Fedor Volkov

Volkov, Fedor Grigor’evich

 

Born Feb. 9 (20), 1729, in Kostroma; died Apr. 4 (15), 1763, in Moscow. Russian actor and theatrical figure. Founder of the first permanent Russian theater, “father of the Russian theater” (in the words of V. G. Belinskii).

Volkov was born into a merchant family and received a comprehensive education. In Yaroslavl, where he lived from 1735, he organized a private theater, and beginning in 1750, a public theater, in which subsequently famous Russian actors began to perform; among them were I. A. Dmitrevskii and la. D. Shumskii. In 1752, Volkov’s troupe was summoned to St. Petersburg. However, the folk character of Volkov’s theater did not meet the requirements of the court. That same year the troupe was disbanded, and some of the actors, including Volkov himself were sent for instruction to the College of the Nobility (Shliakhetskii Korpus). In 1756 a ukase was issued on the establishment of a Russian state theater. A. P. Sumarokov was appointed director of this theater. Volkov assisted Sumarokov in running the theater, and in 1761, after Sumarokov’s retirement, he replaced him. Over-coming the opposition of reactionary circles at court, Volkov created a Russian public professional theater of national importance. He linked it with progressive drama and paved the way for Russian actors who subsequently developed the democratic trend in Russian theatrical culture.

As an actor, Volkov was the theater’s leading tragedian. He performed with great spirit the roles of heroes who rebelled against monarchial tyranny in tragedies by Sumarokov. Among Volkov’s roles were the American, Oskol’d, and (evidently) Khorev, Truvor, and Iaropolk in Sumarokov’s plays Virtue’s Refuge, Semira, Khorev, Sinav and Truvor, and laropolk and Demiza, as well as Hamlet in Sumarokov’s revision of Shakespeare’s tragedy. A complete master of the art of stage performance, Volkov, nevertheless, did not measure up to the aesthetic canons of classicism and did not follow the rules of grandiloquent declamation, which was widespread at that time. Taking into consideration the unique features of Volkov’s acting, Sumarokov wrote parts for him in which he made brilliant use of Volkov’s stormy temperament (for example, the role of Mars in Sumarokov’s New Laurels). Volkov also skillfully performed comic roles.

A man of progressive views, Volkov sided with the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry) opposition and took part in the overthrow of Peter III. For the ceremonies on the occasion of Catherine IPs coronation, Volkov staged a masque entitled Minerva in Triumph (1763). The great progressive spirit of Volkov’s activities and his versatility gave grounds for D. I. Fonvizin’s statement that Volkov was a “man of profound intelligence, full of merits, who had great knowledge and could have been a statesman.” Volkov’s outstanding intelligence was also noted by N. I. Novikov and G. R. Derzhavin. V. G. Belinskii called him a “moving force in public life” and ranked his name along with that of M. V. Lomonosov. In 1911 the theater in the city of Yaroslavl was named after Volkov.

REFERENCES

F. G. Volkov i russkii teatr ego vremeni: Sb. materialov. Moscow, 1953.
Dmitriev, Iu. “F. Volkov i nachalo russkogo teatra.” Teatr, 1950, no. 6.
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