him: "The stableman Sashka was sung by Zhuravlenko. I’ve loved the talent of this wonderful opera singer. Now I was lucky to get closely acquainted with Zhuravlenko himself and the process of creating Sashka's portrait... At the peak of his creative activity he was a well-known singer and could be distinguished by his deep, serious attitude to art. I liked that Zhuravlenko came to the theatre long before the beginning and started making up, paying attention to the slightest details. Performing mistly old people, he was anxious that every part of actor's body, seen by the spectators, should correspond to the age of his hero. The neck, hands (up to the tips of nails) - everything was thoroughly made up, nothing was forgotten. Whatever scene he took part in (even in the very end), Zhuravlenko was always ready by the beginning of the performance and was in the corresponding mood. He did not even soeak if this could distract him from the image to be created".

          Bass was one of the pioneers of musical broadcasting in our country. The Leningrad radio started its history in December, 24, 1924, when, from a small room in the house in Pesochnaya street, and at the beginning of 1925 Pavel Zhuravlenko sang in the radio concert among to other great opera singers— G. Bossé, A. Labinsky, A. Smirnov. He also took part in the philharmonic concerts over the radio as a soloist with the symphonic orchestras conducted by G.Fitelberg, A. Coats, F. Stiedry, V. Berdyaev, N. Malko, H. Unger and other great conductors (in such concerts Zhuravlenko usually sang the pieces, which were beyond his theatrical repertoire : "Ballade about Earth" from "Mefistofele" by A. Boito, aria of Russlan from the opera by Glinka, the Song of The Viking guest from "Sadko" by Rimsky-Korsakov, the Song of Vladimir Galitsky from "Prince Igor" by Borodin, the song of Brander from the dramatic oratorio "The Damnation of Faust" by Berlioz).


      There were specially prepared by the singer thematic concerts, the first radioperformances of which followed the following pieces: "The revolutionary song"("Dubinushka, " You are sacrificed victims, "Will be renounces from the old world" (Workers Marseillaise , "Songs of the Siberian exiles" (arr. V.GarteweldSong of the Siberian convict   "I Shall Rise On Dawn"  ),"Russian musical satire" (" The seminarist", "The goat", "The small paradise" by Mussorgsky, "The worm"   and "The Titular Councillar" by Dargomyzhsky , "The slaughtiness" by Borodin, "The general" by Cui, vocal arrangements of Kosma Prutkov verses by M.Yakobson etc.), devoted to A.Pushkin (" The Miller" by Dargomyzhsky  , "To The Shores of the Distant Motherland" by Borodin, "Nightingale" by Tchaikovsky   ,"The Statue of the Tsarskoye Selo", "Thou and You", "Pavel, my soul" and "The Epitaph" by Cui, scenes from "The Mermaid", "Russlan and Lyudmila", "The Stone Guest" etc.), to Shakespeare (monologue about the honour, the song of Falstaff and the scene with Ford from "Falstaff" by Verdi, Brindisi of Falstaff and the duet with Ford from "The Merry Wives of Windsor" by O. Nicolai) etc.




           "Probably the best russian bass-buffo", as the expert of vocal art M. Lvov wrote, Pavel Zhuravlenko perfectly felt and used expressive power of word, creating a striking image even on extremely laconic vocal material. This was the case for "The Miller", "The Titular Counsillar"  , and first of all with "The Worm" by Dargomyzhsky (text by Beranger, translated by V.Kurochkin) - a perfect interpretation of this song, one of the first recorded works from the singer's repertoire.

           The record keeps his interpretation of "The song about the flea" by Mussorgsky, which was to represent classic vocal art in the first russian sound film-concert, shot in 1929. A. Lunacharsky devoted his essay "At the sound canvas (" The flea" in interpretation of  P. Zhuravlenko)" to this work, stressing that in this experimental film "The flea" is interpreted by Zhuravlenko with wonderful plastic and mimic comments..." 

           The singer considered his special line of a character actor most hard and enviable in the theatre, as it requires to create for every new part a vivid, striking and original character whatever modest material is in the disposal of "the sculptor of opera images". Once preparing to a meeting with young opera singer, bass wrote some heads of his speech expressing the ideology of his creative work, his own understanding of professional duty, artistic ethics:

           1. First of all one should learn to see what is actually the essence of your own talent, what are your abilities. Not to yield to the temptation to sing the repertoire that is not yours but within your power (a good lyric tenor deserves higher prestige than an ordinary dramatic tenor, forcing his voice, and a real character comic bass in the time of belcanto was always on the top of all - Luigi Lablache, Filippo Galli etc. It is dangerous and destructive for a musical theatre to underestimate character opera parts (thinking that tenor and colorature are the most important). I remember when the producer M.Zimmerman offered to appoint L. to such a part explaining it in the following way: "He's long lost his voice, but this will be even more funny". F. Chaliapin flew into a rage "More funny? Do I sing Varlaam and Basilio because I do not have voice? It's not a circus, but opera, You should be able to sing here! Any ordinary tenor will sing Lensky — more or less acceptably, but you will have to look for a real Shuisky or Bomely!".

          2. Mark first of all your own shortcomings, do not believe in flattery, try to mark merits of the others, their independence, originality of interpretation. A singer-actor must not confine himself to opera — he should know also philarmonic repertoire, the fine arts, drama, cinema etc. Self-criticism and ceaseless self-discipline will provide the success of artistic (and any other) activity. F.Chaliapin, considered an ideal opera singer created by nature told me that during the first years of his work in the theatre he was often out of tune and tried frantically to get rid of this most serious for the singer defect, singing the pieces with small intonational intervals (italian romantic classics - Bellini, Donizetti etc.) until he eliminated this shortcoming completely.

          3. Without thinking even the "beautiful" singing is dead. It warms, brings life to vocal phrase. Here is the conclusion: no sound, no word, no syllable without thinking, without your attitude to the character, without control over the interpretation.

         4. You should love your parts as if they were your own children (whatever they are-parts and children), think of them, develop them. The part should live in this very performance, but not by itself.

          During the war, the most dramatic days of the siege for Leningrad (1942 and 1943) "The Big Land" by the request of the actor takes him among the other members of concert brigades from the place of evacuation (Perm) to the city surrounded by the enemies, to act for the soldiers of the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts, to meet people in blockade - his fellow countrymen. After the war the actor's creative activity did not last long: the stealthily approached illness undermined his strength, but even at that time powerful talent of the singer revealing itself in buffo and dramatic parts, struck with its realism" (A.Gosenpud).

          Just at that time, as S. Levik wrote, not long before his premature death, he surpassed himself, creating a masterpiece in the small part of old Bolkonsky in the opera "War and Peace" by S.Prokofiev.

          Pavel Zhuravlenko died on June 28, 1948. Thousands of Leningraders followed him in his last journey, that lied by the Conservatory, Mariinsky and Mikhailovsky theatres — the scenes where he appeared before his spectators in 85 parts of his many-sided repertoire — tragic, comic, epic, lyric, - by the Philharmonia, the hall of which with white columns heard many times his inimitable bass — to his last refuge at the Literary board-walk of the Volkov semetry.

                                                                                                                                                                           Maxim Malkov

English version by Olga Baranova




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