Leningrad Theater of Opera and Ballet

Leningrad Theater of Opera and Ballet


(full name, S. M. Kirov Academic Leningrad Theater of Opera and Ballet), one of the oldest and most important music theaters of the USSR and one that has played an outstanding role in the development of Russian opera and ballet.

The history of the theater begins in 1783, when the Kamennyi (Bol’shoi) Theater was opened in St. Petersburg and a troupe was organized by an edict of Catherine II “not for comedies and tragedies alone but for opera as well.” The late 18th century and the early 19th was the time when the national school of composers developed. Along with foreign works, the first operas of the Russian composers E. I. Fomin, V. A. Pashkevich, M. M. Sokolovskii, and S. I. Davydov were performed on the theater’s stage. In 1803 the opera and ballet troupes were separated from the drama troupe. C. Cavos (K. A. Kavos)—conductor, teacher, and composer of many operas and ballets staged at the theater —became director of the opera troupe in 1803, remaining in this capacity until 1840. The ballet troupe was headed by the choreographer C. L. Didelot (1801–29; with an interruption between 1811 and 1816). The singers P. V. Zlov, A. M. Krutitskii, V. M. Samoilov, and E. S. Sandunova were active in the theater’s development, as were the dancers E. I. Kolosova, A. I. Istomina, N. O. Gol’ts, and E. A. Telesheva.

In 1836 the newly rebuilt building of the Bol’shoi Theater was completely given over to opera productions. That same year, the theater first performed M. I. Glinka’s opera Ivan Susanin, which heralded the birth of Russian classical opera. Glinka’s second opera, Ruslan and Liudmila, was staged in 1842. Both productions revealed the gifts of the Russian singers O. A. Petrov and A. Ia. Petrova-Vorob’eva. In 1843 an Italian opera troupe was created in St. Petersburg, as a result of which the Russian troupe was essentially banished and in 1845 transferred to Moscow. Performances by the Russian opera troupe were renewed only in the mid-1850’s on the stage of the Circus Theater. After a fire in 1859, the building was rebuilt (architect, A. K. Kavos), opening in 1860 under the name of the Mariinskii Theater. From 1883 to 1896 the theater building was redesigned under the supervision of the architect V. A. Schreter. The exterior and interior were redone. A number of halls were added. The wooden structural elements were replaced by metal ones. The acoustics of the hall and stage were improved.

The growth of the liberation movement in the 1860’s and the emergence of Russia’s greatest composers decisively determined the democratic tendencies of the theater’s Russian troupe. The operas The Maid of Pskov by Rimsky-Korsakov (1873), Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky (1874), The Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky (1890), and Prince Igor by Borodin (1890) were first performed. At this time, the company included the singers E. A. Lavrovskaia, I. A. Mel’nikov, E. K. Mravina, M. A. Slavina, F. I. Stravinskii, M. I. Figner, N. N. Figner, and L. G. Iakovlev. E. F. Napravnik was music director and conductor (1863–1916). Outstanding achievements in the art of ballet were the stagings of Tchaikovsky’s ballets The Sleeping Beauty (1890), The Nutcracker (1892), and Swan Lake (1895) and Glazunov’s Raymonda (1898) by M. Petipa and L. I. Ivanov. The late 19th century and early 20th saw the rise of the dancers O. I. Preobrazhenskaia, A. P. Pavlova, M. F. Kshesinskaia, [Kschessinska], T. P. Karsavina, and V. F. Nijinsky. The most brilliant masters of operatic singing appeared at the theater at the turn of the century. Performances were distinguished by polished musical ensembles. The leading performers were F. I. Chaliapin and I. V. Ershov. Other singers were I. V. Tartakov, I. A. Alchevskii, A. M. Davydov, and V. I. Kastorskii. Conductors included F. M. Blumenfel’d and A. Coates, and designers A. Ia. Golovin and K. A. Korovin.

The Great October Socialist Revolution gave impetus to the artistic development of the theater. On Nov. 9, 1917, the theater was transferred to the jurisdiction of the People’s Commissariat of Education. In 1920 it was given the name of State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet; the name of S. M. Kirov was added in 1935. The opera and ballet companies continued the finest traditions established by previous masters. The 1920’s and 1930’s were marked by a striving to expand the repertoire. Along with revivals and new stagings of classical works, the theater performed the operas and ballets of contemporary foreign composers. During this period, the theater performed the Soviet operas The Revolt of the Eagle by Pashchenko (1925), Ice and Steel by Deshevov (1930), Battleship Potemkin by Chishko (1937), and In the Storm by Khrennikov (1939) and the ballets The Red Poppy by Glière (1929), The Fountain of Bakhchisarai by Asaf’ev (1934), Laurencia by Krein (1939), and Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev (1940).

During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), the theater was evacuated to Perm’, returning to Leningrad in 1944. Partially destroyed by artillery fire, the theater building was restored in 1944. The 1940’s and 1950’s saw the production of many works by Soviet composers, including the operas Emel’ian Pugachev by Koval’ (1942, Perm’), Duenna (Betrothal in the Monastery) by Prokofiev (1946), The Family of Taras by Kabalevskii (1950), The Decembrists by Shaporin (1953), and Mother by Khrennikov (1957) and the ballets Gayane (1942, Perm’) and Spartacus (1956) by Khachaturian, The Bronze Horseman by Glière (1949), Path of Thunder by Karaev (1958), and Coast of Hope by Petrov (1959).

At various times the following artists worked at the theater: the singers R. G. Gorskaia, M. O. Reizen, V. R. Slivinskii, S. I. Migai, K. A. Laptev, N. K. Pechkovskii, S. P. Preobrazhenskaia, I. A. Nechaev, and I. P. Iashugin; the ballet dancers M. T. Semenova, G. S. Ulanova, O. G. Iordan, N. M. Dudinskaia, T. M. Vecheslova, F. I. Balabina, K. M. Sergeev, A. Ia. Shelest, V. M. Chabukiani, and A. V. Lopukhov; the conductors E. A. Mravinskii, V. A. Dranishnikov, A. M. Pazovskii, B. E. Khaikin, D. I. Pokhitonov, and S. V. El’tsin; the stage directors S. E. Radlov, L. B. Baratov, I. Iu. Shlepianov, and E. N. Sokovnin; and the choreographers F. V. Lopukhov, R. V. Zakharov, V. I. Vainonen, L. M. Lavrovskii, B. A. Fenster, and K. M. Sergeev.

The theater’s best opera productions of the 1960’s and early 1970’s include Prokofiev’s Semen Kotko (1960), Dzerzhinskii’s Fate of a Man (1961), Muradeli’s October (1964), Kholminov’s Optimistic Tragedy (1966) and Anna Snegina (1967), Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1966), Dzerzhinskii’s Quiet Don (1967), Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (1969), Paliashvili’s Abesalom and Etery (1971), and Uspenskii’s Intervention (1972). The most important ballets of this period are Melikov’s Legend of Love (1961); Leningrad Symphony, to the music of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony (1961); Prokofiev’s Cinderella (1964); Kazh-laev’s Mountain Girl (1968); Chervinskii’s Hamlet (1970); Petrov’s Creation of the World (1971); and Britten’s The Prince of the Pagodas (1972).

In 1973 the company’s members included the singers B. T. Shtokolov (People’s Artist of the USSR), I. P. Alekseev (People’s Artist of the RSFSR), R. A. Barinova, I. A. Bugaev, P. A. Kovaleva, N. A. Krivulia, and V. V. Maksimova. Ballet soloists included People’s Artist of the USSR I. A. Kolpakova and People’s Artists of the RSFSR S. V. Vikulov, N. A. Kurgapkina, A. I. Sizova, Iu. V. Solov’ev, and K. I. Fedicheva. The principal conductor in 1973 was People’s Artist of the USSR K. A. Simeonov; the principal stage director, People’s Artist of the RSFSR R. I. Tikhomirov; and the principal choreographer, People’s Artist of the RSFSR I. D. Bel’skii. Other important choreographers were People’s Artist of the USSR K. M. Sergeev and Honored Art Worker of the RSFSR L. V. Iakobson [Jacobson, Yakobson]. The principal chorus master was People’s Artist of the RSFSR A. G. Murin and the principal artist (designer), People’s Artist of the RSFSR I. V. Sevast’ianov.

The ballet company has toured many countries, including the Arab Republic of Egypt, France, England, the Federal Republic of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Bulgaria, the German Democratic Republic, the United States, and Japan. The theater has been awarded the Order of Lenin (1939).


Sviridenko, S. “Russkaia opera v Mariinskom teatre za 25 let. Ocherk.” Russkaia muzykal’naia gazeta, 1912, nos. 1, 2, 4, 5.
Stark, E. (Zigfrid). Peterburgskaia opera i ee mastera, 1890–1910. Leningrad-Moscow, 1940.
Gos. ordena Lenina akademicheskii teatr opery i baleta im. S. M. Kirova. Leningrad, 1957.
Leningradskii teatr opery i baleta im. S. M. Kirova. Leningrad, 1972.
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