Šalâpin and Diaghilev


In 1906, at the age of 34, Serge Diaghilev made his first impact on Western Europe with a widely acclaimed exhibition of Russian art in Paris; he followed this success with well-received concerts of Russian music in 1907 and 1908, which included the Western European debut of the celebrated Russian bass Fëdor Ivanovič Šalâpin.

Even these achievements were overshadowed by the rapturous reception of the newly formed Ballets Russes in 1909, which performed the entire second act of Borodin’s Knâz’  Igor’ (Prince Igor), featuring the singing of Šalâpin and the dancing of the now-famous Poloveckie plâski (Polovtsian dances).

In 1913 Diaghilev produced performances featuring Šalâpin in both Paris and London. An archival document from that year records Šalâpin’s payment for an extra performance of Musorgskij’s Boris Godunov in London; at the bottom one can see the singer’s handwritten note: Finito!

This according to “Diaghilev, Chaliapine, and their contracts” by Cecil Hopkinson (The music review XXV/2 [May 1964] pp. 149–53). The article also includes full English translations of Šalâpin’s contracts with Diaghilev for the 1909 and 1913 seasons.

Above, Šalâpin with a different associate in 1929; below, a performance of a scene from Godunov in 1927.

Related article: Rahmaninov and Tolstoj

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