Reserve Stage: The Bolshoi Theater During the Second World War

Reserve Stage: The Bolshoi Theater During the Second World War

From October 1941 to July 1943, the main part of the Bolshoi Theater troupe lived, rehearsed and played performances in Kuibyshev (now Samara). At that time, the city served as a"reserve capital": embassies and about 40 factories, part of the state apparatus, the Leningrad Drama Theater, the All-Union Radio Symphony Orchestra were evacuated here. We will tell you who was entrusted with the management of the ballet, what performances they performed on the new stage, and why Pyotr Williams had to make new sets.

"And most importantly, the stage was much smaller..."

The evacuation of the Bolshoi Theater from Moscow was urgent, like everything else at that time. On October 14, the team was announced that the next day they had to come to the Kazan railway station with their suitcases. Although not everyone left by train. The singer Ivan Kozlovsky, for example, recalled a two-week road trip.

About 500 people of the troupe were evacuated. At first, they were accommodated in the classrooms of school 81, but slowly apartments were given. They even resettled a whole building on the Nekrasovskaya Street leading to the Volga to accommodate the Bolshoi Theater. Conductors Samuil Samosud and Alexander Melik-Pashayev, the theater's chief designer Pyotr Williams, singers Valeria Barsova, Maria Maksakova, Natalia Shpiller and Ivan Kozlovsky, ballet dancers Olga Lepeshinskaya and Asaf Messerer arrived here.

It was already in Kuibyshev that the artistic direction of the Bolshoi Ballet was entrusted to Asaf Messerer, while he continued to dance the title parts. It is peculiar that in his memoirs the choreographer called the huge freshly built House of Culture by the architect Noi Trotsky a club. By the way, the Samara Opera and Ballet Theater is still located in the same building on Kuibyshev Square, although now there is no library and museum.

“There was no opera house in Kuibyshev,” - Messerer recalled. - “We were provided with a newly built club. The building was nice, but not well suited for a troupe like ours. And most importantly, the stage was much smaller than in the Bolshoi Theater. The club had only one rehearsal hall, in which singers and ballet dancers took turns practicing. Time was scheduled by the minute. It was not easy with transport either. Sometimes, during severe cold spells, artists were brought to rehearsals in an open sleigh. And yet no one was discouraged. First of all, we had to resume our old performances as soon as possible so that the dancers did not lose their qualifications."

From Swan Lake to The Scarlet Sails

It took the ballet company less than two months to stage the first production by December 14, 1941 - Swan Lake, choreographed by Gorsky and Messerer. Pyotr Williams painted new scenery for the performance.

“During the evacuation, the Nazis bombed the train with decorations and costumes. The stage workers accompanying them and the head of the theater’s production department L. Isaev were killed,” - wrote Ivan Kozlovsky.“New sets were painted, but it was impossible to renew the costumes in wartime conditions and in a very short time. Then the conductor of the theater S. Samosud suggested the only real way out: they needed to stage such performances where the artists could use their usual concert costumes.”

On the first evening, Olga Lepeshinskaya danced in Swan Lake. Kuibyshev spectators had a chance to see Sulamith Messerer, Sofya Golovkina, Irina Tikhomirnova in this role. In May 1942, Maria Semyonova came on tour with the part of Odette-Odile. In the autumn, part of the troupe, including Lepeshinskaya, returned back to Moscow, where a branch of the Bolshoi Theater opened (in the building of today's Operetta Theater). In September, the ballerina gave a concert on the Kuibyshev stage. Messerer recalled that the absence of other well-known prima ballerinas made Irina Tikhomirnova the leading dancer in Kuibyshev: “She danced in all the performances, danced selflessly and enthusiastically.”

In February 1942, the Bolshoi Theater resumed Don Quixote; in July, the Fountain of Bakhchisarai; and on the eve of 1943, the ballet Scarlet Sails, a life-affirming romantic story, premiered in Kuibyshev. The music was written by Vladimir Yurovsky, the founder of the dynasty of conductors, choreographers and directors were Nikolai Popko, Lev Pospekhin and Alexander Radunsky, conductor-director was Yuri Fayer. Irina Tikhomirnova and Vladimir Preobrazhensky danced at the premiere. Asaf Messerer said that the score, written before the war, disappeared, only the clavier remained, Yurovsky brought it to Kuibyshev and suggested staging the play: “At that difficult time, people felt a special need for a light, romantic ballet. And Yurovsky's music, with its broad symphonic narration, with its vivid leitmotifs and characteristics, was conveying the message of life affirmation and humanity.”

In February 1943, Messerer resumed The Vain Precaution, in which he danced with Tikhomirnova. In addition to performances, the Bolshoi gave many concerts, numbers for which were staged, among others, by the beginner choreographer Leonid Yakobson. Artist and choreographer Pyotr Gusev recalled an interesting episode from the career of the future classic of the 20th century: the conductor Samuil Samosud criticized his waltz to the music of Ravel, explaining to Yakobson that this music required a different choreography.

The Bolshoi also gave patronage concerts, they went to collective farms and factories. It is known that the total amount of contributions to the defense fund from concerts and performances of the theater in Kuibyshev amounted to over 1.5 million rubles.

The troupe left Kuibyshev in August 1943. At the end, they played Eugene Onegin and Don Quixote.