Ermolova, Mariia

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ermolova, Mariia Nikolaevna


Born July 3 (15), 1853, in Moscow; died there Mar. 12, 1928. Russian actress. People’s Artist of the Republic (1920), Hero of Labor (1924).

Ermolova, the daughter of a prompter at the Malyi Theater, was a student at the Moscow Theater School. In 1871 she joined the Malyi Theater company, becoming one of the most prominent and brilliant representatives o£ the acting profession. Her talent; with its drive for heroic tragedy, was profoundly influenced by the revolutionary-democratic enthusiasm of the 1860’s and 1870’s and by the populist movement. In her performances, noted for their lofty romantic inclination, the great actress protested against despotism, defended human rights and personal dignity, and appealed for vital heroic deeds.

While still a student, Ermolova made her debut at the Malyi Theater in the title role of Lessing’s Emilia Galotti in 1870. Her performance was stirring, emotional, and truthful. Ermojova revealed the idealism and devotion to a dream of a freedom-loving personality in her portrayal of Katerina in Ostrovskii’s The Thunderstorm in 1873. Her protests against social and spiritual slavery, as well as against violence, reached their heights in her performance as Laurencia in Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna in 1876. This play’s contemporary message evoked enthusiasm in the progressive audience, particularly among the young people. After several presentations of the play, it was banned by the police.

In plays by contemporary authors, such as A. A. Potekhin, I. V. Shpazhinskii, N. la. Solov’ev, S. A. Pal’m, and N. E. Vil’de, which previously did not raise meaningful questions, Ermolova succeeded in creating the characters of contemporary women endowed with unspent riches of the mind and heart, capable of intense, selfless feelings. An example was her role as the teacher Lonina in Solov’ev’s On the Threshold of the Business.

After the role of Katerina, Ermolova played in several of Ostrovskii’s plays. She portrayed luliia Tugina in The Last Victim, Evlaliia in Slaves, Kruchinina in Guilty Though Guiltless, and Negina in Talents and Suitors. In the last role (1881) she created the character of an actress-democrat who sacrificed her personal happiness for her artistic vocation. Ermolova’s interest in large-scale social and moral conflicts and her high opinion of man turned her toward classic roles (for example, Lady Anne and Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Richard III and Macbeth).

Ermolova reflected the sentiments of the progressive Russian intelligentsia of the 1880’s in her portrayal of Joan of Arc in Schiller’s Maid of Orleans in 1884. She revealed the heroine’s moral maximalism and her willingness to sacrifice herself for her people. The traits of frailty, doom, and, at the same time, spiritual strength and heroic fearlessness, which characterized Ermolova’s interpretation of Joan, were also conveyed in her portrayal of the title role in Schiller’s Mary Stuart in 1886.

Ermolova retired from the stage in 1921. Her last role was Mamelfa Dmitrievna in A. K. Tolstoy’s Viceroy. Ermolova was the first recipient in the Soviet Union of the title People’s Artist of the Republic. In 1970 her former residence in Moscow was opened as a branch of the A. A. Bakhrushin Central Museum of the Theater.


Mariia Nikolaevna Ermolova. Moscow, 1955. (Contains letters, portions of her literary legacy, and reminiscences of her contemporaries.)
Markov, P. A. Teatral’nye portrety. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939. (Collection of articles.)
Durylin, S. N. M. N. Ermolova. Moscow, 1953.
M. N. Ermolova, 1853–1928. Moscow, 1954. [Album.]


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.