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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Great Sergei Lemeshev: The View From Russia

It is a great pleasure for me to present the third in our series of guest writers. Natalie, known to many of you by her Youtube Channel name "younglemeshevist," is especially qualified to write on Sergei Lemeshev. Natalie was among the very first to begin to spread his recordings on Youtube, along with those of Antonina Nezhdanova. All lovers of great singing owe her a debt of gratitude for this effort, as these two superb Soviet artists were unknown to many opera lovers in the United States. She is also to be praised for composing this piece in English—I can only wish that my Russian were as good! Edmund St. Austell

First, I would like to thank Edmund St. Austell for inviting me to write this piece on my favorite tenor.

In Russia, Sergei Yakovlevich Lemeshev (1902-1977) is—along with Feodor Chaliapin— perhaps the most beloved opera singer in recent history. He was born into a very poor peasant family, in a small village, and sang from his early childhood. He was always surrounded by good singers, including his parents and other villagers, as peasant Russia was a “singing country” in those days. His father died when Sergei was 10, and after four years in a parish school he started to learn shoemaking, since there was no other chance for the family to escape from poverty. In 1918 he became acquainted with architect and opera lover Nikolai Kvashnin, who, along with the rest of his family, persuaded Sergei to study voice seriously. Those were the years of the Bolshevik revolution and the Civil war, and Lemeshev was required to become a cadet in the Red Army Cavalry School. However, it was actually the Revolution that helped him make his dream of an operatic career come true, since the Bolsheviks gave the poorest peasants and proletarians a preferential right to free education. Sergei was assigned to study at the Moscow Conservatory where, after surviving a rigorous competition, he was accepted. (This determined his political views, for as he said many times, “the Soviets gave me everything".)

His teachers were tenor N. Raisky (a pupil of G. Nuvelli), N. Kardyan, and L. Zvyagina (a leading contralto of the Bolshoi.) In 1926, Lemeshev made his debut as Lensky in K. Stanislavsky’s Opera Studio, and beginning in 1927, he performed at theaters in Sverdlovsk, Harbin (Manchuria) and Tbilisi. In 1931, he became a leading tenor of the Bolshoi, where he sang for the next 34 years, winning great acclaim. His audience grew, along with his fame, and he soon gained a veritable army of fans, called "lemeshevists. His repertoire included the Duke of Mantua, Lensky, Alfredo, Tsar Berendei (from The Snowmaiden), the Indian Guest (Sadko), Faust, Ziebel, Almaviva, The Simpleton (Boris Godunov ), Rodolfo (La Bohème) The Astrologer (The Golden Cockerel), Nadir, Des Greiux (Manon), Gerald (Lakme), Romeo (Gounod’s (Romeo and Juliette), Fra Diavolo, and Werther.

His vocal and artistic qualities, evident to every listener, are beauty of timbre, musicality, effortlessness of vocal production, expressiveness, and very clear diction, qualities perhaps most commonly found in bel canto singers. These qualities can be seen is his 1940 recording of “Parmi veder le Lagrime" (in Russian). I would call attention to the extraordinarily high note at the end, a Db above high C:

An interesting comment on Lemeshev’s singing was made by the Bolshoi tenor A. Orfenov: "He developed a mixed voice of incomparable beauty, which made it possible for him to take the highest notes with such beautiful richness that even specialists could not explain how it was done technically….His high C’s … sounded virile and full…His manner of lowering his larynx a bit on high notes allowed him to perform the parts which we ordinary lyric tenors did not sing, [roles such as] Rodolfo in La Bohème, Levko in May Night, Dubrovsky, Fra Diavolo…”

Lemeshev’s emotionality, acting skills and handsomeness very quickly made him a public idol. Aside from the Duke of Mantua, which was his signature role before the war, he brilliantly performed romantic, melancholy and tragic roles such as Werther, Romeo, and Lensky. Here is his 1938 recording of " Pourquoi me reveiller":

Unfortunately, like every Soviet star in the 1930’s, he had problems securing permission to make recordings of complete operas. Several parts in which he was very successful were not recorded at all. His best early recordings of songs and arias, made on shellac, are now available on Youtube. You may consult my channel—"younglemeshevist," or that of petrof4056.

Lensky finally became his most famous role, which he refined throughout his life. His 1955 recording of Eugene Onegin, with the renowned Galina Vishnevskaya , became quite well known in the West. Here is a very good 1937 recording of Lensky’s aria:

The best years of his operatic career were 1931-1942. He was also an outstanding concert singer and a brilliant performer of folk songs. In 1938, he became the first artist to sing all 100 romances by Tchaikovsky in 5 concerts. Folk songs broadcast on the radio made him a truly “national’ singer. Additionally, the film “A Musical Story,” 1941, in which he played the main role, brought him the Stalin prize and caused Lemeshev-mania all over the USSR. It must be said that his personality was a significant part of his success. He is remembered as a very friendly and cheerful person who was also a congenial colleague. He was also quite a lady's man! Six marriages and numerous affairs focused the attention of his fans on his personal life. Their day-and-night stalking and scuffles with fans of other tenors are legendary.

The beginning of the Great Patriotic War (WWII) was crucial for Lemeshev; during one evacuation he caught a very bad cold which resulted in two attacks of pneumonia, complicated by pleurisy and tuberculosis of the right lung. He was treated with artificial pneumothorax, which is to say an induced therapeutic collapse of one lung. Although singing was forbidden, he in fact continued to sing with one lung from 1942 to 1948, when the other lung was also artificially collapsed and re-inflated. During that period he recorded Lakme, The Snowmaiden, “Pearlfishers," and Mozart and Salieri. In addition to health problems, he started to drink heavily after a divorce from his fifth wife, the soprano Irina Maslennikova. By 1953, however, he had overcome his drinking problem and was given the prestigious title "People’s Artist of the USSR." He was also appointed Assistant Manager of the Bolshoi from 1957 to 1959. Toward the end of his career, he mainly gave concerts of Russian classic romances and folk songs, taught in the Moscow conservatory, and performed on the radio. Old fans of his, who stalked him in the 1940's and 50's, are still faithful to him even now, 33 years after his death. They collect his recordings and place flowers on his grave every week.


Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you so much for this article, Natalie. It is excellent, and loaded with facts, as well as three recordings of Lemeshev in his prime. I still can't get over the "Parmi veder le lagrime"! Not only does he interpolate the high Db, but then, perhaps in an effort to destroy the self-confidence of every other in the world, :) does a long diminuendo on it! This is extraordinary singing, by any measure. Thanks again for a wonderful contribution not only to this blog, but to operatic history and musicology in general.

meltzerboy said...

Thank you so much, Natalie, for this most informative and enlightening account of Lemeshev's flamboyant life and exceptional operatic career, the details of which I had no previous knowledge. (By the way, your English writing is utterly perfect.) I too am an ardent admirer of Lemeshev's singing, as I am of a few other eminent Russian tenors, including Smirnov, Sobinov, Kazlovsky, and the legendary Figner. I had not realized that Lemeshev had such an extensive repertory on stage, apart from his roles in Russian opera, although I have for some time enjoyed several of his recordings from Italian and French opera. We opera lovers owe you a sincere debt of gratitude for making his superb artistry much better known to a wider public via your posting of his recordings on youtube. As a result, many of us are coming to the realization that Lemeshev is not only a great Russian tenor, but a great tenor period.

incubo said...

hi natalie and thank you for your much appreciated contribution and three beautiful examples by lemeshev! there's something about hearing the duca di mantova sing in russian; are the soft vowels suddenly making him sound like a trustworthy and gentle human being?
speaking of operas being performed in the local language, i am usually torn on this issue between wanting the opera visitor to have the maximum understanding of this rather obscure form of art, and shivering in disgust when hearing barbiere open with 'piano pianissimo, don't make a noise!' here in switzerland they stopped performing russian operas in german with the rise of surtitles around ten years ago (russian was one of the last languages to make this transition). i was wondering what the situation is in russia today and also what your opinion on the language issue might be.
thank you again, also for a beautiful lensky brightening up my sunday evening!

CurzonRoad said...


Thank you VERY much for the fine article and links to this legendary artist! Doug --

corax said...

what a magnificent voice! and thank YOU natalie for a wonderful article on this amazing artist. he [and i would say russian singers generally] are woefully under-appreciated in the USA; we have learnt to pay attention to russian dancers and choreographers, but the russian operatic arts have yet to receive their due. this entry is a step toward redressing that imbalance. i hope it is only the first of many by you that we will read on this blog.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you, my dear friend, for your comment. I second that! The more, the merrier. Russian musical culture in general is a behemoth, and opera in particular. (Actually, "behemoth" is their word for hippo.....I clearly don't mean their musical culture is a hippopotamus....that wouldn't make a whole lot of sense:) :)

I'm sure Natalie will get back and answer your questions...quite a time lag between here and Moscow!

Anonymous said...

An excellent article. Natalie is a welcome new voice for us!

JD Hobbes said...

This article is well researched and well written. The facts are quite interesting and were unknown to me. I hope Natalie contributes more articles to your excellent site.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you all very much. I really appreciate your generous comments, as I know Natalie will.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much again, Sir Edmund. You are too generous about my contribution to musicology and my English. Your Russian is very good.
Yes, “Parmi veder’is fantastic, but I hadn’t known about its technical difficulties and Lemeshev’s skillful diminuendo before you commented on it. Opinion of a specialist is very important.
/ Actually, "behemoth" is their word for hippo.....I clearly don't mean their musical culture is a hippopotamus....that wouldn't make a whole lot of sense:)/
:) The same is with the word ‘mammoth’, in Russian it means only мамонт – ‘a large, hairy, extinct elephant-like mammal’.:)


Anonymous said...

to incubo:
Thank you very much for the comment and for interesting questions.
/there's something about hearing the duca di mantova sing in russian; are the soft vowels suddenly making him sound like a trustworthy and gentle human being?/

Lemeshev wrote that “Parmi veder’ was very difficult to perform because it ‘knocks a singer out of the character’. But also he thought that the Duke shouldn’t be very cold, cruel and unpleasant, because it would be not clear why both Gilda and Maddalena loved him. In his opinion the Duke was an egotist, a carefree libertine, who fell in love with all his women genuinely, but only for a moment. That allowed him to sing ‘Parmi veder’ with genuine feeling.
/ i was wondering what the situation is in russia today and also what your opinion on the language issue might be./
In the USSR singing in foreign languages was forbidden until the 1960’s. Now everything is performed in the original language, though there are not many opera fans knowing Italian, French or German. Opera is less popular now than it was in the Soviet era, and often people have no idea about libretto. Subtitles help, of course, but reading may distract from the music. It seems to me that it would be better to sing in Russian and in the original language for various types of audience. Before the Revolution great artists like Sobinov, Chaliapin and Nezhdanova learnt parts in both languages. They sang abroad in the original language and in Russian in the Bolshoi(though many Russians then knew foreign languages.) Maybe it's too difficult for singers now, I don't know.
There is a problem of pronunciation now. Contemporary Russian singers want to perform abroad (for financial reason), they learn mainly European repertoire from the start and their pronunciation in Russian operas is not too clear. The old Russian/ Soviet school of absolutely clear diction is gone.


Anonymous said...

to meltzerboy:
Thank you for your kind words
/By the way, your English writing is utterly perfect./
Actually it’s not so perfect, I make many stylistic mistakes.Sir Edmund knows about it:) /I had not realized that Lemeshev had such an extensive repertory on stage,/
Perhaps, he sang more French operas than other Soviet tenors, I heard that he had been nicknamed ‘French’. Maybe that was because he was very successful in romantic roles like Romeo, Des Greiux, Werther. Kozlovsky sang them too,( except for Des Grieux), but he always emphasized that he was more a ‘philosopher’ than a ‘romantic hero’.


Anonymous said...

to CurzonRoad:
Thank you very much for your comment Doug.


Anonymous said...

To corax:
Thank you very much . Yes, Russain dancers were better promoted by the Soviets. Singers like Vishnevskaya, Lisitzian, Arkhipova, Obraztsova were well-known too, but the generation of the 1930’s was behind the Iron Curtain. Besides, they seldom made recordings of complete operas when Lemeshev was at his prime.


Anonymous said...

to JD Hobbes:

Thank you very much for the comment. Yes, this blog is excellent . I ‘specialize’ mainly in Lemeshev and Nezhdanova , but I hope that someday I’ll be able to write something .


Anonymous said...

To anonymous:
Thank you very much. I’m glad that you liked the article.


Anonymous said...

This is just wonderful. The Russian lends itself to opera equally as well as the Italian; so soft without the hard consonants of the English and German languages. I have never heard of Lemeshev and have just treated my office to his glorious voice during my lunch break. I have a 40 year old Moldovian colleague and I asked her if she knew Lemeshev and she said "of course". Many, many thanks for the discovery.

JING said...

Natalie, what a truly splendid article! Very informative and written with wisdom and genuine elegance. I can only add my own appreciation to those who have already responded here. Your musical selections are perfect and resonate beautifully with your words.

Several quick thoughts. The discussion about "Parmi veder" and the character of the Duke was fascinating. I remember watching an interview with Placido Domingo, in which the interviewer mentioned the off-repeated comment that the role of the Duke "fit Caruso like a glove" and that he loved singing it. When asked how he felt about it, Domingo said, "I hate the Duke! Wonderful music, of course, but he is a terrible person." The more subtle aspects of this libertine, egotistical character that you describe Lemeshev as seeking to portray seem to capture a cruelty in the character that goes beyond a crude stereotype of "evil" and points to how casually and unconsciously egotistical (and powerful) people can inflict hurt, oblivious to consequences of their actions. (With so many Russian opera singers, I get the sense that the dramatic genius and influence of Stanislavsky is always somehow present in the background).

You mention in passing that Soviet opera stars in the 1930s had problems securing permission to make recordings of complete operas. I found that interesting and wonder why that was the case? Perhaps it's too complicated to go into, but can you shed some more light on that fact?

To close on a personal and totally irrelevant note, I just got back from sailing in the Greek Ionian Sea for a week on a 39-foot yacht with some friends. We managed to sail close by the island of Skorpios, and, of course, I immediately thought of "La Divina." I was told later by a Greek man on my flight home that Onassis' grand-daughter is trying to sell the island. Perhaps, Edmund, the many opera fans contributing to your blog might take up a collection and put in a bid to buy Skorpios to create a shrine and vacation spot for devotees of great opera singers? You could even host an annual conference with guest speakers - like Natalie. Think about it!! (My $25 check is in the mail).

Thanks again for a wonderful article and an ever amazing blog.

Anonymous said...

to JING:
Thank you very much for the profound comment. I didn’t know about that interview with Domingo. It’s very interesting.
Lemeshev hated the Duke too – at the moment when the Duke ordered to arrest Count Monterone. But in general he wrote that the Duke must be charming, though egotistic, and without his charm Gilda’s love and self-sacrifice would be hard to understand. He wrote that he went from Verdi’s music, and when he had started to learn the part he even couldn’t imagine that the Duke was a ruler of a country( or a region), it was not clear from the music. He thought that the Duke must be a charming, light-minded “don juan’. Later Lemeshev read Hugo’s play “ Le roi’s amuse”, on which ‘Rigoletto’ was based, and decided to make the Duke more strong-willed, but the general approach was the same.

Soviet stars had difficulties with recordings mainly because of bureaucracy and Socialist tendency to under- appreciate commercial success. As I understand, Soviet officials didn’t think that it was necessary to record the best singers. They could hear them in the theater every night; the Bolshoi was some kind of Stalin’s ‘private’ theater. They could have found enough money and all the necessary technical equipment to make good recordings, like they did for film industry, but they didn’t try. Films were considered the most important means of propaganda, and film studios developed very fast. With opera they mainly tried to make recordings of songs and arias and very seldom complete operas for the Bolshoi’s archive (Onegin, Ruslan and Lyudmila in the 1930’s) and it was a very slow, difficult process. Besides, if they recorded a famous artist as , say , Onegin, another famous artist, performing the part had to wait several years for the next chance to record the opera. Social status of artists was very important too, Stalin’s favorites were first candidates to record. Lemeshev’s status was high enough, but not the highest, the only complete opera he recorded in the 1930’s, at his prime, was Onegin 1936, and it was published only in 1978, after Lemeshev’s death. He was a very popular singer and they could have made big money on his records, but they were too lazy.


Anonymous said...

to anonymous:

Many thanks to you too. Lemeshev was well known in all the Soviet republics and in some European Socialist countries.


JING said...

Thank you, Natalie for your further comments on Lemeshev and the role of the Duke. I am astounded by the depth of attention he gave to the characterization, which helps me better understand the "Parmi veder" recording and why it is so good. Regarding the attitude of the soviet bureaucrats (and Stalin) toward opera recording and the status of individual artists, I find what you wrote utterly fascinating. When Lemeshev said that the Soviets had given him everything, he surely of course knew that what was given, could also easily be taken away. His huge fame must have worked in his favor. And, of course, the Soviets did give him everything; so his gratitude, I am assuming, was both sincere and in his own self-interest to express. The picture you present is complicated and nuanced. In the West, we have only gotten glimpses of the inner workings of Soviet power, especially in its relationship to the arts. And, of course, we here have tended to impute the worst motives to most everyone in every situation. You show that it was much more complex. Yet great power really does corrupt (The Duke, the "State" - East and West, North and South). Still, everywhere, it is amazing how great artists are able to survive and prevail against tremendous odds. I simply don't know of a place and time where that has been more true than in the Soviet era. (Of course, there is Shostakovich as a prime example of this.) In music and literature especially, Russian artistic achievement seems to me unsurpassed. (I was even surprised to learn what a dept of gratitude our quintessential American composer, Aaron Copland, unashamedly said he learned from Stravinsky). Thanks again for such a wonderful set of observations and insights. JING

Anonymous said...

to JING:

You are absolutely right. Life of the most famous Soviet artists was quite comfortable, they earned big money (in comparison to other people), had good apartments, the best food and medical care. They usually made friends with politicians during concerts in Kremlin, and became influential people. On the other hand, one careless word and they could loose everything.
Yes, the situation was very complex.

Thanks again for the comments.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Natalie, for contributing this highly detailed, informative, and eloquently written account of Lemeshev's life and career. The school of Russian operatic singing is incredibly rich and glorious. One can't help feeling overwhelmed, dazzled and mesmerized by such a paradise made up of great artists from Nezhdanova, Kuznetsova, Smirnov, Sobinov, Lemeshev, and many others, apart from more well-known names like Chaliapin and Vishnevskaya. Both you and Professor Edmund have all warmest appreciations for introducing this wonderful world to me and many others and surely I will come back to your beautiful work here again and again to savour the marvelous artistry that Lemeshev has to offer and I look forward to more contrubutions from you...perhaps a write-up Smirnov is not too far from the horizon? (The description I could find for my recent YouTube upload is a rather brief sketch coming from the booklet note of the "Singers of Imperial Russia" set. The biographical info on Wiki is also rather scarce. So a detailed and informative write-up on Smirnov on the web would be greatly looked forward to).

With all best wishes,

timsarris said...

Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful artist. Do you know where I might find a copy of his autobiography?
На здоровье!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Спасибо вам большое за ваши комментарии. Я ценю это! To the best of my knowledge the biography exists only in Russian, and I'm not at all sure how easy it would be to get outside Russia. It is my understanding that one will be forthcoming, in all likelihood, in a year or so. Several people have asked me about it. I will announce it on the blog when it appears. Edmund

Darren Seacliffe said...

Hello Natalie. I'm the Singaporean formerly known as Firuzens online.

Thanks for the insights into Lemeshev's personality and technique in the article you wrote. Those are treasures to the many of us who do not understand or speak Russian but there are a few things about Lemeshev which I felt were left open.

I've been listening to more Russian opera and read more on the singers there lately. There are some questions I'd like to raise if you don't mind. I'll keep them as concise as possible..I'm aware of your busy schedule.

Lemeshev's repertoire seems very similar to Kozlovsky..Hmm..I remember you once mentioned that it was Lemeshev's natural, gentle and subtle approach made him more endearing to listeners than Kozlovsky's philosophical and detached approach. It's unusual that Lemeshev sang the role of the Simpleton in Boris Godunov. Did he sing it at the same time as Kozlovsky did or before that? I heard Kozlovsky owned the role in the Bolshoi after he started singing it. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

About Lemeshev's repertoire, was he a lyric tenor or a spinto tenor? I've listened to him sing Vladimir from Prince Igor, the duet with Lisa from Pique Dame and Rodolfo's aria from Luisa Miller. This made me think that he was able to take on some of the roles in the dramatic repertoire.

About Lemeshev's Lensky: I still find it unusual why connoisseurs value the later 1950s recording he made under Khaikin more than the earlier 1930s one he made under Nebolsin. Could it be the Onegin and the Tatiana that made a difference? I can't help finding it strange especially when I heard (correct me if I'm wrong) that Panteleimon Nortsov (the Onegin in the 1930s recording) had been one of the best Onegins Lemeshev ever partnered with. I don't know about Tatiana. I've not heard of the Tatiana from the earlier recording until I saw the album.

About Lemeshev's personality..the ladies' man thing. I've heard a different story..I heard that unlike Kozlovsky who attributed his success to the fans who adored and supported him, Lemeshev felt so uncomfortable or was it uneasy with the fans who swarmed him that he asked a wall to be built around the wing of the Bolshoi where his dressing room was located.

I don't mean to damage his reputation but six marriages..Did his sexuality have a part to play in that? I heard he was gay but until now, it seems that nobody's sure about that. I've heard different opinions on that several times but I'd like to hear a Lemeshevist's input on that.

Darren Seacliffe said...

After reading the article on Lemeshev, there were some questions which came to mind. I hope they'll lend themselves to the discussion on this great singer. These are in the earlier post. This is what I feel about Lemeshev after reading the article.

Hmm..about Anatoli Orfenov's comment..I find what he said about Rodolfo from La Boheme unusual but I have to agree about Fra Diavolo. I feel that's a role which he should be credited for. His performance was one of the main reasons why I think he's a good tenor actually. Fra Diavolo is a lyric tenor role which I'm told is quite difficult to sing because of the formidably high notes in its score but Lemeshev was able to pull off his 'killer' aria with more beauty and finesse than the 'French' tenor, Nicolai Gedda: (Lemeshev) (Gedda)

I'm sorry that he broke up with Irina Maslennikova. I really enjoyed listening to the duet they sang in Pique Dame. They sounded very real.

I hope you don't find this too long..It's just that the more one listens to Russian opera and its best interpreters, the more curious one is because it seems that people in Russia use criteria different from the Westerners in judging some star singers from Russia. The other thing is that there are recordings of Nelepp, Pirogov, Mikhailov, Khanaev etc circulating in the West but information about them is scanty. I believe when one listens to these singers, one can't help wanting to know more about them but there's a wall one's up against since the only info about them is unfortunately in Russian.

Anonymous said...

To Darren Seacliff:
Lemeshev began to sing it in Sverdlovsk opera in 1927. He didn’t try to perform it in the Bolshoi, as far as I know. Kozlovsky ‘owned’ the role. (Orfenov sometimes replaced Kozlovsky as the Simpleton).

He is considered a lyric tenor, but many lyric tenors in those years tried to sing dramatic parts. Dmitry Smirnov sang Gherman on stage very successfully. Leonid Sobinov learnt the role of Gherman too, but didn’t dare to perform it in the theater. His friends wrote that he could have been a good Gherman. Lemeshev fallowed Sobinov, concerning the repertoire. It seems that he wanted to perform everything Sobinov had sung . Sobinov sang Fra Diavolo in La Scala, and Lemeshev chose the role too, though initially the Bolshoi didn’t plan to stage it.


Anonymous said...

2) To Darren Seacliff:
Perhaps Western connoisseurs value the 1955 recording more, because it was promoted by the Soviet label in the West and became well- known , while 1936 recording was forgotten. It was published for the first time in 1978, and as people say, it was nearly destroyed. Many Russian connosierurs prefer the 1955 recording because Lemeshev was a great actor in opera and in the 195o’s his Lensky became more refined and expressive.. Unfortunately, mainly Russian-speakers can appreciate it. His voice was much better in 1936, of course.

/I've heard a different story..I heard that unlike Kozlovsky who attributed his success to the fans who adored and supported him, Lemeshev felt so uncomfortable or was it uneasy with the fans who swarmed him that he asked a wall to be built around the wing of the Bolshoi where his dressing room was located. /
The story is false; I know the article where it came from. No-one could build a wall around the Bolshoi. It was not only a theater, but the place where the government organized its conferences and celebrations.
Both tenors had lots of fans, though Kozlovsky’s fans were more mature in general, than Lemeshev’s. There were perhaps three or four generations among lemeshevists, because Lemeshev attracted new young fans even in the 1950’s. Besides, Kozlovsky left the theater in 1954. Actually it was Lemeshev, ‘who attributed his success to the fans who adored and supported him’. In the 1970’s there was a group of fans who helped him and his wife to keep house.
Lemeshev was stalked day and night in the 1930-1950’s and of course he got tired from that. Groups of fans stood under his windows every day and fallowed him on the streets. Some of his fans/ stalkers recall that once they ran into him, while stalking, he recognized them, after which they went to his house and stood under his windows weeping. He had to forgive them . Stalking was not considered crime in theUSSR.
/Did his sexuality have a part to play in that? /
He was a ‘Don Juan’; there were many affairs aside from six marriages. I find information about it here and there. Rumors about his sexuality come from the book by Simon Karlinsky ‘Homosexuality in Soviet Russia” (I’m not sure this is a precise title). Karlinsky is considered an expert, however, he listed as gay several Russian artists, which are known as straight. For example, he wrote that a famous Russian artist Kuzma Pertov-Vodkin was gay, only because he often painted boys. He also wrote that Petrov-Vodkin had painted breastfeeding women, because the Soviets forced him to change his ‘theme’. In fact, Petrov-Vodkin was married twice and had a mistress; his wife couldn’t give birth to a child for many years, and he became obsessed by the subject of maternity. Karlinsky didn’t know about it, he was an American. And he once mentioned Lemeshev's name in the list of gay artists, not knowing anything about his life.

Darren Seacliffe said...

Glad that you replied Natalie. I never expected that what I'm pulling off would work.

Thank God Lemeshev got to perform Fra Diavolo at the Bolshoi. His performance was the performance by him which I liked the most. Was the reason why they performed it due to his insistence?

You said you know which article the story about the wall came from. Did it come from 'Grandi-Tenori'? I was part of that forum.

About the 1936 Eugen Onegin recording and the 1955 one, Lemeshev was more refined and expressive in the role of Lensky in the later one..predictably as age lends experience..what about the Onegin? The Onegins on both recordings were both baritones who specialized in that role.

That's all I've to say. I've understood everything. I'll eagerly await the traces you leave the next time you return from the horizon of cyberspace. I guess half a year is too short a time.

ahmer anwer (pashaazeem) said...

Natalie’s introduction to Lemeshev is finely equipoised between information, illustration and insight. The tenor's unique greatness owes not merely to his palette of refined vocal techniques (for example in marshalling the use of spectacular breath control for breathtaking diminuendos and fadeouts which he strategically interweaves orchestral entries/; it is due also to his sheer musical intelligence and profundity of emotional expression. Intelligence and emotional depth (as against over-the-top "emoting" extravagance) are not always conspicuous in operatic tenors! Caruso is reputed to have attributed his to hard work, strong lungs and "something in the heart." One might add: something in the head too! The lungs and health issues were central to Lemeshev’s troubles, yet he used his intellect to neutralise the physical deficits and continued to sing away gloriously for three decades after his health crisis. I
It wasn’t without a cost though, the terrific strain he put on his challengedd physical resources. Singing in opera halls, recording and concertising on a single lung, given the fine, dulcet makeup of his vocal instrument through an 8 year battle with tuberculosis long before the advent of TB drugs, did slowly and gradually dim the exquisite, incandescent beauty of Lemeshev's voice, although the adverse effects remained largely inconsequential to the artistry, and what was lost was also compensated in interpretive depth and maturity. Yet operatic voice production being a question of adequate breath support, the larynx does have to do double duty where the lung power is halved. Which no dount is why the light lyric sweetness and clarity of the voice, the 'glow' and 'throw' on the highest notes, the suppleness of vocal inflections, and the speed and intensity of the vibrato do reveal some slowly accumulating deficits. (In his youth, the vibrato was unique in its ravishing, elfin 'immanence' to the voice emission.)
That said, in his best work, and taken all in all, Lemeshev does approach something like the idea of "the tenor of the century" - remembering Rubinstein's caution as to the ultimate pointlessness of tags like The Greatest, for each great artist is defined ultimately by a unique and inimitable signature. Lemeshev had that.
My one caveat is with regard to proffered explanations as to "why?" the Soviet regime supported certain artistic endeavours and not others. The nitty-gritties of such a problem I believe tend, one way or another, to involve speculative impossibilities and nearly unavoidable tendentiousness. It may sometimes be better to avoid too literal and 'materialist' an explanation for everything. There are some paradoxes, parts of which may remain in partial mists: some were supported, some not. The great ballet artists and companies, concert musicians, or filmmakers, singers like Lemeshev, writers like Bulgakov – problems notwithstanding – all of which indicates contradictions and complexities in cultural policy beyond the exigencies of mere propaganda calculatons. If one does want to generalize at large, then this must be backed by rigorous detailed research...What does strike one though is the Elvis-like 'Dionysian' features of the 'cultural' phenomenon in an opera singer in this case!: hysterical female fans; the ambiguously 'androgynous' vocal persona of a hyper-versatile vocalist; the way-out love life and a 'personality cult' in a puritanical time that, challenging the official one, must have worried the Stalinist authorities!
Thanks for a great contribution, Natalie and Edmund St Austell...

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much indeed for an uncommonly well written and informative comment! You have great knowledge of the subject matter! Thanks again!

ahmer anwer (pashaazeem) said...

Thanks very much, sir.

Philanderson said...

Thanks, Natalie; you're the reason I got into Lemeshev in the first place. When I was in Moscow I was gifted a delightful CD with many of his earlier recordings, which can be hard to come by in the States. I had the privilege to sing "Куда, куда" several times while over there, and each time I remembered Lemeshev's somber appearance and tone.

Спасибо огромное