Theater, Opera and Literature

in the wake of the Russian cultural heritage

Our country has made an outstanding contribution to the world’s cultural heritage. Travelling about Russia, you will get a chance to know more of the heritage by the country’s national imaginative genius.

Going to Theater

Want to know more about the Russian theater? Like it or not, you will have to start in Saint Petersburg, a place where the Russian theater was born. And while you are leisurely walking about the Nevsky Prospect, you may take time for a brief insight into history.

The history of Russian theater began in 1644 with a helping hand of Michael I of Russia who was planning a wedding party for his daughter. By the 20th century this theater captured the minds all around Europe: Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet company that became widely known as the Ballets Russes started performing in Paris and gradually won hearts of half of Europe leaving an inedible mark in the world’s culture.

English ballet dancers adopted Russian pseudonyms; mother of Queen Elizabeth II had her wedding gown “referencing to the Russian folklore traditions” and Russian culture became popular like never before.

Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes left an inedible mark in the world’s culture. English ballet dancers adopted Russian pseudonyms; mother of Queen Elizabeth II had her wedding gown “referencing to the Russian folklore traditions” and Russian culture became popular like never before.

However, the initial experiment by Michael I of Russia survived only for one month, the actors arriving from Strasbourg were ordered out of the country. The second attempt was taken by Alexis of Russia, though it also was not a big success: four years thereafter the tsar died, and so did his theater.

This could have become a steady trend, but there came Elizabeth of Russia. A tsar’s ordinance can work like magic. And this is more than 260 years that the Alexandrinsky Theatre exists (for fairness’ sake we must admit that this name was given to the theater when it was already in its eighties) humbly hiding behind the statue of Catherine the Great in the Nevsky Prospect.

Just like many things in Russian culture, the Alexandrinsky Theatre took the European tradition as a model, but as time passed it became strong and created a strong original tradition of its own, an original school of the Russian drama theater. The Alexandrinsky Theatre became famous for its lifetime productions of Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Ostrovsky, and Anton Chekhov and at different times it was directed by the eminent maitres like Vsevolod Meyerhold and Georgy Tovstonogov.

Now it is time to keep following the Prospect towards the Neva river, and in the meantime, let’s say a few words of music.

However trivial it may seem, the Russian opera is originated by the Italians: an Italian theater company occupied a small wooden pavilion located exactly where now Alexandrinsky Theatre stands. The number of spectators grew consistently, and there was not enough place to host everyone, but then came Napoleon with his army and the Russian Emperors got many other things to do apart from the theaters. While the kings dealt with their important state affairs, Catterino Cavos became the head of the Russian opera company, adapting for the Russian scene European operas and creating new ones, adding more and more national color. Catterino Cavos came from Venetia, and it is still not known how exactly he arrived to Russia. That was he who created the music tradition that became foundation for the Russian opera. As you might already know, Mikhailovsky Theatre is the best place to listen to the Russian opera. It is located aside the Nevsky Prospect near the Griboyedov Canal embankment.

Just a few years ago the phrase “you’d better watch ballet in Vladivostok” would sound ironically at best. But today, one really has a chance to watch a good ballet performance in Vladivostok as on January 1, 2016 the city’s Primorsky Theater became the branch of the Mariinsky Theatre, one of the world’s best musical theaters. On the coattails of the Mariinsky Theatre there came the principal dancers, a branch of the Academy of Russian Ballet, an international ballet festival and, of course, the best performances, including the classical grand style shows, rarely performed pieces as well as the original pieces by certain authors.

One really has a chance to watch a good ballet performance in Vladivostok as since last year the city has its own branch of the famous Mariinsky Theatre.

Going to Museums

Good things about museums: paintings and sculptures can be understood without any translation. And Russia has many things to boast of in these terms. Thus, the State Hermitage Museum hosts one of the world’s richest collection of European paintings (including masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, and Titian). Moscow keeps up with the Capital of Culture as they call St. Petersburg. Pushkin Museum is particularly famous for its collection of the 20th century art. Here you will see the masterpieces by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh.

Though, sometimes a museum is a whole city and not just one building. Should you like to see the genuine and authentic Rus, Suzdal is a must-see city for you. Of course, you may visit the Saviour Monastery of St. Euthymius founded in the 14th century or touch an 18th century wind mill with a tented roof, but the best way is just having a walk in the streets.

This ancient city has kept its appealing provincial charm of the past centuries. Every house here is not just a building at a certain address, but an integral part of one big architectural complex. This is a perfect place to feel the link of times not through the glass-fronted and properly tagged showpieces, but through the soles of your shoes while walking by the wooden window surrounds, wormwood wilds by the road verge and an endless string of churches.

Samara Regional Museum of Art is worth visiting for a deeper history insight. First, its interior environment is every bit as good as the one of the State Hermitage Museum being of the same palace style. Second, apart from the museum must-have paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky and Alexei Savrasov, this museum is famous for a splendid collection of the Russian avant-garde and contemporary art paintings. This was Anetta Bass, the director of museum, who collected it bit by bit. Visiting this museum, you will see with your own eyes the masterpieces that would cost millions if sold at any of the world-famous auctions.

As far as contemporary history is concerned, the museum staff is not yet sure of what they should exhibit. Those who are not very keen on the contemporary art will find something more understandable to see. For example, the B-413 Submarine Museum on the berth of the Museum of the World Ocean in Kaliningrad.

They have not changed a thing inside the submarine, visitors are allowed to touch and turn everything and even to carry out a torpedo attack or to contain an accident inside the submarine’s compartment. Of course, this is not for real, but who cares once you have a whole submarine at your command.

After such an eventful program, it is the right time to catch a break and to touch the eternity. The archipelago of Valaam, the Solovetsky Islands and the Kizhi Island are included the UNESCO World Heritage List. These islands are world-famous for their pristine wilderness and the unique extant architectural sites. The best starting point is Kizhi, an open-air museum of Russian wooden architecture of the 16th century and later periods. The most impressive masterpiece is, of course, the Church of the Transfiguration built in 1714. With its numerous domes it looks more like a lacy piece of embroidery than like a rather tall 37-meter (121 ft) high building. Near it there is a smaller winter (i.e. heated) wooden Church of the Intercession (Porkova Bogoroditsy), which is 50 years younger but none the less beautiful. Between these two churches there is bell-tower to accomplish this magnificent ensemble.

The archipelago of Valaam, the Solovetsky Islands and the Kizhi Island are included the UNESCO World Heritage List. These islands are world-famous for their pristine wilderness and the unique extant architectural sites

Paying a Visit to the Writers

The two names that are strongly associated with the words “Russian Literature” are Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy. Places connected with Fyodor Dostoyevsky are located in St. Petersburg (remember to visit the Raskolnikov House), whereas to pay a visit to Leo Tolstoy you will have to go to Yasnaya Polyana. Yasnaya Polyana is an estate near Tula city, where Leo Tolstoy was born, where he lived and created his masterpieces, including War and Peace and Anna Karenina. The estate was developed by Nikolai Volkonsky, Leo Tolstoy’s grandfather, who became the prototype of the old Prince Bolkonsky in War and Peace. In other words, this place is awash with literature. Apart from the meticulously reconstructed genuine interior environment of the writer’s house, his library and personal belongings, Yasnaya Polyana can boast of rich cultural life. It often hosts workshops and conferences, lectures and concerts. Yasnaya Polyana even has a literary award of its own.

If outside Russia they mostly know Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, Russians themselves believe poet Alexander Pushkin to be their greatest literary figure. Once you are in Russia, take a chance to learn more about him. His family estate of Mikhaylovskoye is located near Pskov city and is known almost to every schoolchild in Russia. Actually, Mikhaylovskoye Museum Reserve unites three estates. First one, named Trigorskoye, belonged to the Osipov-Wolfs family, friends of Alexander Pushkin, whose daughters believed themselves to be the prototypes of characters of Eugene Onegin novel in verse. In the second estate, named Petrovskoye, you will dive in the lifestyle of a Russian country estate of the 19th century. The third estate is Mikhaylovskoye itself. This is here that the poet who fell into disfavor spent two years of his exile and, in search of a new style, introduced realism into the Russian literature.

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