Solomon Mikhoels

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Mikhoels, Solomon Mikhailovich

 

(pseudonym of S. M. Vovsi). Born Mar. 4 (16), 1890, in Dvinsk; died Jan. 13, 1948, in Minsk. Soviet Jewish actor. People’s Artist of the USSR (1939).

In 1919, Mikhoels joined the Jewish Theater Studio in Petrograd, which later became the Moscow Jewish Chamber Theater (from 1925, the Moscow State Jewish Theater, or GOSET). Mikhoels was an actor and stage director at the Jewish Theater; in 1929 be became its artistic director. Mikhoels’ depiction of his roles was detailed and masterful and was noted for its philosophical depth and strong civic-mindedness. A master of word and gesture, Mikhoels’ acting was expressive and possessed a sculpture-like harmony of form and movement. Originally performing in comedies and plays of manners, Mikhoels expressed his heroes’ sense of dignity and their desire to rise spiritually over the poverty of the life around them (for example, Benjamin III in Mendele Mocher-Seforim’s Travels of Benjamin III). Mikhoels’ talent as a tragic actor was most fully apparent in his portrayal of the title roles in Shakespeare’s King Lear (1935) and Shalom Aleichem’s Tevya the Dairyman (1938).

Mikhoels’ best work as a stage director was Freilekhs (1945; State Prize of the USSR, 1946), which was based on themes from Jewish folk music. The production was distinguished for its poignant conception and virtuoso improvisation.

In his articles and lectures, Mikhoels promoted a theater of profound philosophic thought and brilliant and daring imagery. He was instructor at the school of the Moscow Jewish Theater, where he became a professor in 1941. Mikhoels was awarded the Order of Lenin.

WORKS

Stat’i. Besedy. Rechi. Vospominaniia o Mikhoelse. 2nd ed. Moscow, 1965.

REFERENCES

Grinval’d, la. B. Mikhoels. Moscow, 1948.
References in periodicals archive ?
In a few short years, Solomon Mikhoels was murdered on Stalin's orders.
The visit of the two famous Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee leaders, Itzik Fefer and Shloime Mikhoels, to America in 1943 gave them enormous traction, as did the Soviet Union's support for the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
Many of the professional Jewish actors of the twentieth century, including [the martyred Russian Solomon] Mikhoels, fondly recalled these purimspielers as an early influence.
On his return to the Soviet Union, Fefer succeeded in luring almost all members of the committee in his anti-Soviet organization, but he failed to recruit Solomon Mikhoels, chairman of the committee, who threatened to denounce Fefer and his fellow spies.
Visiting America, Mikhoels spoke at a Soviet-American friendship rally at the old Polo Grounds, pointing to a large photomural of Stalin and blessing it.
For the Moscow State Jewish Theatre (GOSET) Les Kurbas prepared to direct Solomon Mikhoels as Lear in 1933, and they agreed that he learns to feel what the suffering masses feel.
The memorable Lear of Solomon Mikhoels in the State Jewish Theater of 1935 is noted as are the masterworks of related art forms inspired by Shakespeare--for example Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, which premiered at the Kirov in 1940.
Natalya Vovsi-Mikhoels, daughter of Solomon Mikhoels, one of the leading Jewish actors in Russia, and wife of Moise Weinberg, one of Shostakovich's close friends, had no doubt that it was his protest against the treatment of Jews by the state.
Through hand signals and coded messages in Robeson's apparently bugged hotel room, Feffer indicated that Mikhoels had been murdered by Stalin and that the country was experiencing a great purge of Yiddish culture.
So last year, only three years after the war is over, Mikhoels was murdered, and Fefer and other Yiddish writers disappeared from the face of the earth.
Solomon Mikhoels and Itzik Feffer, chairman and deputy chairman of the Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, were sent by the Kremlin to the United States in 1943 to encourage American Jewish support for the Soviet war effort and to offset negative publicity the USSR had suffered as a result of its execution of Henryk Ehrlich and Viktor Alter, two prominent Polish Bundists with close ties to American Jewish and labor leaders.
Initially, the goals of GOSET under Mikhoels did not conflict with