(full name, Order of Lenin State Academic Malyi Theater), the oldest Russian drama theater in Moscow.
The Malyi Theater was officially opened on Oct. 14 (26), 1824, but the formation of a permanent dramatic company in Moscow had begun as early as the 1750’s. In 1757, a theater—which became public in 1759—was founded at Moscow University; this theater, in which students and alumni of the University Gymnasium performed, became known as the University Theater. In 1760 it was renamed the Moscow Russian Theater and, in 1780, it became the Petrovskii Theater. The theater was located in a building constructed by the entrepreneur M. Medoks on the site of the present-day Bolshoi Theater, on former Petrovskii Square (it was also called the Medoks Theater). In 1806, the company of the Petrovskii Theater became part of the system of state-owned imperial theaters.
The Malyi Theater had a great influence on the development of Russian culture; it furthered the establishment of realism and revolutionary romanticism on the Russian stage. The theater’s activity was linked with the evolution of progressive social thought and the growth of the liberation movement. The Malyi Theater’s productions intensified the feeling of protest against the yoke of autocracy, serfdom, and reaction; the theater advocated human dignity and reaffirmed true patriotism, staging the comedies of D. I. Fonvizin, I. A. Krylov, and V. V. Kapnist and the tragedies of V. A. Ozerov.
The dramatic technique of the Malyi Theater has always combined two fundamental traits, namely, a profound, vital realism, whose originator was M. S. Shchepkin, and a passionate revolutionary romanticism, the most important representative of which was P. S. Mochalov. Shchepkin firmly established the comedies of A. S. Griboedov and N. V. Gogol on the boards of the Malyi Theater. The premieres of Griboedov’s Woe From Wit (1831) and Gogol’s The Inspector-General (1836) were the most important events in the early history of the Malyi Theater. Mochalov brought the dramas of Shakespeare and Schiller to the Russian stage. V. G. Belinskii devoted a number of articles to the Malyi Theater; in them he supported the progressive strivings of its actors and the humanism and truthfulness of their art, while sharply criticizing the conservative tendencies in the repertoire.
In 1853, A. N. Ostrovskii became the principal playwright of the Malyi Theater, where 47 of his dramas and comedies were staged. Ostrovskii’s plays were vehicles for the development of the remarkable acting talent of P. M. Sadovskii and the Sadovskii family of actors. In the mid-19th century, the major actors at the Malyi Theater were I. V. Samarin, V. I. Zhivokini, and S. V. Shumskii; the theater’s repertoire included plays by I. S. Turgenev and A. V. Sukhovo-Kobylin, as well as the dramas of A. S. Pushkin. The Malyi Theater attracted the favorable attention of N. G. Chernyshevskii and N. A. Dobroliubov, whose articles helped strengthen the theater’s democratic and realistic trends. The technique of ensemble acting was developed at the Malyi Theater; the lessons of the great realist Shchepkin have become traditions that are highly esteemed and fostered by the company of the Malyi Theater.
At the beginning of the 1870’s, the fiery talent of M. N. Ermolova made its appearance on the stage of the Malyi Theater; she was renowned for her portrayal of folk heroines (Joan in Schiller’s Maid of Orleans and Laurencia in Lope de Vega’s The Sheep Well). The realism of Shchepkin’s school and the romanticism and heroic spirit that typified the roles created by Mochalov and Ermolova were enthusiastically received by democratically minded audiences. During the 19th century the Malyi Theater was called the second Moscow University—an epithet that stressed the theater’s important educational role.
By the end of the 19th century, the Malyi Theater had diminished in importance. As a result of pressure from reactionary circles, mediocre plays and second-rate amusing farces dominated the theater’s stage. Nevertheless, the most prominent actors—Ermolova, G. N. Fedotova, A. P. Lenskii, A. I. Iuzhin, M. P. Sadovskii, and O. O. Sadovskaia—continued to make use of their talents, mainly in productions of Russian and foreign classics. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, attempts to revive the artistic quality of the Malyi Theater, undertaken primarily by A. P. Lenskii, encountered stubborn resistance from the tsarist administration and proved to have little effect.
From the first years of Soviet power, the productions of the Malyi Theater reflected contemporary revolutionary events. In 1919, the theater was awarded the title “academic.” Such productions as A. K. Tolstoy’s The Burgomaster (1918), Gorky’s The Old Man (1919), and Lunacharskii’s Oliver Cromwell (1921), as well as numerous productions of classical drama, testified to the vitality of the Malyi Theater and to the new upsurge in the art of its best actors—N. K. lakovlev, E. K. Leshkovskaia, O. A. Pravdin, V. O. Massalitinova, V. N. Ryzhova, E. D. Turchaninova, A. A. lablochkina, M. F. Lenin, A. A. Ostuzhev, S. L. Kuznetsov, P. M. Sadovskii, and M. M. Klimov. M. N. Ermolova and A. I. luzhin, the theater’s outstanding players, continued to perform with success. The production of Trenev’s Liubov’ larovaia (1926, with V. N. Pashennaia in the title role) demonstrated that the Revolution had brought about a fresh surge of creative forces and artistic innovation in the Malyi Theater.
Subsequent productions of Soviet plays (Romashov’s Bridge of Fire, 1929; Leonov’s Skutarevskii, 1934; Gusev’s Glory, 1936; Korneichuk’s Bogdan Khmernitskii, 1939, and In the Steppes of the Ukraine, 1941) and classical repertoire (Rasteriaeva Street, 1929, based on Uspenskii’s work; Gorky’s Enemies, 1933, and The Barbarians, 1941; Shakespeare’s Othello, 1935, Gutzkow’s Uriel Acosta, 1940, with A. A. Ostuzhev in the roles of Othello and Acosta; Griboedov’s Woe From Wit, 1938; and A. N. Ostrovskii’s Easy Money, 1933, Even a Wise Man Stumbles, 1935, The Forest, 1937, Wolves and Sheep, 1941, and Truth Is Good, But Happiness Is Better, 1941) marked a fundamentally new phase in the development of the Malyi Theater, whose acting methods were enriched by socialist realism. In 1937, in the production of Trenev’s On the Bank of the Neva, the role of V. I. Lenin was created for the first time on the stage of the Malyi Theater. During the years of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45, the theater staged a number of inspired patriotic productions (Korneichuk’s The Front, 1942; Leonov’s Invasion, 1943). Troupes of actors from the Malyi Theater and its affiliate at the front performed in active army units.
Among the theater’s most active directors from the 1930’s through the 1950’s were K. P. Khokhlov, I. Ia. Sudakov, K. A. Zubov, L. A. Volkov, and A. D. Dikii; outstanding among the actors during this period were P. M. Sadovskii, N. N. Rybnikov, M. M. Klimov, I. V. Il’inskii, M. M. Bliumental’-Tamarina, V. N. Pashennaia, M. I. Tsarev, E. M. Shatrova, D. V. Zerkalova, N. A. Svetlovidov, E. N. Gogoleva, N. A. Annenkov, and M. I. Zharov.
Maintaining its renown as the “house of Ostrovskii,” the Malyi Theater has regularly staged Ostrovskii’s dramas and comedies, at the same time expanding its classical repertoire with the works of N. V. Gogol, A. S. Griboedov, M. Iu. Lermontov, A. V. Sukhovo-Kobylin, L. N. Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and V. Hugo, as well as stage versions of works by F. M. Dostoevsky, W. M. Thackeray, and G. Flaubert. The repertoire includes a broad selection of plays by the Soviet playwrights A. E. Korneichuk, K. M. Simonov, V. S. Rozov, S. I. Aleshin, and A. V. Sofronov.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Malyi Theater staged L. N. Tolstoy’s The Power of Darkness (1956), with I. V. Il’inskii in the role of Akim, directed by B. I. Ravenskikh; D. Zorin’s The Eternal Source (1957); Chekhov’s Ivanov (1960); Gorky’s Summer-folk (1964); Ostrovskii’s The Truth Is Good, But Happiness Is Better (1970), directed By B. A. Babochkin; Lermontov’s Mascarade (1962); and Vishnevskii’s An Optimistic Tragedy (1967), directed by L. V. Varpakhovskii. Presented during the early 1970’s were Hauptmann’s Before Sunset (1972), directed by L. E. Kheifits; Drutse’s Birds of Our Youth (1972), directed by Ungurianu and Ravenskikh; Ostrovskii’s The Abyss (1973), directed by P. P. Vasil’ev; and A. K. Tolstoy’s Tsar Fedor loannovich (1973), directed by Ravenskikh. Artistic directors and principal directors of the Malyi Theater include A. I. luzhin (1923-27), I. Ia. Sudakov (1937-43), P. M. Sadovskii (1944-47), K. A. Zubov (1947-56), M. I. Tsarev (1957-62), and E. R. Simonov (1963-70).
In 1973, the theater’s company included People’s Artists of the USSR N. A. Annenkov, B. A. Babochkin, E. N. Gogoleva, M. I. Zharov, I. V. Il’inskii, I. A. Liubeznov, N. A. Ryzhov, V. I. Khokhriakov, E. A. Shatrova, and M. I. Tsarev; People’s Artists of the RSFSR N. A. Belevtseva, E. A. Bystritskaia, E. P. Velikhov, V. D. Doronin, T. A. Eremeeva, D. V. Zerkalova, V. V. Kenigson, V. I. Korshunov, K. A. Likso, S. E. Markushev, R. D. Nifontova, N. V. Podgornyi, D. N. Pavlov, K. F. Roek, E. V. Samoilov, E. M. Solodova, B. V. Telegin, and S. N. Fadeeva; Honored Artists of the RSFSR N. L. Afanas’ev, B. F. Gorbatov, Iu. I. Kaiurov, N. I. Kornienko, G. I. Kulikov, and L. V. ludina. Since 1970 the principal director has been People’s Artist of the USSR B. I. Ravenskikh. The manager of the Malyi Theater has been M. I. Tsarev (1950-63, and since 1970). In 1937, the Malyi Theater was awarded the Order of Lenin.
The theater has a theater school that has existed since the founding of the Moscow Theater School in 1809 (in 1938 it was renamed the M. S. Shchepkin Theater School). The Malyi Theater has made guest appearances abroad (Rumania, Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia). Productions of Tolstoy’s The Power of Darkness and of Colleagues, a drama based on a work by Aksenov, were presented in Paris at the Festival of Dramatic Arts in 1962.
The building that houses the Malyi Theater was designed by the architects O. I. Bove and A. El’kinskii and constructed in 1820-24 as the private home of the merchant Vargin; it was reconstructed as a theater during the years 1838-40 by the architect K. A. Ton. In 1947 the theater was redesigned by the architect A. P. Velikanov. In 1929 a monument to A. N. Ostrovskii (bronze and granite, sculptor N. A. Andreev, architect I. P. Mashkov) was erected in front of the Malyi Theater.
REFERENCESBelinskii o drame i teatre. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948.
Sto let Malomu teatru. 1824-1924. Moscow .
Lunacharskii, A. V. O teatre i dramaturgii, vol. 1. Moscow, 1958.
Zograf, N. G. Malyi teatr vtoroi poloviny XIX v. Moscow, 1960.
K. L. RUDNITSKII