The Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre was founded in 1941 when two companies directed by the legendary reformers of twentieth-century theatre — Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko — merged. The new theatre followed the artistic principles of its founders, who applied the system of the Moscow Art Theatre to opera and ballet. Both Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko rejected the current conception of opera as «costume concert». They wanted to bring it closer to drama and comedy, revealing the main idea of the plot through psychologically motivated action.
The history of the building at the address Bolshaya Dmitrovka, 17, which is well-known to more than one generation as the building of The Stanislavsky Music Theatre, is in fact about 300 years old and is associated with names of many outstanding people who contributed to the history of Russia, Moscow and Russian culture.
Residence of the Moscow Governors
The modern theatre complex sits on the base of the main house of the city estate of Counts Saltykovs, who were Governor-Generals of Moscow throughout the XVIII century.
The Saltykovs were one of the oldest and most noble boyar families. Their ancestors from Novgorod were famous by their feats of arms even as early as in the times of Alexander Nevsky. Since XIV the Saltykovs were Moscow boyars under Ivan Kalita, Ivan the Terrible and finally the Romanovs. The first of the Saltykovs family to become the Governor-General of Moscow in 1713 was Alexey Petrovich Saltykov, who was one of the members of the Tsarevich Alexei’s trial. In the XVII century the Saltykovs have intermarried with the royal family: the daughter of boyar Fyodor – Praskovia Fyodorovna – became the wife of Tsar Ivan Alexeyevich, who shared the throne with the future Emperor Peter the Great. Their daughter Anna was destined to become the Empress Anna Ivanovna (Anna of Russia 1730-1741). Due to her ascendancy to the throne the Saltykovs were raised to the status of Counts. The Empress’s uncle Vasiliy was granted the title of Count, the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, the First-Called. He was promoted to Acting Privy Counsellor and at the same time was appointed the Governor-General of Moscow (1730). But a distant relative of the Empress, Semyon Saltykov, was destined to play a much more influential part.
The Saltykovs owned the estate in Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street since XVII. It was further shaped through merging of several lots in the first part of the XVIII century, when General-in-Chief Semyon Saltykov, the Commander in Chief of Moscow from 1732 till 1741, came to possession. His son Vladimir was the Vice-Governor of Moscow for ten years (1741-1751). During his service as one of the capital’s governors the construction of the Senate in Lefortovo started and the Academy of Architecture was opened, which produced Great Russian architects – Vasily Bazhenov and Mikhail Kazakov. It was then under his reign that the future architectural image of the city was shaped.
Pyotr, the eldest son of Semyon Saltykov, the famous General field marshal of the times of Catherine the Great, was the Moscow’s Commander in Chief for 8 years (1763-1771). Under his reign post offices were opened, Kremlin Gates repaired and some other important works of architecture reconstructed. Pyotr Saltykov’s duties also included providing the city with food and wine.
The Family residence which he inherited after his father in 1742 occupied the whole block from Tverskaya Street to Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street and from Glinishchevsky Lane to Kozitsky. Two churches standing at the corners of two lanes and the Bolshaya Dmitrovka flanked the estate. On one side it adjoined the Church of St. Alexius Metropolitan of Moscow, erected in 1601 by Deacon Ivan Alferov. On the other side, at the corner of Kozitsky Lane and B. Dmitrovka Street, was a church of St. Sergius of Radonezh. The facades of the estate buildings faced the Tverskaya and B. Dmitrovka Street. The thoroughfare through the estate led from one street to another – and the inner part of the grounds was occupied with stables, barns, kitchens with kitchen gardens, greenhouses and dwelling houses.
The final estate layout was established under Pyotr Saltykov’s heir – Ivan Saltykov, when a neighboring court and a vast umbrageous garden were adjoined to the estate. The mansion itself was rebuilt in Classical style. In 1804 it was renewed: a second floor was added and the wings were connected to the outhouses. The building wasn’t damaged in the fire of 1812. The main staircase leading to the second floor and the staterooms on the second floor which later became the theatre foyer still carry the classical features.
Ivan Saltykov was the Military Governor of Moscow under Paul I and Alexander I from 1797 to 1804. He joined the army at the age of 15, took part in the Seven-Year War and Russo-Turkish War. In 1790 he became the Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish Guard of the Russian Empire and won a number of victories over the Swedes. The Governor-General of Vladimir, Kostroma and Kiev, he took his office in Moscow being widely experienced in government work.
A large-scale redevelopment of the city was carried out under the reign of Ivan Saltykov, which led to establishment of new social institutes. As an experienced military leader, Saltykov was especially concerned for the military and their families: the Military hospital in Lefortovo was built; the Widows’ House was opened, where widows of soldiers and officers of the Russian Army as well as other state employees could find shelter. The St.Catherine’s School for Noble Maidens was established. It occupied the building which used to be owned by the Saltykovs.
But most importantly despite the abundance of reforms during the two controversial reigns Ivan Saltykov managed to create the structures of city government and compile the city budget. In 1804 he resigned of his own will, leaving a good memory. That is how Ivan Saltykov is characterized in the book “Biographies of the Russian Generalissimos and the General Field Marshalls” published in 1840: “Having never made anyone miserable in his whole life, Count Ivan Saltykov was a stranger to shameful pride and despised nobody but arrogant timeservers; he was a cordial host and led a lush life in Moscow: lunches and dinners for 60 persons were served in his house every single day; each Sunday a crowd of 100 guests would come to his ball…He tried to eradicate extortion in government offices, established order and decency, was universally loved and respected and enjoyed bringing good to people. His spare time he spent out in the fields with his huntsmen that he had about a hundred; his son inherited sixteen thousand peasants as well as twelve hundred house serfs and a debt of two million eight thousand”.
Ivan Slatykov’s vast estate was inherited by his daughters – Anna Orlova and Praskovia Myatleva. The estate in Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street was first owned by Anna then by Praskovia and finally by her grandson Pyotr. But the Myatlevs preferred living in Saint-Petersburg. In 1839 the mansion with its court and garden was leased to the Merchants Assembly for housing the club. It opened a new era in the history of the building in Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street.
Club of Merchants
In the 40s of the XIX century the estate became the cultural and business centre of the Merchants Assembly, a place of leisure and socializing. At the core of the Merchants Assembly were the famous Moscow manufacturing dynasties of the Alexeyevs, the Bakhrushins, the Mamontovs and the Morozovs. These families were destined to play an exceptional role in the history of Russian culture and especially in the history of Russian theatre. Mamontov went into history as the founder of the famous Mamontov’s Private Russian Opera, where Feodor Chaliapin’s and Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel’s talents were first revealed and bloomed. The scenery for the productions was designed by Vasiliy Polenov, Victor Vasnetsov, Valentin Serov, Konstantin Korovin and Mikhail Vrubel. From the very foundation of the Moscow Art Theatre Savva Morozov would provide the theatre with financial support. Due to his efforts the theatre building in Kamergersky Lane, exquisitely redesigned and reconstructed by the famous architect Fyodor Schechtel, was placed at the disposal of the Moscow Art Theatre .The Alexeyevs family gave the world a great director, actor and reformer of theatre, who is known all over the world by his adopted stage name “Konstantin Stanislavsky”.
On meeting days the Merchants Assembly elected the directors, doyens and honorary members and compiled the estimate for the maintenance of the club, the charity projects and unexpected expenses. Members of the Assembly were entitled to free admission to the club at any time, to a game of billiards, cards or chess, could borrow books, and participate in family parties, balls, masquerades, each inviting two ladies. The club’s most honored guests were representatives of the city authorities: Governor-General, Governor, Marshal of Nobility, Mayor and Chief of Police.
The renowned choirs, both Russian and gypsy, performed in the restaurant of the club, among them the famous gypsy choir of Ilya Sokolov. It was the time when “no music was valued in Russia more than gypsy music, when to love the gypsies and prefer them to Italians didn’t seem strange” according to Leo Tolstoy. A guitarist virtuoso, singer, dancer and song composer Ilya Sokolov was a favourite of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. “Not a man, but flame and lighting”, – the newspapers said about him. “The sound of Sokolov’ guitar still rings in ears”, – was sang decades after. The Sokolov’s choir performed Russian songs and romances, but in its own way, giving the music a wild sultry sound. Vivacity of gypsy dance came to frenzy. At the Club’s balls and masquerades performed the best orchestras conducted by Stepan Ryabov, Sachs and Kreinbring.
World-class celebrities visited the Bolshaya Dmitrovka. In 1843 Franz Liszt gave two concerts at the Merchants Club. One of the most important events of the Moscow social life was the meeting of the great composer with writers, musicians and philosophers which took place in the Club on May 6, 1843. A famous critic Stepan Shevyrev, who knew Liszt very well through his concerts in Europe and Saint-Petersburg, made a speech of welcome at the banquet. The musician was treated to Russian cuisine. The two-meter sturgeon carried into the dining room by several men moved Liszt to applause. A real artist of a cook named Vlas, who once served at the house of Pushkin’s uncle, had to come out to the applause. The Sokolov’s choir performance which enraptured Liszt was an inspiration for his studies of gypsy music. He once performed an improvisation on the themes of gypsy songs at a concert in Moscow, and later published an article on the nature of gypsy art in “Le Figaro”.
In 1859 Leo Tolstoy visited the Merchants Club to take part in the discussion on the land question and serfdom.
The Merchants Club in the Bolshaya Dmitrovka existed for 70 years from 1839 till 1909. The building was left untouched for the first 15 years. In 1855 the staterooms were expanded. The space was transformed with newly built archways (the motif developed in our days by the architects who designed the capital reconstruction of the building). In 1909 the Club moved to a new building in the Malaya Dmitrovka (occupied by the Lenkom Theatre today) which was specially planned for its uses by the architect Illarion Ivanov-Sсhitz. At the end of the XIX century the Myatlev’s estate was bought by the Cloth-leather Factory Partnership of Alexey Bakhrushin and sons. The founder of the Partnership and the merchant dynasty Alexey Bakhrushin had died by that time. His sons, the honorable citizens of Moscow, Pyotr, Vasily and Alexander had become the owners of the mansion and garden in Bolshaya Dmitrovka. Alexander’s son Alexey was later to found the first Theatre Museum in the world (now A.A.Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum).
The beginning of the Theatre Age in the Bolshaya Dmitrovka, 17
Part of the estate in the Bakhrushins’ estate in Bolshaya Dmitrovka was built up with apartment houses and the other was let on lease. Even after the Merchants Club moved to Malaya Dmitrovka the former mansion was still used for entertainment purposes. In 1909 a Theatre Casino with a terrace and garden was opened there. Then part of the estate was rented by Stephen Adel for a recreational establishment. In 1912 he completed the construction of a summer Variety Theatre “Chanticleer”, opened the bandstand and a cinema house, and set up pavilions with attractions in the garden.
But all this was short-lived. In 1913 the plot moved on to the next tenant – a successful entrepreneur, the owner of the Aquarium Garden Friedrich Thomas. He built a two-storey stone Variety Theatre “Maxim’s” adjoining the mansion from the garden. The entrance to the theatre was from Kozitskiy Lane. The theatre featured light-minded shows, one-act plays, operettas, comic musical interludes and short ballets. The trouble years that followed the events of 1905 aroused an incredible yearning for shows and entertainments.
Friedrich Thomas with his keen sense of the demands of the audience invited performers from all over the world. In October 1913 he presented to the Moscow public a thirty-year-old Indian musician and philosopher, “a carrier of the Sufi message”, Inayat Khan, a disciple of Sheikh Muhammad Abu Hashim Madani (who was recognized as a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad). Fulfilling the mission given to him by the sheikh who believed that his disciple was meant to “join the East and the West in harmony through his music” Inayat Khan toured the world with concerts and lectures and gained recognition in America and France. He arrived to Moscow from Paris with his three musician brothers and spent seven months there.
He befriended the composer Alexander Skryabin and a well-known opera singer Elizaveta Lavrovskaya, as well as the professors of the Moscow Conservatoire. The composer Vladimir Pol and Earl Sergey Tolstoy helped him to publish a book of sheet music with sixteen Hindustan melodies adapted for the piano.
“Maxim’s” was designed by the architect Karl Hippius, one of the bright representatives of the Moscow Art Nouveau style who had a peculiar manner of his own. He worked under the auspices of 5th department of the Moscow City Council, but was almost universally regarded as “the court architect” of the Bakhrushin’s and Perlov’s merchant families. Two of his masterpieces – the Alexey Bakhrushin’s mansion which houses the Theatre Museum and the Perlov’s Tea House in Myasnitskaya Street functioning now as a Tea and Coffee Boutique are still among the true ornaments of the city of Moscow.
The layouts of both floors of “Maxim’s” have been preserved. Having entered the variety theatre the visitors found themselves in a large oblong space with a small stage and a row of boxes running along the three walls. We have no specific information about the décor, the evidence is scarce. We only know that there were metal columns and many lamps of various colours in the house, the contemporaries also mention the glass floor with inbuilt lights.
The present auditorium and stage of the Stanislavsky Music Theatre are located at the very place of “Maxim’s”. The variety theatre was never pulled down. It was rebuilt and redesigned several times and the gradual transformation changed it beyond recognition.
Besides “Maxim’s”, the building in Bolshaya Dmitrovka housed another theatre too: there worked the Boris Nevolin’s Intimate Theatre of Miniatures which moved to Moscow from Saint-Petersburg in 1910. Its repertoire consisted of vaudevilles, ballet pantomimes, dances, interludes and comic sketches.
The Dmitrovsky Theatre
After the October Revolution the building of the former Merchants Club and the garden surrounding it became the government property. The Dmitrovsky Theatre was opened there and two auditoriums equipped: the “Maxim’s” was used for music performances, and one of the staterooms was turned into a concert hall.
The repertoire of the Dmitrovsky Theatre consisted mostly of operettas. Future stars of the Moscow Operetta Theatre, Grigory Yaron and Tatiana Bach, started their career there. In 1924 the mansion also housed an experimental studio theatre “Semperante” specializing on detectives and adventure plays with a hint of mystery and using the elements of cinematography on stage. Its actors introduced improvisation into their performances. For summer the space of the Dmitrovsky Theatre was leased to the Comedy Theatre (the former Korsh Private Theatre), famous for its powerful company (Maria Blumenthal-Tamarina, Anatoly Ktorov, Vasily Toporkov, Vera Popova, Boris Borisov, Elena Shatrova, Nikolay Radin, Tatiana Peltser etc.)
In 1926 by the Government order the Dmitrovsky Theatre was turned over to two opera studios founded by two pivotal reformers of theatre art, Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko – the Stanislavsky Opera Studio (originally started as the Bolshoi Theatre Studio but soon set to work independently) and the Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Studio (started as the Moscow Art Theatre Music Studio and for several years run at the Theatre’s premises, but severed from its alma mater after a successful tour in Europe and USA). Both companies acquired the status of theatres this same year. They had to share one stage, using it by turns, and had the joint business management.
In 1929 the project of a new building for Nemirovich-Danchenko’s company was designed, which was to be constructed on the former Merchants Club premises, in the place of one of the outhouses with the entrance from Kozitsky Lane. But this project was never carried out. In 1935 the question of the theatre expansion was raised again. Besides building a new house for the Nemirovich-Danchenko’s company it was decided to reconstruct the Dmitrovsky Theatre for that of Stanislavsky. A contest of projects was held. In 1936 the construction of a new building for the Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre has begun on Tverskoy Boulevard, but at a slow pace. By summer 1941 only the walls were built. As the war broke out the construction site was abandoned until the beginning of 1970ies when a new theatre building for the Moscow Art Theatre was erected on the foundation of the unfinished Nemirovich-Danchenko’s Opera House; today it is the Maxim Gorky Art Theatre.
In 1938 the capital reconstruction of the Dmitrovsky Theatre was carried out by the architect Fedorov. The auditorium was rebuilt and a contemporary opera stage equipped. The pillared hall of the mansion was transformed into a theatre foyer. The concert hall was converted into a ballet studio. Even in the beginning of the 30s Nemirovich-Danchenko had started to collaborate with a well-reputed Moscow company – the Moscow Art Ballet directed by Viktorina Krieger, which by the 1940s joined the theatre on a regular basis.
In 1941, after the death of K.S. Stanislavsky, the Stanislavsky Opera Theatre merged with the Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre by initiative of Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. He also came up with the name that the Theatre carries today. The company settled in the reconstructed building. The Theatre was the only one to stay in Moscow throughout the war, it wasn’t evacuated. The company gave regular performances even in October and December 1941, when the Nazi troops approached the Russian capital and from 1942 to 1945 it presented two or three new productions each season.
Many Moscow theatre goers remember the Theatre as it was after the reconstruction of 1938 and a series of cosmetic repairs: a large multi-storey building, its facade decorated with Italian arches, a cosy auditorium of comfortable proportions and the amazing blue foyer with white columns. It was there that the famous opera directors Leonid Baratov and Lev Mikhailov created their productions, the great Vladimir Bourmeister and his gifted follower Alexey Chichinadze staged their ballets, the wonderful stage designers such as Boris Volkov and Alexander Lushin devised their unforgettable sets and the outstanding conductors Samuel Samosud, Dmitry Kitaenko and Vladimir Kozhukhar lead the orchestra. More than one generation of remarkable singers and dancers has starred there. After Dmitry Bryantsev took the lead of the Ballet Company in 1985 and Alexander Titel became the Artistic Director of the Opera Company in 1991, the theatre stepped into a new era, staying true to the great traditions of the founding fathers. It was necessary to adjust the theatre space and equipment to the contemporary artistic ideas and concepts and the need for a new reconstruction was recognized.