Meyerhold, Vsevolod Emilevich

Meyerhold, Vsevolod Emil’evich


Born Jan 28 (Feb. 9), 1874, in Penza; died Feb. 2, 1940, in Moscow. Soviet director and actor. People’s Artist of the Republic (1923). Member of the CPSU (1918).

Meyerhold was the son of a German businessman. In 1895 he entered the faculty of law at Moscow University. In 1896 he joined the second-year drama class of the Music and Drama School of the Moscow Philharmonic Society. On graduation in 1898, he joined the company of the Moscow Art Theater.

Meyerhold’s most important roles at the Moscow Art Theater were Treplev and Tuzenbakh in Chekhov’s The Seagull and The Three Sisters, Johannes in Hauptmann’s Lonely Lives, and Malvolio and the Prince of Aragon in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice.

Meyerhold left the Moscow Art Theater in 1902. He founded and, until 1905, headed the Society of New Drama (appearing in Kherson, Nikolaev, and Tbilisi), where he also worked as a director. It was here that Meyerhold formed his aesthetic principles based on symbolism, the stylized, nonconventional theater, and the subordination of acting to visual and decorative elements. Meyerhold applied these principles in his work in K. S. Stanislavsky’s Studio on Povarskaia Street (Moscow, 1905). Evaluating Meyerhold’s productions of Maeterlinck’s The Death of Tintagiles and Hauptmann’s Schluck and Jau, Stanislavsky observed that the actors were only clay for the shaping of pretty tableaux and mise-en-scenes, by means of which Meyerhold carried out his interesting ideas. The nonconventional theater found its greatest expression in V. F. Komissarzhevskaia’s theater in St. Petersburg, where Meyerhold worked as principal director in 1906-07.

Continuing his directorial activity in the Aleksandrinskii Theater (from 1908), Meyerhold set himself a new task—the recreation of the “theater of past epochs.” In his productions of Molière’s Don Juan and Lermontov’s Masquerade, Meyerhold strove to combine the tragic grotesque with the old popular street show. These new ideas greatly influenced his subsequent work and, in particular, were the basis for his experimental work in the Studio on Borodinskaia Street (St. Petersburg, from 1914), where he staged Blok’s The Unknown Woman and The Puppet Show.

Meyerhold’s protest against petit bourgeois epigonic naturalism led him, in the first years after the October Revolution of 1917, to promote the idea of “theatrical October,” aimed at creating a theater of political propaganda and vivid spectacle. Meyerhold’s work during the Soviet period often revealed vestiges of symbolist influence, as well as extreme examples of his polemics with the academic theaters. However, the most important productions of the Meyerhold Theater, which Meyerhold headed from 1920 to 1938, were aimed at creating an art whose content and inherently dynamic form would reflect the spirit of the Revolution. These productions were closely connected with V. V. Mayakovsky’s poetry and his view of theater as a combination of spectacle and rostrum. This perspective was apparent in Meyerhold’s staging of Mayakovsky’s Mystery-Bouffe, The Bedbug, and The Bathhouse, Verhaeren’s The Dawns, Erdman’s Mandate, Vishnevskii’s The Last Decisive Battle, and German’s Introduction. In directing works of classical drama, Meyerhold strove for clear-cut interpretation of the play as social expose and vivid spectacle, making the mise-en-scene conform to his directorial insights and at times going so far as to revise the text (for example, in his productions of Ostrovskii’s The Forest, Gogol’s The Inspector-General, and Griboedov’s Woe From Wit ).

Meyerhold also applied his aesthetic views to the musical theater. In the prerevolutionary years, he directed operas at the St. Petersburg Mariinskii Theater (Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, 1911). In 1935 he directed a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades at the Malyi Opera Theater in Leningrad.

During 1922-24, Meyerhold was the artistic director of the Moscow Theater of the Revolution. After the Meyerhold Theater closed in 1938, Stanislavsky offered Meyerhold a position in the opera theater that he directed. Meyerhold’s innovative ideas greatly influenced the Soviet and foreign theater.


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