Residents of St.Petersburg have long been theatre regulars, confirmed in their habit of going to a theatre on a regular basis. In the 1890s the craze for the theatre soared up to an extent when all sections of society got to enjoy it, particularly with the arrival of popular, easy-to-get-to theatres. Audiences infected with liberal ideas enjoyed plays by Maxim Gorky, Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov and turned the theatre into a political club.
A theatrical critic wrote in 1899 that for Russian people plays and theatres meant the same as parliamentary events and political speeches for West Europeans. And in those years, as it had always been before, the theatre lured people into a different, make-believe world. At the turn of the century passion for the theatre, the masked show in which people sought solace and took refuge from the realities of life became pervasive.
The urge for a good lifelike play produced an impressive variety of acting companies – cabarets and small theatres, where actors took a rest from big stage and just had fun.
St.Petersburg boasted a bigger number of theatres than Moscow and the gem theatres of the Russian capital were the Imperial Theatres – the Mariinsky, Alexandrinsky and Mikhailovsky.
Mariinsky Theatre specialized in opera and ballet, the Alexandrinsky – in drama, and the Mikhailovsky was the domain of the French drama company. The Imperial Theatres broke up for Lent and summer recess.
The Mariinsky was founded in the middle of the 19th century and got its name from Emperor Alexander II’s wife, Empress Maria Alexandrovna. The theatre gave the world a host of glamorous singers and dancers, among them Fyodor Chaliapin, Anna Pavlova and Galina Ulanova, and its productions entered the list of world art masterpieces. The theatre enjoyed tremendous popularity. The night before a premiere the people formed a long queue in front of the box-office. On such nights the square before the theatre became so overrun with crowds of fans that the authorities had to think of something to stop it for fears of disturbances. They say that one morning a policeman approached the queuing hopefuls 30 minutes before the performance was due to start and began to hand out numbered tags in random order. The tag got you a ticket for the performance. This action was repeated several times until it became clear that queuing didn’t make sense any longer and the night gatherings came to a stop.
In the late 19th century Fyodor Chaliapin rose to stardom on the Mariinsky stage. The year 1895 saw his first appearance as Mephistopheles in “Faust” which was a sweeping success. Chaliapin’s popularity went beyond proportion to an extent that the productions he appeared in all bore a sold-out note and the newspapers said that it would be easier to pass a new Constitution than get tickets to the Mariinsky. On November 12th, 1903, as Chaliapin was giving a concert, the city was hit be flooding but the house was as packed as ever. Chaliapin demonstrated his power again, the newspaper wrote, and the moment he came out the house broke into thunderous applause lasting a good several minutes.
The ballet was equally admired in St.Petersburg. Either of the two had a worshipping audience.
There were also symphony music lovers, keen on attending symphony music concerts at the Noble Assembly Hall. In those days St.Petersburg was home to such celebrities as Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov and Lyadov, who had a lasing impact on those in classical music.
At the dawn of the 20th century there sprang up the now obscured genre of recitative, a recitation of verse to specially-composed music. In a word, the theatrical life of St.Petersburg at the turn of the 20th century sparkled with original genres and events.
Source:The Voice of Russia