Forgotten Opera Singers

Forgotten Opera Singers

Aug 23, 2013

Leonid Sobinov (Tenor) (Yaroslavl, Russia 1872 – Riga, Latvia 1934)




He was born in Jaroslavl in 1872, a town about 170 miles north-east of Moscow. His father was a sales representative in flour. His son did very well academically. Interest in music was satisfied by playing the guitar and singing in a local choir. After leaving school he enrolled in Moscow on a course leading to a degree in law. He completed the course in 1894, but by this time he made considerable expererience in a student choir. This included some appearances as its soloist. Nevertheless, his singing did not prevent his academic abilities. He obtained a law degree. After university came military service, compulsory at that time in Russia, and then he began to practice law. He studied with a tenor (Professor Dodonov) but he felt that this teacher was not suceeding in helping over certain problems. He took additional lessons from Alexandra Santagano Gorchakova. Sobinov still the law as his career. His teacher had other ideas and she made him go for an audition at the Bolshoi Theatre. This was in 1897 and brought him a two year contract! He soon was admired for his breath control, mezza-voce and enunciation. He appeared in operas such as Ruslan and Ludmila, Faust, Manon, Prince Igor, Eugene Onegin, Halka, Rigoletto, Tannhäuser (Walter von der Vogelweide) and in Ivanov’s Zabava Putyatishna. Sobinov was very much impressed by Feodor Chaliapin who was two years younger than him. They sang together in an opera in 1899. In the same year he added Andrej (Mazeppa), Gérald (Lakmé) and Germont to his repertoire. After going through the score of Don José he declined taxing the role too dramatic for his voice. The reigning star at the Bolshoi was Nikolai Figner but Sobinov was his equal in every way. To enlarge his repertoire (he added the tenor roles in Martha, Werther, Mignon and Roméo et Juliette) he decided to make several journeys to Italy to hear more of the Italian school. At the end of 1903 he sang an acclaimed Nadir in Les Pêcheurs des Perles opposite the great Antonina Nezhdanova . In 1904 he made his debut at La Scala as Ernesto (in Italian) receiving great praise from the critics. After a short time as a reservist in the army (Russian-Japanese war in 1905) he first appeared in Manon and Fra Diavolo. At the end of 1906 he sang in Monte Carlo. Lohengrin and Werther were the next roles. He appeared with triumphant success in Madrid and Berlin. His first Lohengrin at the Bolshoi was enthusiastically received, while in St Petersburg the critics compared him to the superb Ivan Ershov. Singing in London and Paris in 1909 he added Levko in Rimsky-Korsakov’s May Night and changed the role of Bayan to Finn in Ruslan and Ludmila. After many years of travelling he became a producer (1911). In 1912 he once more appeared at la Scala opposite Lucrezia Bori in Roméo et Juliette, conducted by Tullio Serafin. In the months before the outbreak of Worldwar I Sobinov appeared in a new role, Cavaradossi. Conscripted for military service again in 1914 his contract with the Imperial Opera lapsed. He was charged with organizing concerts for the wounded and for charity. The Revolution gave him a second chance of moving into management. Unlike other Russian artists like Chaliapin, Kuznetsova, Medtner, Rachmaninov and Davidov he elected to stay. When the Red Army gained control, he was given an administrative cultural post in Sevastopol. His last appearance in a concert was in 1921. In the same year he was appointed Director of the Bolshoi but after a view months he resigned to return to a life of opera and concerts. He died of a heart attack in 1934. He was decorated many times: Imperial Court Singer (1910), People’s Artist of the Union of Soviet Republics (1923), Officer of the Red Army (1925) and the Red Labour Banner (1933).

Chronology of some appearances

Demon (Sinodal)-Moscow, Bolshoi, 24 April 1897
Ruslan and Ludmila (Bayan)-Moscow, Bolshoi, 4 September 1897
Prince Igor (Vladimir) -Moscow, Bolshoi, 19 January 1898
Yevgeny Onyegin-Moscow, Bolshoi, 13 April 1898
Faust-Moscow, Bolshoi, 16 April 1898
Tannhäuser (Walter) -Moscow, Bolshoi, 4 September 1898
Halka (Yontek)-Moscow, Novi Teatr, 6 September 1898
Pyesn Torzhetvuyuschey Lyubvi (Fabiy)-Moscow, Bolshoi, 26 October 1898
Rigoletto-Moscow, Novi Teatr, 8 November 1898
Zabava Putyatishna (Solovyey)-Moscow, Novi Teatr, 3 January 1899
Ribaki (Yannik) -Moscow, Bolshoi, 23 February 1899
Rusalka (Prince)-Odessa, Gorodskoy Teatr, 7 June 1899
Mazepa (Andrey)-Moscow, Bolshoi, 9 September 1899
Lakmé-Moscow, Bolshoi, 9 November 1899
La Traviata-Moscow, Novi Teatr, 14 November 1899
Le Cheval de Bronze (Yang)-Moscow, Novi Teatr, 30 January 1900
Yudif (Judith) (Vagoa)-Moscow, Bolshoi, 10 February 1900
Printsyessa Gryeza (Ruydel)-Moscow, Novi Teatr, 1 October 1900
Snegurochka (Berende) -Moscow, Bolshoi, 19 December 1900
Andzhelo (Angelo) (Gondolyer) -Moscow, Bolshoi, 4 January 1901
Boris Godunov (Dimitri) -Moscow, Bolshoi, 13 April 1901
Sin Mandarina (The Mandarin’s son) (Muri)-Moscow, Novi Teatr, 11 November 1901
 Roméo et Juliette-Moscow, Bolshoi, 25 October 1902
Mefistofele-Moscow, Bolshoi, 3 December 1902
Mignon-Moscow, Conservatoire, 19 March 1903
Les Pêcheurs de Perles-Moscow, Novi Teatr, 3 December 1903
Marta-Moscow, Conservatoire, 16 February 1904
Werther-Moscow, Conservatoire, 12 March 1904
Don Pasquale-Milano, Scala, 21 (western calendar) December 1904
Fra Diavolo-St. Petersburg, Novi Letny Teatr, 13 November 1905
Manon-Milano, Scala, 11 (western calendar)April 1906
Lohengrin-Moscow, Bolshoi, 10 December 1908
Mayskaya Noch (Levko) -Moscow, Bolshoi, 6 October 1909
Ruslan and Ludmila (Finn) -Moscow, Bolshoi, 18 November 1909
Kavkazskiy Plennik (The Captive in the Caucasus) (Plennik/Captive) -Moscow, Bolshoi, 16 December 1909
La Bohème-Moscow, Bolshoi, 19 January 1911
Orfeo ed Euridice-St. Petersburg, Maryinski, 21 December 1911
Dubrovsky (Vladimir) -Moscow, Bolshoi, 27 November 1913
Tosca-St. Petersburg, Teatr A. S. Suvorina, 24 February 1914


G&T, St. Petersburg 1901 (early)
Rusalka (Dargomizhsky): Unwillingly to these sad shores 22259 2655A
Angelo (Cui): I live only for you (Song of Rodolfo) 22260 2656A
Prince Igor (Borodin): Daylight slowly fades 22333 2660A
May Night (Rimsky-Korsakov): Sleep my beauty 22524 269b
Halka (Moniuszko): The wind howls among the hills 22276 2663A
Eugen Onegin (Tchaikovsky): Whither, whither have you gone 22274 2664A
Eugen Onegin (Tchaikovsky): I love you Olga 22262 2668A

G&T, St. Petersburg 1901-06?
Rusalka (Dargomizhsky):  Unwillingly to these sad shores 22519 263b
Rigoletto (Verdi): La donna è mobile 22495 266b
Dobrinya Nikitich(Gretchaninov): Blossoming in flowery fields 22532 268b
Eugen Onegin (Tchaikovsky): Whither, whither have you gone 22523 270b
Behind the window in the shadow (Tchaikovsky); I do not know how to dispel my melancholy (Nikolaev) 22533 271b
Ou voulez-vous aller.(Barcarolle) (Gounod) 22528 272b
Zabava Putiatishna (Ivanov): All quietly in your garden 22502 273b
Snow Maiden (Rimsky-Korsakov): Mighty nature is full of wonders 22500 274b

G&T, St. Petersburg 1904
Martha (Flotow): Ach so fromm 2-22650 1976L
Resting here is pleasant (Nikolaev) 2-22658 1994L
Faust (Gounod): Salut demeure 022078 195m

Gramophone, Moscow 1910-01-23/02-05
Lohengrin (Wagner): Mein lieber Schwan 022137 1979c
Werther (Massenet): Pourquoi me réveiller 022138 1980c
Manon (Massenet): En fermant les yeux 022139 1981c
Pêcheurs de perles (Bizet): Je crois entendre encore Unpubl. 1982c

Gramophone, St. Petersburg 1911-02-14/02-27
Mignon (Thomas): Elle ne croyait pas 022198 2214c
Snow Maiden (Rimsky-Korsakov): The joyous day departs 022199 2216c
Raphael (Arensky): My heart trembles 022200 2217c

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