Museum permanent exhibitions
exhibition covers the history of the Russian theatre from its beginning up to the middle of the 20th century. The Museum's three halls have on display most precious materials: set and costume designs by A. Golovin, M. Dobuzhinsky, S. Sudeikin, B. Kustodiev, K. Malevich, set models, scenery, photographs, private belongings.
In the first hall the visitor has a chance to familiarize himself with the beginning of the theatre in Russia. Here there are lubki (popular prints) showing the first actors in Russia - travelling skomorokhs (minstrels and clowns). Trained bears and puppet shows were also extremely popular. Here there is also a set model for The Fiery Furnace - one of the most well known liturgical dramas in Old Russia. The scene depicts a Biblical story about the three young men who refused to worship the pagan god and, as a result, were thrown to the fiery furnace. However, the angel of God saved them from a martyr's death. His appearance during the drama was accompanied by sounds of thunder. The drama was usually performed on Christmas Eve and was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. it took quite a long time for the skomorokh theatre and liturgical dramas to develop into a professional one. Early court theatre in the 17th and early 18th centuries was an unsuccessful attempt to transfer European models to Russia. 1756 Elizaveta Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great, issued an edict establishing the State Russian Theatre in St.Petersburg. The company consisted mostly of amateur actors from Yaroslavl' headed by the legendary Fyodor Volkov whose portrait hangs near a copy of the edict. the first half of the 19th century theatre in Russia developed very rapidly. The legendary Inspector General by Gogol was first performed in the Alexandrinsky Theatre on April 19, 1836, but was rarely staged during the rest of the century. was Alexander Ostrovsky who established the Russian national repertoire. Generations of actors throughout Russia learnt their trade performing in his plays. At the exhibition you will find Ostrovsky's portrait, his table, the lamp and the blotting-pad he used are on display.
Maria Ermolova was an outstanding tragic actress who became famous in Ostrovsky's plays. Students adored her and presented to her on her jubilee the silver laurel wreath in the case. The number of leaves in the wreath equalled the number of roles she played over a period of 20 years and each leaf bears the name of one of the characters she played. was a Moscow star, whereas the idol of the Petersburg theatre fans at that time was Maria Savina. The attention of the museum's visitors is always attracted to the dress in which M.Savina played the part of Natalia Petrovna in I. Turgenev's A Month in the Country. The play had not been staged for thirty years, and there existed a strong opinion that it was unfit for the stage. In 1879 the twenty-five year old Savina chose it for her benefit performance, thus saving it from the oblivion. I.Turgenev enthusiastically applauded to the actress and paid a visit to her the morning after the performance. He gave her his inscribed portrait, and as a sign of gratitude presented her with a gold bracelet in the memory of the successful presentation of his play. All these can be seen at the exhibition.
Actors were the central figures in the Russian theatre up to the turn of the 20th century, when directors took the leading role. Vsevolod Meyerhold is certainly one of the greatest directors of the 1st half of the century. exhibition contains various materials on his work of different periods. Among them - a set model of Meyerhold's production of The Masquerade in Alexandrinsky Theatre in 1917. The great theatre director staged Lermontov's play in verse on the eve of the Revolution. This drama of love and jealousy, as experienced by the hero, was interpreted as a symbolic crisis of society as a whole. The values of the Classical epoch - power, faith, beauty - were depicted as the elusive ghosts of decaying harmony, as the traditional masks of the carnival of life and art. the design of this production, the director Meyerhold and artistic designer Golovin used the synthesis of artistic styles. In the sets, the costumes, the mis-en-scenes, the motives of the Russian Empire style, Italian folk comedy (comedia dell arte), and French pantomime were interlaced. (A single Empire-style portal was used for all the scenes. It reflected the auditorium of the Alexandrinsky Theatre and corresponded to the changing curtains used in different scenes.) Music by Glazunov accompanied the performance. Masquerade was five years in production. Golovin created about 4,000 sketches of sets, costumes, props, and furniture. All of the set decorations were created in the theatre workshops according to these sketches. It was the most grandiose, expensive, and tragic production of the Russian Imperial theatre.
Due to their work on this play, Golovin and Meyerhold became close friends. During the rehearsal period in 1916, the artist painted director's portrait which is also displayed at the exhibition. Meyerhold posed for the portrait in Golovin's studio in the Mariinsky Theatre. The artist juxtaposed the character and his reflection in the mirror, depicting two images of the subject. Meyerhold existed in two images in the theatre life of St. Petersburg as the director of the Imperial Theatres and as the Master of theatrical experiments; theatrical teacher and writer, hiding under the pseudonym of Doctor Dapertutto. interesting item connected with Meyerhold is a reduced size reconstruction of a set designed by Liubov Popova for The Magnanimous Cuckold by the Belgian playwright F.Crommelinck staged by Meyerhold in 1922. This innovative production of Crommelinck's symbolist play in Moscow was the manifesto of the new post-revolutionary avant-garde theatre.
Meyerhold associated the destruction of the old aesthetics with the social revolution of October 1917 and called his new approach "October Theatre". and biomechanics were the slogans of "October Theatre ". In rejecting decorative sets, Popova together with Meyerhold constructed what they called a "machine" for the dynamic and harmonious movement of actors in the empty space of the stage. Instead of individual costumes all the actors wore similar clothes resembling those of working men, and no theatrical make-up. The poetry of machinery was proclaimed by the constructivists as the principle of liberated labour and a new artistic language, which was transferred to the sphere of acting. The acting technique was based on a training system elaborated by Meyerhold and called "biomechanics", which allowed him to vary the stage dynamics of the action.
1). «A history of Russian theatre» by Robert Leach,Victor Borovsky