MIL OSI Translation. Region: Russian Federation –
Consider a machine to simulate the sound of the surf, an old harp and an autograph of the empress.
The Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve has opened a new exhibition dedicated to the Russian musical theater of the 18th century. The exhibits were brought from 27 museums, including the Hermitage, the State Historical Museum, the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Kuskovo Estate Museum, the A.S. Pushkin and others. The exposition, which occupied the entire Grand Palace, consists of seven sections, such as Opera as Pleasure, Opera as Politics, Opera as an Illusion, Opera as Passion, Opera as Home, Opera as Education and “Opera is like death”. At the end, the audience will see a VR performance based on Russian and Italian operas popular in the Catherine’s era. Director Mikhail Patlasov and Ilya Kukharenko – playwright, music critic and one of the curators of the exhibition – brought their stories to the present day.
The preparation of “Theatrocracy” took about two years; a whole team of curators worked on the exhibition.
and Yekaterina Orekhova, who are part of this team, told mos.ru about the court theater, its importance and influence on various areas of the life of the nobility, as well as about Catherine II as a theatrical figure.
Writer and patroness
Almost at the entrance, spectators are greeted by a harp – one of the symbols of musical theater and a valuable exhibit that arrived in Tsaritsyno from the State Museum of Theater and Musical Art in St. Petersburg. At the time of Catherine II, instruments such as this harp were especially appreciated – representatives of the aristocracy and, in particular, the wife of the heir to the throne, loved to play them.
A big fan of opera, Catherine II did everything to popularize musical theater in Russia. In 1783, she founded the Bolshoi (Stone) Theater in the then capital, which quickly became one of the favorite places of noble and wealthy citizens. And not only that: Catherine wanted ordinary people to become fans of the opera, so several times a year, on holidays, performances were given here for free.
At the exhibition you can see the drawings of the architect Giacomo Quarenghi, representing the theater in a section. According to surviving testimonies, the empress loved to watch performances from the side box. She occupied the center only when she received high-ranking guests. The Empress was also very fond of the opera house in the Picture House in Oranienbaum. How it looked shortly before Catherine’s accession is shown by an engraving based on a drawing by Mikhail Makhaev (1761).
The Empress did not spare money for the theater – she invited the most famous European composers, theater architects, decorators, and artists to Russia; musicians from Russia traveled to Europe to improve their skills. Serf troupes of Naryshkin, Sheremetev, Yaguzhinsky, Potemkin appeared. By the way, in the middle of the 19th century, Grigory Potemkin’s wardrobe was transferred to the wardrobe department of the imperial theaters. One of the prince’s costumes (at least considered as such) is presented at the exhibition in Tsaritsyn. This silk men’s suit of the 1780s – 1790s, consisting of a caftan and a camisole, was brought to Moscow from the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve.
Catherine not only loved art, but she herself was engaged in writing – from her pen came out six librettos, 14 comedy plays, seven parables, 16 dramatic and seven prose works. The libretto of the comic opera Fevey, written by the Empress’s hand, is one of the most valuable exhibits in Theatrocracy.
Theater and politics
Theater was not only a pleasure for Catherine. She considered it one of the most powerful propaganda tools and therefore carefully controlled it. According to the apt expression of the director and theorist of the theater Nikolai Evreinov, the form of government in Russia under her “was close to theatrocracy.”
In Europe, in the first half of the 18th century, the plot of operas often centered on important events that took place in reality. Catherine II gladly adopted this fashion. In 1795, Sheremetev’s estate theater in Ostankino was opened with the opera “The Taking of Izmail” by Osip Kozlovsky, which tells about the storming of a Turkish fortress in 1790 during the Russian-Turkish war. At the exhibition you can see several sketches of the scenery for this production.
Particularly popular was the historical opera Oleg’s Initial Administration (1790), which takes place in Ancient Rus. The play, in which the prophetic Oleg nails his shield to the gates of Constantinople (Constantinople), became the musical manifesto of the famous “Greek Project” of Catherine. The exhibition includes a sketch depicting the scenery of a military camp with tents, made by an unknown artist after a drawing by Pietro di Gottardo Gonzaga. In the ceremonial tent, Oleg meets with the ambassadors of the Byzantine ruler Leo the Wise, who report their readiness to obey and pay tribute.
Elements and passions on stage
Of course, the technical capabilities of the scene of Catherine’s times were far from modern, but some special effects were still used. For example, a machine was widely used to simulate the noise of the sea surf – one of these can be seen at the exhibition. The exhibit was provided by the Moscow Art Theater named after A.P. Chekhov. The secret of making such a device is quite simple: peas, sand, rice or gravel were poured between two layers of tough tarred cloth stretched over a wooden drum. The sound required for the performance was achieved by rotating the drum: depending on the rhythm and speed of rotation, one could get both a calm splash of waves and a stormy storm.
The noise of the rain was imitated by other drum machines – one of them, also from the Moscow Art Theater collection, is presented at the exhibition. They made a sound while spinning – leather whips beat each other in them.
The performances were often set in gardens with fountains, palace halls and ancient squares. The sketches used by the decorators are presented in Tsaritsyno. For example, the project “Palace of the Armida” by Francesco Gradizzi from the State Hermitage. It was the decoration of the “breakup” assembly: the palace could be easily destroyed right on the stage, which especially impressed the audience. Probably, the project was intended for Gasparo Angiolino’s ballet Armida and Renold, which premiered at the St. Petersburg Court Theater in 1769. The sorceress Armida brings the knight Renold to her palace on the island. The palace was falling apart in the finale – Armida in anger destroys her house when friends come for her lover.
Catherine II was very fond of dynamic plots and very empathized with the heroes. This was strikingly different from the philosophy promoted by the empress, who in real life called not to let passions act. In the fall of 1777, the Empress watched the comedy “The Accidental Doctor” by Louis de Boissy at the Hermitage Theater and was so agitated that she could not contain her feelings. The show was interrupted by her departure. She was grieved by the seemingly innocent remark of one of the heroes.
“It says about women in love, and there is such a place:“ That a woman at thirty can be in love, let her! But at sixty! This is intolerable! ” At the same moment, the Empress rose with the words: “This thing is stupid, boring,” – recalled the French diplomat Baron de Corberon.
But Catherine loved the opera “Dido Left Behind” by the composer Baldassare Galuppi. The play about the tragic love of the hero of the Trojan War, Aeneas and the queen of Carthage, Dido, was first shown in the Winter Palace in 1766. The exhibition includes a decoration project that allows you to imagine what the temple of Neptune looked like, in which the heroes declared their love to each other. The engraving was created by Johann Andreas Pfeffel from a drawing by Giuseppe Galli Bibiena, one of the main decorators of the time. The libretto of the opera was also presented, giving the audience an idea of what the artists sang about in Italian (the main roles were performed by the then world stars – Teresa Colonna and Domenico Luini). At the exhibition, you can see an inventory of costumes for the opera, provided by the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts.
Another interesting exhibit is a sham helmet made for the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1818. The helmet is adorned with a sphinx figure, to which is attached a curved comb with holes for tying the mane. This helmet was ordered by the historian and artist Alexei Olenin for students of the class of historical painting at the Academy of Arts. However, there is every reason to think that artists could have used exactly the same attributes according to Olenin’s sketches.
The saddest production
The funeral of monarchs was also a kind of theatrical process: music was written for them, special decorations were created. The engraving depicting the scene of the funeral of Catherine II in 1796 was made by Pietro di Gottardo Gonzago. He also depicted the interior of the temple with sarcophagi in niches and sculptures on the colonnade – a sketch provided by the A.V. Shchusev, can be seen at the exhibition.
The sad plot is continued by two more engravings: they concern the transfer of the coffins of Peter III and Catherine II to the Peter and Paul Cathedral and their burial. One work belongs to an unknown master, the other – to the artist Mikhail Shotoshnikov.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.