Friday, March 6, 2015

Great Historical Singers (Feodor Chaliapin)

Feodor Chaliapin was one of the most significant singers of the early twentieth century, and he is still as important today.  Chaliapin possessed a bass voice that speaks to people's hearts.  In addition, he had a very easy upper range with remarkable dynamic control.  Chaliapin is considered the Caruso of basses because of his popularity as a singer and actor.  Chaliapin's acting took opera acting to new levels, and seeing him on film is not to be missed.  Check out Don Quichotte (Don Quixote), and you will not be able to take your eyes off of him. Fortunately,  Chaliapin's art is well preserved on film and records.  There are so many recordings of Chaliapin that I love, that I can't pick a favorite.  One unique recording of his, is the song "The Blind Ploughman."  The passion in Chaliapin's singing is just remarkable.
   Chaliapin was a very tall man.  Possibly over 6 ft 6. I will be paying homage to this great artist and since I am slightly under 5'9, I will need some big time lifts or stilts.  If anyone has any please send them my way.  There will never be another Chaliapin.  There were other basses that were famous during Chaliapin's time that never achieved his fame because his acting ability and voice were so unique.  I cannot tell you how lucky we are to have footage of his acting skills in the film Don Quichotte.  He is Don Quixote plain and simple.  Since the film was done in Russian, French and English, Chaliapin does have a thick accent, but his acting ability makes you forget that.  Wayne Connor lent me that film when I was at Peabody and it blew me a way.  The sound track to that film includes the Don Quichotte songs by Jacque Ibert which were written for Chaliapin.  There was a contest for which composers songs would be used in the film.  I believe that Maurice Ravel's songs were not submitted on time, but I am not sure that is the reason why Jacques Ibert's songs won.  They are very effective songs, with a good Spanish flare.  They were written for Chaliapin, so they show off his unique ability to sing pianissimo high notes above the staff.
  Chaliapin was a very demanding artist.  According to the famous impresario who managed Chaliapin when he sang at the Metropolitan Opera Sol Hurok, Chaliapin was "a hell of a fellow in every way."  Chaliapin would call Hurok constantly and say he couldn't sing on a given day because he didn't feel well.  He would make him come over every couple of hours to check on him as a matter of fact.   A lot of great artists get nervous and are very particular about things, so Chaliapin wasn't necessarily unique in that way. That's just an interesting fact that I wanted to share.  Another one is that Chaliapin had a son, Feodor Chaliapin Junior who was an actor who starred in Moonstruck.  Chaliapin was also very good friends with composer Sergey Rachmaninov.  Chaliapin worked with Rachmaninov on musicianship, especially for his most famous role of Boris Godunov.  In addition, several songs by Rachmaninov are dedicated to Chaliapin, the most famous of those being "Fate", which is a tribute to Beethoven's five symphony of the same title.
   It is important to name some of the works that Feodor Chaliapin premiered.  He was famous for premiering Massenet's Don Quichotte.  He premiered the title character.  He also premiered Aleko in Aleko by Rachmaninov at the St. Petersburg premiere, not at the actual premiere.  He also premiered Ibert's Don Quichotte songs as I mentioned earlier.  Rachmaninov said the following about Chaliapin. "Chaliapin will never die; for with his fabulous talent, this marvelous artist can never be forgotten... To future generations Chaliapin will become a legend." - Sergey Rachmaninov