Chaliapin, Fedor

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Chaliapin, Fedor Ivanovich


Born Feb. 1 (13), 1873, in Kazan; died Apr. 12, 1938, in Paris. Russian bass. People’s Artist of the Republic (1918).

The son of a clerical worker, Chaliapin in his youth was an apprentice to a cobbler and a turner and worked as a copyist. At the same time, he sang in a church choir. He was attracted to the theater at an early age and served as an extra in many theatrical and operatic performances. In 1890 he became a member of the chorus with the opera company in Ufa, where he also sang small solo parts, including Stolnik in Moniuszko’s opera Halka. In 1891 he toured Russia with a Ukrainian operetta company. In 1892 and 1893 he studied with the opera singer D. A. Usatov in Tbilisi, where he began his professional stage career. During the 1893–94 season, Chaliapin performed many roles, among them Mephisto-pheles in Gounod’s Faust and the Miller in Dargomyzhskii’s The Mermaid. In 1895 he was accepted into the company of the Mariinskii Theater, where he sang several roles; however, the management of the imperial theaters failed to notice his talent.

In 1896, at the invitation of S. I. Mamontov, Chaliapin joined the Moscow Private Russian Opera, and it is here that his talent was finally discovered. His subsequent study and artistic collaboration with S. V. Rachmaninoff were very important. During his years with the Private Russian Opera, Chaliapin performed virtually all the principal roles of the repertoire: the title role in Glinka’s Ivan Susanin, the Miller in Dargomyzhskii’s The Mermaid, Boris Godunov and Varlaam in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Dosifei in Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, Ivan the Terrible and Salieri in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Maid of Pskov and Mozart and Salieri, Holofernes in Serov’s Judith, and Nilakantha in Delibes’s Lakmé. Chaliapin won great success during the company’s tour in St. Petersburg in 1898. It was also then that V. V. Stasov became an avid admirer of his work, and over the years he wrote many articles about Chaliapin.

Beginning in 1899, Chaliapin sang at both the Bolshoi and Mariinskii theaters, as well as in provincial cities. In 1901 he gave a triumphant performance at the La Scala Opera in Italy. Soon after he began his continuous foreign tours, which brought him world acclaim. Chaliapin’s performances in the Russian Seasons (1907 to 1909, 1913) in Paris were particularly important for the popularization of Russian culture, particularly the works of Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.

Between 1899 and 1914, Chaliapin performed a series of new roles, including Farlaf in Glinka’s Ruslan and Liudmila, Pimen in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Eremka in Serov’s The Power of Evil, the title roles in Rubinstein’s The Demon, Rachmaninoff’s Aleko, Boito’s Mefistofele, and Massenet’s Don Quichotte, and Philip II in Verdi’s Don Carlos. He tirelessly worked to perfect the interpretations of his early roles, attaining the highest mastery.

Chaliapin’s ideas and artistic principles were greatly influenced by his friendship with M. Gorky, which began in 1901. To a large degree, under Gorky’s beneficial influence, Chaliapin came in contact with progressive social circles; he sang for workers and performed revolutionary songs.

After the victory of the October Revolution of 1917, Chaliapin became involved in the development of a new theatrical and musical culture. In 1918 he was artistic director of the Mariinskii Theater, and in 1919 he was elected to its managing board. During the 1918–19 season, he took part in many performances and concerts for workers and Red Army troops. However, the contradictory nature of his character and the instability of his political convictions contributed to Chaliapin’s transformation into a touring performer, concerned only with his own financial enrichment.

In 1922, Chaliapin went abroad for a concert tour and did not return to the Soviet Union, settling in Paris. Torn away from his homeland and suffering constant sorrow, he created no new stage roles. In his work, however, he retained the best traditions of his native art, remaining a Russian artist to the end of his life.

Chaliapin was one of the greatest representatives of the Russian vocal school and a deeply national artist, who raised Russian realist musical dramatic art to extraordinary heights. He was both a talented singer and a talented dramatic actor. The roles he created were distinguished by a unity of vocal and stage conception. He had the rare gift of being able to transform himself entirely, creating each role with extraordinary realism and power. His voice, a high bass, was characterized by exceptional softness and beauty of timbre, combining sincerity with depth and power; it was able to transmit a wide range of emotions, from rapturous profound tenderness to high tragedy and biting sarcasm. Chaliapin also sang baritone parts, such as the title role in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Rubinstein’s The Demon. His masterful command of phrasing, nuance, and diction enabled him to imbue each musical phrase with imagery and profound psychological meaning. He combined an amazing freedom of execution with strict adherence to rhythm. Above all, Chaliapin sought to reveal all facets of a particular character, all the complexity and contradictions of the protagonist’s inner world. His greatest roles were Boris Godunov and Mephistopheles.

In his performances, Chaliapin combined inspiration with enormous preparatory work on a role. He was innovative and often altered a role’s interpretation. He strove for historical and everyday accuracy and for fidelity in the mise-en-scène. He also strove for vivid expressiveness in makeup (sketches of which he made himself) and costumes and for a faultless stage technique.

Chaliapin, a great chamber singer, interpreted with great sensitivity the songs and romances of Glinka, Dargomyzhskii, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, A. G. Rubinstein, Schumann, and Schubert, as well as Russian folk songs. He was accompanied by first-rate pianists, and his duets with Rachmaninoff were particularly famous. Chaliapin was also an operatic stage director, mounting Massenet’s Don Quichotte and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina. In addition, he acted in films (Ivan the Terrible, Don Quixote). Chaliapin’s wide-ranging creative talents were manifested in his gifted sculptures, paintings, and drawings. Chaliapin also exhibited a talent for writing.


Stasov, V. V. Stat’i o Shaliapine. Moscow, 1952.
Nikulin, L. F. Shaliapin. Moscow, 1954.
F. I. Shaliapin, vols. 1–2. [Collection edited and compiled by E. A. Groshev.] Moscow, 1957–58.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.