The theatre’s artists during the Siege of LeningradOn 27 January, our city will mark the 75th anniversary of the complete liberation of Leningrad from the Nazi siege. In the run-up to this memorable date, an exhibition will open in the Fireplace Hall of the dress circle dedicated to the memory of those theatrical designers whose fates were inextricably linked to the blockade.
On 22 August 1941, six days after the announcement of the general „compulsory“ evacuation of the Maly Opera Theatre company (the Mikhailovsky Theatre was then known as the Leningrad State Academic Maly Opera Theatre, its Russian abbreviation being MALEGOT), a train made up of heated freight cars left for Chkalov, now Orenburg. But by no means everyone who worked in the theatre or collaborated with it in the pre-war years left Leningrad.
Vera Milyutina lived in Leningrad throughout the siege, having worked as one of the Maly Opera Theatre’s sketch restorers before the war. In 1942, Milyutina was invited to document the „wounds of the Hermitage“. Most of the works in this series have not survived, but some of them (about ten pages) are in the Museum’s collection. The distinguished artists Mikhail Bobyshov, who designed 16 Maly Opera productions in 1920–1935, and Tatyana Glebova, a student of Pavel Filonov, who collaborated with MALEGOT in the early 1930s, spent the first winter of the blockade in the besieged city. For other artists to whom the theatre owed its reputation in the pre-war years, the besieged Leningrad was to be their last home. The avant-garde artist Leonid Chupyatov, who studied under Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin and designed the set for Vsevolod Meyerhold’s production of The Queen of Spades, died in December 1941. Nikolai Ushin, who created vivid designs for the operetta The Gypsy Baron, died of starvation in April 1942. The same year also saw the death of Vladimir Pleshakov, artistic director of the comic opera The Tales of Hoffmann, while Emil Wiesel, who worked on the costumes for Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, died a year later, in 1943.
The circumstances of the death of Georgy Rudi, who designed one of the theatre’s legendary productions, the opera Quiet Flows the Don, remain a mystery: some sources indicate that he died on the Leningrad front, while others say that he died of starvation in the besieged city. Meanwhile, it is well established that Anatoly Kolomoitsev, a student of Nikolay Akimov, who created a fabulous set design for the ballet The Dolt on the eve of the war, died on the Leningrad front.
Visitors to the exhibition can learn more about the lives of the artists who collaborated with the Maly Opera Theatre in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and see the costumes and set designs that they created. The exhibition will run until 25 February.