Center Stage: Kazan’s Legendary Opera Star, Fyodor Shalyapin (VIDEOS)

Center Stage: Kazan’s Legendary Opera Star, Fyodor Shalyapin (VIDEOS)

A 19th century small-town boy makes good – a kid from Kazan, capital of Tatarstan in Russia. Even today the gold star of this renowned operatic bass shines from the Hollywood Walk of Fame; his music is a highlight of any traveler’s visit to Kazan. If you known the tune Song of the Volga Boatmen, you may recognize the rich, rolling voice of Fyodor Shalyapin, who made the folk song famous in a 1902 recording.

Fyodor Shalyapin remains Kazan's hometown success story, one of the world's best opera singers <br>Photo credit: Library of Congress, public domain

Fyodor Shalyapin remains Kazan’s hometown success story, one of the world’s finest opera singers
Photo credit: Library of Congress, in public domain

Musical BeginningsBorn in 1873 into the family of a Kazan clerk, Fyodor Shalyapin (also spelled Chaliapin) was self-taught in music as a child but encouraged by many in his career, from his local church choir to those behind the bright lights of opera houses in St. Petersburg, Milan, Paris, and even New York.

Shalyapin's childhood home in Ometyevo village, now part of Kazan <br>Photo credit: Courtesy Tatar State Opera and Ballet Theater

Shalyapin’s childhood home in Ometyevo village, now part of Kazan
Photo credit: Courtesy Tatar State Opera and Ballet Theater

(click on photo for larger version)


Shalyapin was a standout for expressing a range of emotions both as a singer and as an actor. Russian conductor Arturo Toscanini said Shalyapin was the greatest opera talent he’d ever worked with, while Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff was so impressed he helped Shalyapin land his most famous operatic role: Boris in Mussorgsky’s Boris Gudonov.

Shalyapin will never die; for with his fabulous talent, this marvelous artist can never be forgotten… To future generations Shalyapin will become a legend.
– Sergei Rachmaninoff

Fyodor Shalyapin is best known for portraying Boris in the Mussorgsky opera, <I>Boris Godunov</i> <br>Photo credit: Artist Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, in public domain

Fyodor Shalyapin is best known for his portrayal of Boris in the Mussorgsky opera, Boris Godunov
Photo credit: Artist Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, in public domain


Shalyapin FavoritesThe songs Fyodor Shalyapin made famous in pre-revolutionary Soviet Russia are the same songs included in a lunchtime concert in Kazan offered during select Trans-Siberian Railway journeys. These are two excerpts from Shalyapin’s folk song repertoire, sung by Aidar Nurgayanov, Kazan’s well known bass soloist with the Tatar State Opera in Kazan. (He’s flanked by the MC on the left, interpreter on the right.) The first selection is quiet and reflective, Shine, Shine My Star:

 The second selection, Along Peterskaya Street,  is quite bright and lively. It’s a favorite classic recorded by many – including the Red Army Choir.

 


Shalyapin International Opera FestivalThe legacy of this legendary bass lives on: the first opera festival honoring Fyodor Shalyapin was held in 1982 in Kazan, expanding into an annual gathering of international opera stars and opera fans.

Celebrated for more than 30 years, Kazan's Shalyapin Festival attracts opera fans from around the world <br>Photo credit: Courtesy Tatar State Opera and Ballet Theater

Celebrated for more than 30 years, Kazan’s Shalyapin Festival attracts opera fans from around the world
Photo credit: Courtesy Tatar State Opera and Ballet Theater

(click on photo for larger version)


Shalyapin Insights
  • Shalyapin’s was a colorful, partying lifestyle in a grand mansion in pre-revolutionary Moscow. However, during Soviet times the Bolsheviks confiscated his property, one of the reasons Shalyapin moved to Paris.
  • Considered one of the world’s finest opera singers – and Russia’s best at the time – Shalyapin commanded as much as $38,000 a performance (in today’s currency).
  • He died of kidney failure and leukemia at age 65, first interred in Paris and later reburied at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.
  • Married twice, Shalyapin had five children: one became a Hollywood actor and appeared in the movie, Moonstruck, starring Cher and Nicolas Cage, while another son drew more than 110 cover portraits for Time Magazine. His daughter died while visiting her father’s Russia and hometown of Kazan for the very first time; she is buried next to Shalyapin at Novodevichy Cemetery.
Capital of Tatarstan and located on the Volga River, Kazan is richly diverse in  religions, cultures and languages <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

Capital of Tatarstan on the Volga River, Kazan is richly diverse in religions, cultures and languages
Photo credit: Helen Holter

Travel with MIR to Russia and SiberaLearn more about MIR tours that travel the Trans-Siberian Railway, many with memorable visits to Kazan, hometown of its most famous opera singer, Fyodor Shalyapin.

These are some of the routes that include a stop in Kazan:

MIR can also created a hand-crafted custom, private journey that includes a February visit to Kazan for the Shalyapin International Festival. Other options include exploring the towns and stories of Russia’s greatest musicians, and listening to their musical legacy.

(Top photo: In “Portrait of Shalyapin,” artist Boris Kustodiev paints the operatic bass during the 1921 celebration of Maslenitsa, or Pancake Week.  Photo credit: Painting by Boris Kustodiev, in public domain)

(Special thanks to Tatar State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater Named After Musa Jalil for their generous assistance in providing vintage photos of Shalyapin, Kazan, and their theater for use in this story.)

PUBLISHED: May 28, 2015

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