Leningrad Academic Drama Theater

Leningrad Academic Drama Theater

 

(full name, A. S. Pushkin Leningrad Academic Drama Theater; called the Aleksandrinskii Theater from 1832 to 1920), the oldest Russian theater. The St. Petersburg company was founded in 1756, when the first permanent Russian public theater was created; its director was the dramatist A. P. Sumarokov. The history of the theater is inseparable from the art of the famous Russian stage artists who performed there. Among its leading actors were F. G. Volkov, I. A. Dmitrevskii, and Ia. D. Shumskii, and its repertoire included Sumarokov’s and Ia. B. Kniazhnin’s tragedies directed against tyranny, V. V. Kapnist’s and D. I. Fonvizin’s satirical comedies, works by Corneille, Racine, Voltaire, and Molière, and comic operas.

In the early 19th century, during the wars between Russia and Napoleon, the theater presented the patriotic tragedies of V. A. Ozerov, in which E. S. Semenova and A. S. Iakovlev appeared. Performances were held in different buildings until 1832, when the architect K. I. Rossi designed the Aleksandrinskii Theater. Built in the Empire style, the theater is notable for its majesty and simplicity of form. Facing Ostrovskii Square, the main facade has a splendid six-column Corinthian loggia, whose attic is crowned with a chariot of Apollo (sculptor, S. S. Pimenov). The grandeur of the structure is emphasized by the Corinthian porticoes on the side facades and the rich sculptural decorations by V. I. Demut-Malinovskii and A. Triscorni. Metal structural elements were used in the construction of the tiered hall, an innovation at that time.

The beginning of the Aleksandrinskii Theater’s activity coincided with the onset of political reaction. Vaudevilles, melodramas, and pseudohistorical plays, including the plays of N. V. Kukol’nik and N. A. Polevoi, dominated the repertoire. In acting technical skill was emphasized, particularly in vaudevilles (N. O. Diur and other actors). V. N. Asenkova, who appeared successfully in vaudeville, comic, and tragic roles, was noted for the deep sincerity and lyricism of her acting style. V. A. Karatygin was an actor of the waning classical tradition.

The productions of Griboedov’s Woe From Wit (1831), Gogol’s The Inspector-General (1836), and Ostrovskii’s The Thunderstorm (1859) were major events in the history of the theater. Outstanding representatives of realism in acting were I. I. Sosnitskii, the first Mayor in The Inspector-General, and A. E. Martynov, who excelled in portraying downtrodden “little people” in vaudevilles and invested the role of Tikhon in The Thunderstorm with tragic depth. P. V. Vasil’ev’s and Iu. N. Linskaia’s style developed the traditions of the Martynov school of acting.

In the second half of the 19th century a strong company was formed, headed by V. N. Davydov, K. A. Varlamov, M. G. Savina, P. V. Svobodin, V. V. Strel’skaia, V. P. Dalmatov, M. V. Dal’skii, P. A. Strepetova, and V. F. Komissarzhevskaia. Their talents were fully revealed in the plays of N. V. Gogol, A. N. Ostrovskii, A. F. Pisemskii, I. S. Turgenev, L. N. Tolstoy, A. V. Sukhovo-Kobylin, Shakespeare, and Molière. Nevertheless, the policies of the Board of Directors of the Imperial Theaters and the taste of the bourgeois audience helped retain empty, trivial plays in the repertoire (Strepetova and Komissarzhevskaia left the theater). V. E. Meyerhold played an important role in raising the cultural level of the theater’s productions, becoming its first director-producer. Especially noteworthy were his productions of Molière’s Don Juan in 1910 and Lermontov’s Masquerade in 1917.

After the Great October Socialist Revolution the theater was renamed the Aleksandrinskii Academic Theater in 1919 and the Petrograd Academic Drama Theater in 1920. The new audience demanded realistic art and a modern repertoire. A. V. Lunacharskii, the people’s commissar of education, greatly influenced the theater’s political and artistic development. N. V. Petrov, the theater’s manager and artistic director from 1928 to 1933, was instrumental in introducing the works of Soviet playwrights into the repertoire, staging Romashov’s End of Krivoryl’sk in 1926 and Bill’-Belotserkovskii’s Calm in 1927. Petrov’s productions of Ianovskii’s Rage (1930) and Afinogenov’s Fear (1931) were landmarks in the history of Soviet theater. In Trenev’s On the Banks of the Neva (1937) and Kapler and Zlatogorova’s Lenin (1939), K. V. Skorobogatov played the role of V. I. Lenin. In 1937 the theater became known as the A. S. Pushkin Leningrad Academic Drama Theater.

During this period the theater’s company included such veteran actors and actresses as E. P. Korchagina-Aleksandrov-skaia, V. A. Michurina-Samoilova, I. N. Pevtsov, Iu. M. Iur’ev (the theater’s artistic director from 1922 to 1928), E. I. Time, and B. A. Gorin-Goriainov, as well as a number of young performers, including N. S. Rashevskaia, E. P. Kariakina, V. I. Chestnokov, E. M. Vol’f-IzraeL’, and la. O. Maliutin. The artistic directors were B. M. Sushkevich, S. E. Radlov, L. S. Viv’en (1938–66), and V. I. Chestnokov.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) the theater was evacuated to Novosibirsk, where it produced Korneichuk’s The Front, Leonov’s Invasion, and Simonov’s The Russian People. The 1950’s and 1960’s saw the development of the acting talents of N. K. Simonov, A. F. Borisov, N. K. Cherkasov, and Iu. V. Tolubeev.

The theater gave new and deeper interpretations to such classics as Ostrovskii’s The Forest (1931), Gorky’s Enemies (1933), Pushkin’s Boris Godunov (1934 and 1949), Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (1946), L. Tolstoy’s Living Corpse (1950), Ostrovskii’s Abyss (1955), The Gambler (1956, based on Dostoevsky’s novel), Gorky’s Lower Depths, and Hauptmann’s Before Dawn (1963), with N. K. Simonov in the role of Matthias Klausen. Also outstanding was the 1955 production of Vishnevsky’s An Optimistic Tragedy.. The play’s director, G. A. Tovstonogov, and Iu. V. Tolubeev, who played the role of the Leader, were awarded the Lenin Prize in 1958.

Among the theater’s most successful productions were Pushkin’s Little Tragedies (1962) and such Soviet plays as Aleshin’s Everything Is Left to the People (1959, with N. K. Cherkasov in the role of Dronov), L. Zorin’s Friends and Years (1961), Shtein’s Between Cloudbursts (1965, with V. I. Chestnokov playing V. I. Lenin), Pogodin’s Kremlin Chimes (1967, with V. G. Krasnov as Lenin), a dramatization of German’s The Cause You Serve (1967), and Arbuzov’s Tales of Old Arbat (1971).

As of 1973 the company included People’s Artists of the USSR A. F. Borisov, I. O. Gorbachev, V. V. Merkur’ev, and Iu. V. Tolubeev and People’s Artists of the RSFSR K. I. Ada-shevskii, M. K. Ekaterininskii, E. P. Kariakina, O. Ia. Lebzak, N. V. Mamaeva, B. A. Freindlikh, and L. P. Shtykan. Since 1968 the chairman of the theater’s artistic board of directors has been I. O. Gorbachev. The theater was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor in 1939.

REFERENCES

Sto let: Aleksandrinskii teatr—Teatr gosdramy. Leningrad, 1932.
Derzhavin, K. Epokhi Aleksandrinskoi stseny. [Leningrad] 1932.
Al’tshuller, A. Ia. Teatr proslavlennykh masterov. Leningrad, 1968.
Taranovskaia, M. Arkhitektor K. Rossi: Zdanie Akademicheskogo teatra dramy im. A. S. Pushkina (b. Aleksandrinskii) v Leningrade. Leningrad, 1956.

A. IA. AL’TSHULLER

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