Russian Theater

Russian theater. According to bridgat, the Russian theater emerged in an institutionalized form around the middle of the 18th century under the suggestion of courtly theater, which in the course of the 17th century and in the first decades of the 18th century absorbed Western European cultural influences. For the formation of a national stage, the folk theater, which was fed by local folkloric customs and festivals, as well as the church rites only played a marginal role.


From the Christianization of the Kiev empire (988 prince baptism and subsequent forced conversion of the population) by Byzantium to the connection of Russia to Western culture in the 17th century, a wide range of theatrical liturgical rituals, profane customs and cultic and customary Igrishscha (festive folk pleasures) developed during the rough nights (“svyatki”) between Christmas and the Holy Three Kings, the Shrovetide (“masleniza”) or Pentecost (“troiza”). The folkloric games and festivals created the breeding ground for the art of the wandering minstrels, the skomo rays. Her appearances, which in addition to short satirical scenes also included singing, dances, bear performances and puppet shows, shaped village, urban and court festive culture from the 11th century (first written evidence). Alexei Michailowitsch under pressure from the church) their techniques were partially revived in the Balagan, which developed as a form of folk theater around the middle of the 18th century: at one of the city’s folk festivals (»guljanija«) and at annual fairs (»jarmarki«) In a wooden booth set up circus numbers, puppet performances (“teatr Petruschki”), orally traditional performance materials, melodramas and, from the 19th century onwards, harlequinads were presented. The Balagan was not a starting point for the development of the professional stage, but it was taken up again by the Russian avant-garde of the early 20th century in search of new forms of theater.

The splendid Orthodox rites – in contrast to the Christian liturgy of Western Europe as the nucleus of the spiritual play there  - did not provide any impetus for the development of Russian theater. The secularization of liturgical acts was prevented by the Church Fathers through prohibitions in 1648 and 1657. The Orthodox liturgy, however, left its mark on national theater history as one of the sources of inspiration for early plays in the school theater, which emerged in the late 17th century. Thus the »Tragedija o Nabuchodonosore« (»Tragedy of Nebuchadnezzar«, completed in 1674) by Simeon Polotski (* 1629, † 1680) was based on the fiery furnace game (“peschtschnoje deistwo”; ritual widespread in the 14th century according to the Old Testament story of the rescue of three young men from a fiery furnace).

17th century

The gradual opening of Russia to Western Europe in the 17th century had a decisive influence on the development of courtly theater forms. The first tsar of the Romanov dynasty, Michael, had a stationary theater building, the “Poteschnaja Palata”, built for performances by Skomorochen and foreign minstrels in 1613, when he took office. The then (1645–76) reigning tsar Alexei Mikhailovich In 1672 built the first Russian court theater, the “Komedijnaja Choromina”. In this theater, which belongs to the Preobrazhenskoye summer residence near Moscow, a stage was set up for the first time in Russia. German theater culture played a mediating role in this: The evangelical pastor Johann Gottfried Gregori (* 1631, † 1675), who lived in Moscow’s Nemezkaja Sloboda (“German settlement”) , was commissioned to write the drama for the opening performance. He referred to a drama published in Germany from the repertoire of English comedians and wrote the “Artaxerxes game or Esther”, which he performed with young people of German origin. Gregori also took part in the later productionstrained young Russians take part. After the Tsar’s death in 1676, the theater was dismantled and the further development of the theater industry temporarily stagnated.

18th century

Under Tsar Peter I, the Great (1682–1725), Russian theater culture entered a new phase, largely shaped by Western impulses. School theaters based on the model of the Polish Jesuit theater were already taking place at the end of the 1680sat spiritual academies and secular schools, such as B. at the Slavic-Greco-Latin Academy and the Surgical Academy in Moscow. At the turn of the century, the tendency of secularization characteristic of the art of the Petrine period also came to bear in school theater. The religious themes moved into the background in favor of current political motifs, the productions were decorated with ever more pompous features. As early as the beginning of the 18th century, school theaters gave predominantly panegyric events in honor of the tsar, such as Festival in the style of Ludi Caesarei (around 1700) at the Moscow Slavic-Greco-Latin Academy. In the 1750s, the Russian school theater took up suggestions from the French classical theater and was eventually completely superseded by it. Peter the Great built the first public theater on Red Square in Moscow, the Komedialnaja Chramina, which was accessible to all sections of the population, and engaged the troupe of German principal Johann Christian Kunst († 1703) from Danzig. However, since neither art with productions of German drama of the 17th century nor his successor Otto Fürst with staged productions of plays by Calderón and Molière had succeeded in propagating Petrine reforms – in the broadest sense values ​​of Western culture – among the people, the theater was closed again in 1706.

The court ceremonies imported from Germany, France and Poland and various courtly »potechi« (jokes), which included pompous masquerades in the open air for several days, became an effective means of popularizing the ideas of Peter the Great and representing absolutist power on the occasion of important indoor and outdoor activities foreign policy events included, such as B. the Moscow masquerade in 1722 after the peace treaty with Sweden (1721). The anti-religious policy of Peter the Great came among other things. in a number of parodies of church rites, such as B. the donkey ride procession from the Easter cycle or the inauguration of the Pope.

The development of Russian theater received new impulses during the reign (1730–40) of Empress Anna Ivanovna v. a. through four events: in 1735 the Italian composer Francesco Araja (* 1709, † 1770) and his opera troupe were appointed to the Petersburg court and the Italian choreographer Antonio Rinaldi (* 1709, † 1794), which laid the foundation for Russian music and dance theater. A Commedia dell’Arte ensemble, committed at the time, introduced the tradition of Italian impromptu comedy in Russia. In addition, the guest performance (1739–40) by Caroline Neuber’s German troupe made the court circles known with classic French drama.

The Frankomanie of the court society during the reign (1741–62) of Empress Elisabeth Petrovna also shaped the theater of this epoch. The commitment of a French troupe under the direction of Sérigny in 1742 to Petersburg with stagings of classicist tragedies and comedies by Molière and his successors resulted in the emergence of the classicist Russian repertoire: the tragedy “Chorev” by Alexander Sumarokow (* 1718, † 1777) was written on 1749 The cadet theater of the noble infantry corps premiered in Petersburg. The guest performance (1747–52) by K. Ackermann and was decisive for the development of Russian drama Sophie Charlotte Schröder (* 1714, † 1792) in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Under the influence of their productions, Fyodor Volkov (* 1729, † 1763), a merchant’s son from Yaroslavl, put together an amateur theater troupe, the school dramas by Dimitri Rostowski (* 1651, † 1709) and tragedies by Sumarokow rehearsed. It formed the main ensemble of the first professional “Russian tragedy and comedy theater” founded by the Empress on August 30, 1756 in Petersburg, the repertoire of which was exclusively French and Russian classical works. The playing style of classicist French actors was decisive for the actors. The stage and costume design, exclusively in the hands of foreigners, consisted of an exact imitation of French models. Significant representatives of the St. Petersburg classical drama school was next to the advanced to the protagonists of the ensemble Volkov and Ivan Dmitrewski (* 1733, † 1821) and Yakov Schumski (* 1732, † 1812), as well as Tatjana Trojepolskaja (* 1744, † 1774) one of the first Russian actresses. In 1760, on the basis of the student theater at Moscow University, the first Moscow public theater – called the Russian Theater – was opened.

The further democratization of the theater industry took place during the reign (1763–96) of Empress Catherine II. While the Petersburg “Hermitage Theater” (built 1783–87) in the Winter Palace was only open to court circles, the state-subsidized Petersburg “Bolshoi Kamenny teatr” (large stone theater; opened 1783) and private theaters such as the German one were opened Petersburg Karl Knipper in 1779 opened “Wolny Rossiski teatr” (Free Russian Theater) and that of the Englishman Michael Maddox “Petrowski teatr” (Petrowski Theater), built and founded in Moscow in 1780, operated as a public theater. Their repertoire was shaped by productions of European and national civic tragedies, melodramas, comic operas and satirical comedies. The Moscow audience saw the Russian premieres of Lessing’s “Emilia Galotti” (1786) and P. Beaumarchais’ “The Great Day or the Marriage of Figaro” (1787) at the Petrowski Theater. The first national character comedies (character drama) “Brigadir” (printed 1768; world premiere 1780; German “Der Brigadier”) and “Nedorosl ‘” (printed 1779; world premiere 1782; German “Der Landjunker”), written by D. Fonwisin, came on Free Russian Theater in Petersburg premiered.

The heyday of serf theater was in the second half of the 18th century. Theater-loving aristocrats set up magnificent stages in their city palaces and on their country estates, on which serfs trained in dance, singing and acting performed. Serf theaters such as those of Count Sheremetew in Kuskovo and Ostankino and Prince Nikolai W. Jussupov (* 1750, † 1831) in Arkhangelskoje were able to compete with the courtly stage in terms of the splendor of the furnishings and the artistic skills of the performers.

19th century

Although several professional theaters were opened in the province as early as the end of the 18th century, theater life mainly took place in Petersburg and Moscow. The imperial “Maly Teatr” (small theater; completed in 1824 by O. Bowe) in Moscow and the imperial “Alexandrinski Teatr” (Alexandrisky Theater; completed by K. Rossi 1832) in Petersburg.

While the stage sets and costumes in the Russian theater remained committed to historical classicism until the end of the 19th century, the development of the art of acting was determined by new impulses based on drama. As a result of the increased censorship after the Decembrist uprising of 1825/26 (Decembrists), which particularly affected the Petersburg theaters, the romantic theater aesthetic against the classicist was first able to establish itself in Moscow, which was far away from the court. While the leading heroic actor of the Petersburg Alexandrinsky Theater, Vasily Karatygin (* 1802, † 1853), adhered to classicist rationalism in the design of the roles until the end of the 1830s, the protagonist of the Moscow Maly Teatr relied on Pawel Motschalow (* 1800, † 1848), already in his Schiller roles in the late 1820s, on his intuitive inspiration. The staging of the comedies »Gore ot uma« (written 1822–24, premiered in 1831; German »Verstand creates suffering«, also under the title »Woe dem Verstand«) by A. Gribojedow and “Revizor” (1836; German “Der Revisor”) by N. Gogol at the Maly Theater. The realistic game aesthetic began with the dramas by A. Ostrowski from the 1850s. The founder of the Russian realistic school became M. Shchepkin, who was an actor at the Maly Theater. Further representatives were Prow Sadowski (* 1818, † 1872), Glikeria Fedotowa (* 1846, † 1929) and Maria Jermolowa (* 1853, † 1928). The Petersburg Realistic School shaped, among other things. Alexander Martynow (* 1816, † 1860) and Konstantin Varlamow (* 1848, † 1915).

The guest performances of the Meininger Theater in 1885 and 1890 and the founding of naturalistic theaters in Paris and Berlin – A. Antoines Théâtre-Libre (1887) and O. Brahms Free Stage (1889) – paved the way for the reform of the Russian theater in the 1890s Theater. K. Stanislawski became her key figure: on October 14, 1898, the Moscow Art Theater (MCHT; from 1919 MCHAT) opened, which Stanislawski together with Vladimir Nemirowitsch-Danchenko and in which his reform ideas should be implemented. The desired realistic stage illusionism already came to fruition in the opening performance – “Car ‘Fëdor Ioannovič” (“Tsar Feodor Joannowitsch”) by A. Tolstoy  . Stanislavski found an important colleague in the set designer Wiktor Simow (* 1858, † 1935), who had designed the naturalistic equipment and contemporary costumes for the first productions. Great successes in the early period of the MCHT were productions of Chekhov plays (»Čajka«, 1898, German »Die Möwe«; »Djadja Vanja«, 1899, German »Uncle Wanja«) and Gorky’s »Na dne« (»Nachtasyl«, 1902), which led to the development of a new type of actor – the psychological actor (Wassili Katschalow [* 1875, † 1948], Iwan Moskwin [* 1874, † 1946 ], Olga Knipper-Chekhova).

Russian Theater

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