Arbiter Records 127

The Chaliapin Edition volume 3

1911-1914 La Scala recordings

Track List

  1. Borodin Prince Igor: Galitzky's song
  2. Rubinstein The Demon: Do not weep, child
  3. Strokin Let now Thy servant depart
  4. Schumann The Two Grenadiers, Op. 49, no. 1
  5. Rubinstein The Demon: On the ocean of the air
  6. Folk song: It is not autumnal drizzle
  7. Mussorgsky Boris Godunov: Pimen's narration
  8. Bellini Norma: Ite sul colle, o Druidi!
  9. Rossini Barbiere di Siviglia: La calunnia
  10. Boito Mefistofele: Prologo
  11. Bellini Sonnambula: Vi ravviso
  12. Meyerbeer Roberto il Diavolo: Suore che riposate
  13. Donizetti Lucrezia Borgia: Vieni, la mia vendetta
  14. Verdi Ernani: Che mai vegg'io! Infelice
  15. Glazunov Chanson Bachique
  16. Rouget de Lisle: La Marseillaise
  17. Folk song: The Tale of Ilya Murometz
  18. Brahms Sapphic Ode, Op. 94, no. 4
  19. Lishin She Laughed
  20. Tchaikovsky The Nightingale, Op. 60, no. 4
  21. Rimsky-Korsakov Song of the Viking Merchant

The years 1910 and 1911 witnessed the most prolific pre-war recordings from Chaliapin: four sessions each year. The last year also almost changed the course of his life as the singer was forced to spend most of it abroad, due to an incident on January 19, 1911 during a performance of Boris Godunov in the Mariynsky Theater. This incident is well known as “kneeling before the Tsar”, in which Chaliapin actually took no part. The whole story was greatly exaggerated by many “witnesses” and by the press not only in Russia but in Europe as well. Henry T. Finck admired one of those versions related by Rosa Newmarch in England and in his 1924 book Musical Laughs presented it as “a romantic [sic] episode in Chaliapin’s stage life”. As the Tsar was attending the theater that evening, a kneeling was conceived and performed by the Imperial chorus, as a means to get a raise. Chaliapin, who just happened to be on the stage at the ‘wrong moment’ was surrounded by the choristers, and therefore couldn’t leave the stage. When the chorus fell to their knees, he ducked behind the chair. Thus, he first became a victim of this demonstration and later of the press and ‘public opinion’. (Full details are noted in Chaliapin’s autobiography and Borovsky’s monograph – with one correction: the title Soloist of His Majesty was bestowed on Chaliapin not on the day of the incident but in May 1910. On the morning of January 19, 1911, Chaliapin paid a formal visit to the Tsar, as required by protocol, to introduce himself as a new Soloist awardee.

Immediately after the incident, Chaliapin, unaware of the scandal that followed it, left for Europe. Meanwhile an anti-Chaliapin campaign inflamed, the unjust accusations hurt him deeply. Due to ongoing badgering by both Leftists [“How dare he to kneel before the Tsar?”] and Rightists [“Why isn’t his loyalty to the Tsar strong enough?”], Chaliapin was fatigued, depressed and almost committed suicide. In his letters to the Director of the Imperial Opera, Chaliapin expressed his plans not to return to Russia due to impossibility for him to live and work in that country. Yet as time passed, the furor subsided: eventually in the fall of 1911 Chaliapin came home.

This period of his life marks only two new roles in Chaliapin’s roster. Both were premiered in Monte Carlo Opera house: Don Quichotte in Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte (first sung on February 19, 1910) and on March 2, 1911, Ivan the Terrible in the insignificant opera of the same title by the Monte Carlo impresario Raoul Guinsbourg. Another great achievement on Chaliapin’s return was a revival of Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, in which he not only sang as Dosifei but also staged the entire production. A critic wrote: “An opera was staged by Chaliapin. And this is already enough to say, because the great singing artist couldn’t simply become less than the greatest teacher and inspiration to all performers. If Chaliapin had established already a school of his followers in singing, the last performance marked a new era in opera production”.

A year later another success was awaiting him in Moscow with another “double jeopardy”. Again, he was a producer of this opera and simultaneously sang the same role. It is a pity that Chaliapin never attempted to record any part from this great opera, and the only legacy that remains is a bunch of his photographs and one self-portrait as Dosifei, which he made, using make-up, on the wall of his dressing room. It is also sad that Chaliapin did not record such pieces as Gremin from Eugene Onegin, Holofernes from Judith, Tomsky from Queen of Spades, or at least Prologue to Pagliacci in which, although not very frequently, he also sang Tonio.

Volume 3 contains Chaliapin’s recordings of four sessions that took place in St. Petersburg, with one (April 1912) from Milan, and another made in London, during his first appearance in England with the renowned Russian troupe of Sergey Diaghilev.

Two sessions heard here are quite special. One took place in Milan on April 26, 1912, after Chaliapin finished his guest performances at La Scala. In the Gramophone studio, along with the chorus and orchestra of La Scala conducted by Carlo Sabajno, Chaliapin recorded four arias from Italian operas with excerpts from Barbiere and Mefistofele, operas, in which he sang quite frequently. This time Chaliapin also recorded two arias by Bellini – Oroveso’s aria “Ite sul colle, o Druidi” from Act 1 of Norma, and Rodolfo’s recitative and cavatina from Act 1 of La Sonnambula. It is interesting to note that previously Chaliapin sang the part of Oroveso only once in the city of Batum, when he just turned nineteen. Later, not without a smile, he recalled it in his memoir: “Very shortly I was called on to sing the part of Oroveso in Norma for which purpose I was obliged to copy the whole of my part, which was of course written in Italian, into Russian letters. You can imagine how sweet the tongue of Italy sounded on my lips, for of course I did not know a word of the language”. Yet to the present, there is not a trace of Chaliapin’s having sung Rodolfo on stage.

Upon his return to St.Petersburg, six months later, on October 26, Chaliapin repeated “an experiment”: five takes – and not a single recording in Russian: three Italian arias and two songs in French. The first take – Bertramo’s recitative and invocation from Act 3 of Meyerbeer’s Roberto Il Diavolo was known to Chaliapin: in 1894, he sang in this opera almost a dozen of times. Two other arias were new, since he never sang either in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, or in Ernani by Verdi. One can only wonder why the Russian recorded in French and never sang in Russian the song of the Russian composer Glazunov, taken from the text of the very famous Russian poem (“Bacchic Song”) by the eminent Russian poet Pushkin. Le Marseillaise was a constant in Chaliapin’s repertory: he sang it many times not only in Russia but even in France. However, he also recorded it only once. It is known that Chaliapin was very demanding as to the quality of his recordings. He often wrote on test labels “bad’, “garbage”, etc, thus not allowing their release.

This CD is concluded with five out of first eight takes of the London session. Regretfully, it was the only known attempt by Chaliapin to record Anton Rubinstein’s Ballade. Besides the matrix number, even a tentative catalog number (4-22582) was assigned to this piece, however it was never released. There are rumors that a test record of this song does exist, but its whereabouts is a mystery.
©Joseph Darsky, 2001.