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Feodor Chaliapin (1873 - 1938)

Chaliapin was born into a poor family: his father was a clerk, and when Feodor was five, the family moved to a small village. His musical education was founded upon singing in a local church choir; his formal education lasted for only four years. As his father sank into alcoholism, he left home when he was seventeen and joined a theatre company that toured in Southern Russia. His stage début took place at the city of Ufa in 1890 when he sang Stolnik in Moniuszko’s Halka. In 1892 he met a retired tenor, Dmitri Usatov who, greatly impressed by his natural talent, gave him singing lessons without charge.

The following year saw Chaliapin’s début with the Tiflis (now Tbilisi) Opera. His rôle was Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust, and he went on to sing thirteen more with the company over a five-month period. Chaliapin’s first appearance as a singer in St Petersburg was with the Panayev Society, and in 1895 he caused a sensation at the Mariinsky Theatre with his portrayal of Bertram in Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable. Between 1896 and 1898 he sang with the Mamontov Private Opera company in Moscow, making his début as Ivan Susanin in Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tzar, and singing the title rôle in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov for the first time. Here he met Rachmaninov, then an assistant conductor with the company, who became a close friend. He joined the court opera in Moscow in 1899.



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