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Mikhoels, Solomon Mikhailovich
(pseudonym of S. M. Vovsi). Born Mar. 4 (16), 1890, in Dvinsk; died Jan. 13, 1948, in Minsk. Soviet Jewish actor. People’s Artist of the USSR (1939).
In 1919, Mikhoels joined the Jewish Theater Studio in Petrograd, which later became the Moscow Jewish Chamber Theater (from 1925, the Moscow State Jewish Theater, or GOSET). Mikhoels was an actor and stage director at the Jewish Theater; in 1929 be became its artistic director. Mikhoels’ depiction of his roles was detailed and masterful and was noted for its philosophical depth and strong civic-mindedness. A master of word and gesture, Mikhoels’ acting was expressive and possessed a sculpture-like harmony of form and movement. Originally performing in comedies and plays of manners, Mikhoels expressed his heroes’ sense of dignity and their desire to rise spiritually over the poverty of the life around them (for example, Benjamin III in Mendele Mocher-Seforim’s Travels of Benjamin III). Mikhoels’ talent as a tragic actor was most fully apparent in his portrayal of the title roles in Shakespeare’s King Lear (1935) and Shalom Aleichem’s Tevya the Dairyman (1938).
Mikhoels’ best work as a stage director was Freilekhs (1945; State Prize of the USSR, 1946), which was based on themes from Jewish folk music. The production was distinguished for its poignant conception and virtuoso improvisation.
In his articles and lectures, Mikhoels promoted a theater of profound philosophic thought and brilliant and daring imagery. He was instructor at the school of the Moscow Jewish Theater, where he became a professor in 1941. Mikhoels was awarded the Order of Lenin.