Chaliapin used to say: “I absolutely do not believe in the sole power of talent if not supported by hardworking”. The world’s first monument to Chaliapin which took several years to complete is worthy testimony to this statement.
The monument was unveiled in 1999, next to the old Cathedral of the Epiphany where the newly born Chaliapin was christened. The monument was a gift on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the birth of the great singer and depicts Feodor Ivanovich at the very height of his powers.
Chaliapin is recreated with almost photographic accuracy. The sculptors, A. Balashov and A. Minullina, immortalised Feodor Ivanovich exactly as he appeared when he prepared to set out on foreign tours in 1922, unaware that he would not return to his homeland. In his memoirs, “Mask and Soul: Forty years in Theatres” Chaliapin recalled: “To be completely frank, I would probably have stayed in Russia and not left, perhaps, even later, if certain attendant circumstances had not developed before my eyes from day to day. Things which I had not noticed, which I had not even suspected, began to become more and more conspicuous”.
Chaliapin became physically ill at what was happening to the country under the Bolsheviks: he truly loved the Russian merchant class, and warmly appreciated “bourgeois customs”. He loved his work in the theatre and could not understand why the Bolsheviks were able to treat other people’s destinies with such ease. He recalled that for a long time he had had no idea who Vladimir Lenin was, although he was surprised that they had both gone to school in the same town.
Chaliapin’s creative career is impossible to summarise in list form, this would do no justice to the breadth of his interests: He performed the parts of Ivan the Terrible, Boris Godunov and Mephistopheles in major opera productions. He was the artistic director of the Bolshoi Theatre, and dreamed of establishing the Chaliapin Palace of Arts in the Kremlin and providing support for talented children.
His plans and his fame greatly exceeded his physical capabilities, but Feodor Chaliapin continued to work up until his very last days. He performed regularly in all corners of the world, although he was forced to avoid the Soviet Union.
It is interesting that according to his memoirs before leaving Russia he made a private, unannounced return visit to Kazan which he had left in 1890. His visit to his birthplace took place in August, 1912. He met the family of his godparent, his singing teacher, and also visited the dormitory, where in his youth he had anguished over his great dreams.
According to his companions, when returning to the hotel, Chaliapin quietly sat back in his chair and barely audibly sang: "Where have you gone, the golden days of my Spring?”
A man of such temperament found it hard to part with his homeland – first of all Kazan, and then Russia. Maxim Gorky described it very accurately: “a man who with all his strength had endured the thorns and constrictions of life, to stand proudly shoulder to shoulder with the best people in the world, to sing to all about Russia and show everyone what She is like – internally, in her depths – talented, broad and charming”.
Years later Chaliapin was once again to be recognised in his homeland: after the unveiling of his monument in Kazan, other monuments to Feodor Chaliapin appeared in Kirov, Ufa and Moscow. The ashes of the great singer who died in 1938 were brought from Paris and re-interred in the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow in 1984.
Feodor Ivanovich’s desire to show the talent of Russia has eventually been realised. Every year the Tatar Academic State Theatre of Opera and Ballet named after Musa Dzhalil holds the Chaliapin Festival – the oldest forum for operatic art in Russia.
For many years this festival has been the showcase for the Republic of Tatarstan and is well known even beyond the borders of the Russian Federation.