Feodor Chaliapin: The Complete Recordings

51301-2 (13 CDs)  | $ 175.00


Feodor Chaliapin: The Complete Recordings
Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938) (bass) was in the opinion of many the greatest singing actor of the 20th century. Like Enrico Caruso, the name Chaliapin continued to be a household word long after his death. A case in point is that the Sobranie tobacco company continued to market their “Chaliapin” cigarettes into the 1970s. Producing a Chaliapin set has long been a desire of Marston, yet due to the size of the compilation, the production costs, and the time involved, this project has been pushed to the back burner time and time again. With the financial assistance of some of our generous supporters, we have finally released a thirteen-CD set containing every known recording of Feodor Chaliapin numbering well into the two hundreds. This set contains a substantial number of previously unpublished alternative takes, as well as all extant sides from the live performances at Covent Garden and the Royal Albert Hall that were recorded by His Master's Voice in 1926 through 1928. The booklet accompanying the set includes essays on Chaliapin and his records by Michael Scott and Michael Aspinall, and a reprint of an essay by the great accompanist, Ivor Newton.

CD 1 (75:04)


Continental Hotel, Moscow, between 23 and 28 January 1902(1)

1.Kak korol’ shyol na voynu (When the king went forth to war), Op. 7, No. 6 (Koenemann)3:24

(572x) 22820

2.Akh ty, solntse, solntse krasnoe (O thou sun, fair sun), Op. 10, No. 1 (Slonov)2:37

(573x) 22821

3.Elegiya: Lunnaya tikhaya noch’ (Elegy: Serene moonlit night) (Korganov)2:14

(574x) 22822

4.FAUST: Le veau d’or est toujours debout (Na zemle ves’ rod lyudskoy) (Gounod)1:56

(575x) 228823

5.Solovey (The Nightingale), Op. 60, No. 4 (Tchaikovsky)2:58

(577x) 22825



Continental Hotel, Moscow, late January or early February 1902

6.Nochen’ka (Night) (Russian folk song)3:01

(621x) 22891

7.ZHIZN’ ZA TSARYA: Ty pridyosh’, moya zarya (A LIFE FOR THE TSAR: You will come, my dawn) (Glinka)3:33

(622x) 22892

8.Razocharovaniye (Disappointment), Op. 65, No. 2 (Tchaikovsky)2:23

(623x) 22824



Saint Petersburg, between 2 and 7 October 1907

9.Pesn’ ubogogo strannika (Song of the Needy Pilgrim) (Manykin-Nevstruev)3:40

(281m) 022092

10.Kak korol’ shyol na voynu (When the king went forth to war), Op. 7, No. 6 (Koenemann)3:33

(283m) 022093

11.MEFISTOFELE: Ave Signor! [Prologo] (Boito)3:36

(288m) 022094

12.FAUST: Vous qui faites l’endormie (Vykhodi, o drug moy nezhnyi) (Gounod)3:04

(289m) 022295

13.Pesnya Mefistofelya o blokhe (Mephistopheles’s Song of the Flea) (Mussorgsky)3:26

(290m) 022296
Note: The full title of this song is Pesnya Mefistofelya v pogrebke Au’erbakha [Pesnya o blokhe] (Mephistopheles’s Song in Auerbach’s Cellar) [Song of the Flea], from Goethe’s FAUST, Part 1

14.FAUST: Le veau d’or est toujours debout (Na zemle ves’ rod lyudskoy) (Gounod)2:03

(291m) 022297



Milan, October 1907

15.Ekh ty, Van’ka (Crazy-Headed Ivan) (Russian folk song)3:20

(1290c) unissued on 78rpm

16.Nochen’ka (Night) (Russian folk song)3:53

(1291 ½c) unissued on 78rpm

17.Ekh ty, Van’ka (Crazy-Headed Ivan) (Russian folk song)3:42

(1297c) previously unissued

18.Luchinushka (The Little Birch Splinter) (Russian folk song)3:49

(1298c) unissued on 78rpm



Paris, June 1908

19.RUSLAN I LYUDMILA: O radost’! … Blizok uzh chas torzhestva moego (Oh joy! … Already the hour of my triumph is near) [Farlaf’s Rondo] (Glinka)3:26

(607i) 022109

20.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: La calunnia è un venticello (Rossini)4:18

(614i) 052222

21.ZHIZN’ ZA TSARYA: Chuyut pravdu! … Ty pridyosh’, moya zarya (A LIFE FOR THE TSAR: They guess the truth! … You will come, my dawn) (Glinka)4:18

(615i) 022111

22.LAKMÉ: Lakmé, ton doux regard (Lakmé, tvoy vzor pomerknul luchistyi) (Delibes)3:45

(616i) 022112

23.RUSLAN I LYUDMILA: Vremyon ot vechnoy temnoty (From the dark shroud of eternity) [Ruslan’s Aria, Act 2] (Glinka)3:03

(617i) 022113


Tracks 1–8 with unidentified pianist
Track 9 with unidentified chorus
Track 10 with P. P. Gross, piano
Tracks 11–14 with orchestra, conducted by Bruno Seidler-Winkler
Tracks 15–18 unaccompanied
Tracks 19–23 with orchestra, conducted by I. P. Arkadev

All tracks are sung in Russian except Tracks 11 and 20, which are sung in Italian.


CD 2 (76:47)


Paris, June 1908 (continued)

1.Dubinushka (The Oak Cudgel) (Russian folk song, arranged by Chaliapin)3:48

(618i) 022114

2.Ty vzoydi, solntse krasnoe (Arise, fair sun) [Barge-Haulers’ Song] (Russian folk song)4:11

(619i) 022115

3.Luchinushka (The Little Birch Splinter) (Russian folk song)2:47

(621i) 022129



Moscow, 26 August 1910

4.Oy, u luzi, ta i pry beryozi (In the meadows, by the birches) (Ukrainian folk song)3:56

(2003c) 022180

5.VRAZHYA SILA: Poteshu-ka svoyu khosyayku … Shirokaya maslenitsa (MALEVOLENT POWER: I’ll amuse my hostess ... Merry Shrovetide) [Eremka’s Song, Act 2] (Serov)4:18

(2004 ½c) 022181

6.Vniz po matushke po Volge (Down Mother Volga) (Russian folk song)2:01

(2005c) 022182

7.Iz-pod duba, da iz-pod vyaza (From under the oak, from under the elm) (Russian folk song)1:51

(2005c) 022182

8.Nochen’ka (Night) (Russian folk song)4:04

(2006 ½c) 022159

9.ASKOLDOVA MOGILA: V starinu zhivali dedy (ASKOLD’S TOMB: In olden days our forefathers lived) (Verstovsky)4:24

(2007c) issued only on HMB 95



Moscow, 29 August 1910

10.FAUST: Seigneur, daignez permettre à votre humble servante (Gospod’, pozvol’ rabe tvoey neschastnoy) [Church Scene] (Gounod)4:06
 with Maria Alexandrovna Mikhailova, soprano 

(2008 ½c) 024039

11.FAUST: Il était temps (Spustilas’ t’ma) (Gounod)2:46

(2009c) 022183

12.Ekh ty, Van’ka (Crazy-Headed Ivan) (Russian folk song)3:35

(2011c) 022184

13.DON CARLO: Dormiro sol nel manto mio regal … Ella giammai m’amo (Verdi)4:10

(2012c) 052292

14.Zashumela, razgulyalas’ v pole nepogoda (The tempest rages in the fields) (Sokolov)4:05

(2014c) 022185



Moscow, 31 August 1910

15.BORIS GODUNOV: Eshchyo odno posledneye skazaniye (Yet one more final tale) [Pimen’s Monologue, Act 1] (Mussorgsky)4:42

(2016 ½c) 022157



Moscow, 1 September 1910

16.Dubinushka (The Oak Cudgel) (Russian folk song, arranged by Chaliapin)4:12

(2019c) 022186

17.Ty vzoydi, solntse krasnoe (Arise, fair sun) [Barge-Haulers’ Song] (Russian folk song)3:54

(2020c) 022187

18.Solntse vskhodit i zakhodit (The sun rises and sets) [Russian Prisoners’ Song] (Russian folk song)3:30

(2021c) 022188

19.Luchinushka (The Little Birch Splinter) (Russian folk song)3:31

(2022c) 022189



Saint Petersburg, 30 September 1911

20.BORIS GODUNOV: Kak vo gorode bylo vo Kazani (It all happened in the town of Kazan) [Varlaam’s Aria, Act 1] (Mussorgsky)3:08

(2453 ½c) 022208

21.Mashen’ka (Russian folk song)3:48

(2454 ½c) 022213


Tracks 1, 2, 4–7, 9, 16–18 with chorus of the Imperial Moscow Opera
Tracks 3, 8, 12, 19, and 21 unaccompanied
Tracks 10, 11, 13, and 20 with unidentified orchestra and conductor
Tracks 5, 9, and 14 with unidentified pianist
Track 15 with orchestra of the Imperial Moscow Opera, conducted by M.I. Semenov

All tracks are sung in Russian except Track 4, which is sung in Ukrainian, and Track 13, which is sung in Italian.


CD 3 (79:50)


Saint Petersburg, 15 October 1911

1.BORIS GODUNOV: Proshchay, moy syn, umirayu (Farewell my son, I am dying) (Mussorgsky)4:29

(2492 ½c) 022222

2.BORIS GODUNOV: Zvon! Pogrebal’ny zvon! (The knell! The funeral knell!) (Mussorgsky)4:26

(2493c) 022223

3.KNYAZ’ IGOR: Nateshilsya li, Knyaz’? … Greshno tait’ ya skuki ne lyublyu (PRINCE IGOR: Have you enjoyed yourself, Prince? … I can’t conceal that I dislike boredom) [Prince Galitsky’s Aria, Act 1] (Borodin)4:02

(2494c) 022224

4.DEMON: Ne plach’, ditya (Do not weep, child) (Rubinstein)3:12
 Transposed down a semi-tone to B-flat 

(2495c) 022225

5.Nyne otpushchaeshi raba Tvoego, Vladyko (Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace) [Prayer from the Russian Orthodox Liturgy] (Strokin)3:33

(2496c) 022226



Saint Petersburg, 12 November 1911

6.Die beiden Grenadiere (Vo Frantsiyu dva grenadera) (The Two Grenadiers), Op. 49, No. 1 (Schumann)3:34

(2535c) 022261

7.DEMON: Na vozdushnom okeane (On the ocean of the air) (Rubinstein)4:17
 with Maria Vladimirovna Kovalenko, soprano 

(2536c) 022262

8.Ne osenniy melkiy dozhdichek (It is not autumnal drizzle) (Russian folk song)3:59

(2539c) 022263



Saint Petersburg, 26 November 1911

9.BORIS GODUNOV: Odnazhdy, v vecherniy chas, prishyol ko mne pastukh (Once at eve, a herdsman came to me) [Pimen’s Narration, Act 4] (Mussorgsky)4:30

(2548c) 022252



Milan, 26 April 1912

10.NORMA: Ite sul colle, o Druidi (Bellini)4:17

(613m) 052353, Victor 88462

11.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: La calunnia è un venticello (Rossini)3:58

(614m) 052354

12.MEFISTOFELE: Ave Signor! [Prologo] (Boito)4:02

(615m) 052355, Victor 88461

13.LA SONNAMBULA: Il mulino, il fonte, il bosco … Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni (Bellini)3:09

(616m) 052356



Saint Petersburg, 26 October 1912

14.ROBERT LE DIABLE: Voici donc les débris … Nonnes qui reposez (Le rovine son questa … Suore che riposate) (Meyerbeer)4:14

(2692c) 052387

15.LUCREZIA BORGIA: Vieni la mia vendetta (Donizetti)3:48

(2693c) 052388

16.ERNANI: Che mai vegg’io … Infelice, e tu credevi (Verdi)4:10

(2694c) 052389

17.Vakkhicheskaya pesnya (Chanson bachique) (Glazunov)3:51

(2695c) 032260

18.La Marseillaise (de Lisle)3:23

(2696c) 032261



London, 5 July 1913

19.Bylina ob Il’ye Muromtse (Tale about Ilya Muromets) (Russian folk song, arranged by Kedrov)2:44

(y16736e) 4-22579

20.Sapphische Ode (Oda Safo), Op. 90, No. 4 (Brahms)2:59
 sung in D 

(y16738e) issued only on HMA 46

21.Ona khokhotala (She laughed) (Lishin)3:12

(y16739e) 4-22581


Tracks 1–4, 6, 7, 9, 14–18 with unidentified orchestra and conductor
Tracks 5 and 8 unaccompanied
Tracks 10 and 13 with La Scala orchestra and chorus, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
Tracks 11 and 12 with La Scala orchestra, conducted by Carlo Sabajno
Track 19 with the Petrograd Quartet (M. M. Chuprinnikov, N. I. Safonov, N. N. Kedrov, and K. N. Kedrov)
Tracks 20 and 21 with D. I. Pokhitonov, piano

Tracks 1–9 and 19–21 sung in Russian.
Tracks 10–16 sung in Italian.
Tracks 17 and 18 sung in French.


CD 4 (78:59)


London, 5 July 1913 (continued)

1.Solovey (The Nightingale), Op. 60, No. 4 (Tchaikovsky)3:46

(y16741e) 4-22583

2.SADKO: O skaly groznye (Against the cruel crags) [Varangian Merchant’s Song] (Rimsky-Korsakov)3:05

(y16743e) 4-22580

3.Bylina o Tsare Ivane Vasil’yeviche Groznom (Tale about Tsar Ivan the Terrible) (Russian folk song, arranged by Liapunov)2:59

(y16747e) 4-22585

4.Bylo u tyoshchen’ki semero zyat’yev (The mother-in-law had seven sons-in-law) (Russian folk song, arranged by Liadov)3:23

(y16748e) 4-22586

5.Oy, zeleny dube na yar pokhylyvsya (Ah, the green oak is bent over the ravine) (Ukrainian folk song)1:41

(y16750e) 4-22587

6.Komarishche (A Great Big Gnat) (comic Ukrainian folk song)1:29

(y16750e) 4-22587



Saint Petersburg, 25 January 1914

7.Proshchal’noye slovo (A Word of Farewell), Op. 12, No. 1 (Slonov)2:58

(5300ae) issued only on HM 91

8.Uznik (The Prisoner) Op. 78, No. 6 (Rubinstein)3:39

(5301ae) issued only on HM 91

9.En svane (Lebed’) (A Swan), Op. 25, No. 2 (Grieg)3:10

(5302ae) issued only on HM 127

10.Na kholmakh Gruzii (On the hills of Georgia) (Rimsky-Korsakov)3:17

(5303ae) issued only on HM 127

11.Vchera my vstretilis’ (When yesterday we met), Op. 26, No. 13 (Rachmaninoff)2:58

(5304ae) unissued on 78rpm

12.Sapphische Ode (Oda Safo), Op. 90, No. 4 (Brahms)3:15
 sung in E 

(5305ae) 4-22669



Saint Petersburg, 4 April 1914

13.Uznik (The Prisoner), Op. 78, No. 6 (Rubinstein)3:14

(5928ae) 4-22724

14.En svane (Lebed’) (A Swan), Op. 25, No. 2 (Grieg)2:47

(5929 ½ae) 4-22723

15.Proshchal’noye slovo (A Word of Farewell), Op. 12, No. 1 (Slonov)2:11

(5931 ½ae) 4-22722

16.Borte! (Razluka) (Farewell), Op. 25, No. 5 (Grieg)1:34

(5934ae) unissued on 78rpm

17.Stambogsrim (Stikhi v albom) (Verses in an Album), Op. 25, No. 3 (Grieg)1:47

(5934ae) unissued on 78rpm

18.Kak korol’ shyol na voynu (When the king went forth to war) Op. 7, No. 6 (Koenemann)4:00

(309af) issued only on HMB 37

19.Aufenthalt (Priyut), No. 5 from SCHWANENGESANG, D. 957 (Schubert)4:20

(310af) issued only on HMB 32

20.Zashumela, razgulyalas’ v pole nepogoda (The tempest rages in the fields) (Sokolov)3:37

(311af) unissued on 78rpm

21.ZHIZN’ ZA TSARYA: Chuyut pravdu! … Ty pridyosh’, moya zarya (A LIFE FOR THE TSAR: They guess the truth! … You will come, my dawn) (Glinka)4:44

(312af) issued only on HM 32



Hayes, 9 October 1921

22.Das alte Lied (Staraya pesnya) (The Old Song), Op. 4, No. 5 (Grieg)2:33

(Cc542-1) unissued on 78rpm

23.Stambogsrim (Stikhi v albom) (Verses in an Album), Op. 25, No. 3 (Grieg)1:44

(Cc542-1) unissued on 78rpm

24.Solovey (The Nightingale), Op. 60, No. 4 (Tchaikovsky)3:38

(Cc544-1) 2-022015, Victor 6532



Hayes, 10 October 1921

25.Pesnya Mefistofelya o blokhe (Mephistopheles’s Song of the Flea) (Mussorgsky)3:16

(Cc549-1) 2-022005, Victor 88644

26.Prorok (The Prophet), Op. 49, No. 2 (Rimsky-Korsakov)3:52

(Cc550-1) 2-022006, Victor 88655


Tracks 1 and 2 with D. I. Pokhitonov, piano
Tracks 3–6 with the Petrograd Quartet (M. M. Chuprinnikov, N. I. Safonov, N. N. Kedrov, and K. N. Kedrov)
Tracks 7–21 with unidentified pianist
Tracks 22–24 with Max Rabinowitsch, piano
Tracks 25 and 26 with orchestra, conducted by Percy Pitt

All tracks are sung in Russian except Tracks 5 and 6, which are sung in Ukrainian.


CD 5 (77:42)


Hayes, 11 October 1921

1.Sidste reis (V posledniy reys) (The Last Voyage), Op. 17, No. 2 (Eyvind Alnæs)3:35

(Cc540-3) 2-022013, Victor 6532

2.O, esli b mog vyrasit’ v zvuke vsyu silu stradaniy moikh (Oh, if only I could express in a sound all the force of my sufferings) (Malashkin)2:32

(Cc541-2) 2-022012, Victor 6533
Note: Chaliapin recorded this song in English as “Oh, could I in song tell my sorrow”, CD 10, Track 9.

3.Die beiden Grenadiere (Vo Frantsiyu dva grenadera) (The Two Grenadiers), Op. 49, No. 1 (Schumann)3:29

(Cc556-1) 2-022007, Victor 88645

4.Kak korol’ shyol na voynu (When the king went forth to war), Op. 7, No. 6 (Koenemann)3:42

(Cc557-1) 2-022008, Victor 88646

5.Nochnoy smotr (The Midnight Review) (Glinka)4:17

(Cc558-1) 2-022009, Victor 88656



Hayes, 12 October 1921

6.In questa tomba oscura (Beethoven)3:37

(Cc551-4) 2-052212, Victor 88657

7.Trepak, No. 3 from PESNI I PLYASKI SMERTI (SONGS AND DANCES OF DEATH) (Mussorgsky)4:19

(Cc560-1) 2-022010, Victor 88659

8.BORIS GODUNOV: Kak vo gorode bylo vo Kazani (It all happened in the town of Kazan) [Varlaam’s Aria, Act 1] (Mussorgsky)2:39

(B26100-2) 87349, HMV 7-22009

9.BORIS GODUNOV: Proshchay, moy syn, umirayu (Farewell my son, I am dying) (Mussorgsky)4:35

(C26101-1) 88661, HMV 2-022011

10.Il barbiere di Siviglia: La calunnia è un venticello (Rossini)3:32

(C26102-2) 88648, HMV 2-052218



New York City, 31 January 1922

11.GRYOZY: Kogda, eshchyo ditya, za shkol’noyu stenoyu (Dreams: When still a child within the walls of school) [Recitation] (Nadson)4:52

(C26103-1) unissued on 78rpm
Note: This recording is sometimes titled “Mechty”.

12.Don Carlo: Dormiro sol nel manto mio regal … Ella giammai m’amo (Verdi)4:25

(C26104-2) 88665, HMV 2-052220



Hayes, 25 September 1922

13.Kak korol’ shyol na voynu (When the king went forth to war), Op. 7, No. 6 (Koenemann)3:42

(Cc557-2) 2-022008x



Hayes, 9 October 1922

14.SADKO: O skaly groznye (Against the cruel crags) [Varangian Merchant’s Song] (Rimsky-Korsakov)2:59

(Cc1890-2) 2-022017, Victor 6416

15.Ey, ukhnem! (Song of the Volga Boatmen) (Russian folk song, arranged by Chaliapin and Koenemann)3:23

(Cc1891-4) 2-022016, Victor 88663



Hayes, 23 October 1922

16.BORIS GODUNOV: Eshchyo odno posledneye skazaniye (Yet one more final tale) [Pimen’s Monologue, Act 1] (Mussorgsky)4:39

(Cc2015-3) 2-022018, Victor 6489



Camden, New Jersey, 22 November 1922

17.DON CARLO: Dormiro sol nel manto mio regal … Ella giammai m’amo (Verdi)4:19

(C26104-4) previously unissued

18.LA SONNAMBULA: Il mulino, il fonte, il bosco … Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni (Bellini)3:12

(B27088-2) 981, HMV 7-88645

19.MEFISTOFELE: Ave signor! [Prologo] (Boito)3:11

(B27089-2) 87355, HMV 7-52227

20.Ekh ty, Van’ka (Crazy-Headed Ivan) (Russian folk song)3:12

(C27090-2) not issued by Victor; issued on HMV 2-022019

21.KNYAZ’ IGOR: Greshno tait’ ya skuki ne lyublyu (PRINCE IGOR: I can’t conceal that I dislike boredom) [Prince Galitsky’s Aria, Act 1] (Borodin)3:12

(B27091-1) 87361


Tracks 1 and 2 with Max Rabinowitsch, piano
Tracks 3–7 with orchestra, conducted by Percy Pitt
Tracks 8–10, 12, 17–19 and 21 with orchestra, conducted by Josef Pasternack
Track 11 spoken recitation
Tracks 13–16 with orchestra, conducted by George W. Byng
Track 20 unaccompanied

Tracks 1–5, 7–9, 11, 13–16, 20, and 21 sung in Russian.
Tracks 6, 10, 12, and 17–19, sung in Italian.


CD 6 (75:26)


Hayes, 26 June 1923

1.BORIS GODUNOV: Dostig ya vysshey vlasti (I have attained the highest power) [Boris’s Monologue, Act 2] (Mussorgsky)4:49

(Cc3153-2) 2-022021, Victor 6489

2.KNYAZ’ IGOR: Greshno tait’ ya skuki ne lyublyu (PRINCE IGOR: I can’t conceal that I dislike boredom) [Prince Galitsky’s Aria, Act 1] (Borodin)3:35

(Bb3154-1) 7-22011

3.ALEKO: Ves’ tabor spit (All the gypsy camp is sleeping) (Rachmaninoff)4:33

(Cc3155-2) 2-022026



2 July 1923

4.BORIS GODUNOV: Pogrebal’ny zvon! (The funeral knell!) (Mussorgsky)4:19

(Cc3197-1) 2-022020

5.BORIS GODUNOV: Zvon! Pogrebal’ny zvon! (The knell! The funeral knell!) (Mussorgsky)4:09

(Cc3197-2) not issued by HMV; issued only on Victor 6455

6.FAUST: Pardon! ... Le veau d’or est toujours debout (Gounod)2:52
 with Peter Dawson, baritone 

(Bb3198-1) 7-32080, Victor 960

7.FAUST: Vous qui faites l’endormie (Gounod)2:53

(Bb3199-1) 7-32081, Victor 960



Hayes, 7 July 1923

8.Dubinushka (The Oak Cudgel) (Russian folk song, arranged by Chaliapin)3:36

(Bb3229-2) 7-22013, Victor 1050



Hayes, 25 September 1923

9.DON GIOVANNI: Madamina, il catalogo è questo (Mozart)5:37

(Bb3200-3, Bb3201-2) 7-52246, 7-52247, Victor 1105

10.ZHIZN’ ZA TSARYA: Chuyut pravdu! … Ty pridyosh’, moya zarya (A Life for the TSar: They guess the truth … You will come, my dawn) (Glinka)4:49

(Cc3504-2) 2-022027, Victor 6534



Camden, New Jersey, 3 January 1924

11.ROBERT LE DIABLE: Voici donc les débris … Nonnes qui reposez (Le rovine son queste … Suore che riposate) (Meyerbeer)3:50

(C29246-1) issued only on Victor Heritage 15-1045

12.LA BOHÈME: Vecchia zimarra (Puccini)3:04

(B29247-2) issued only on AGSA11

13.Blagoslovlyayu vas, lesa (Blessed be these forests) [Pilgrim’s Song], Op. 47, No. 5 (Tchaikovsky)3:05

(B29248-1) 1004

14.Le cor (Flégier)4:02

(C29249-1) 6512, HMV DB881



New York City, 4 January 1924

15.Solntse vskhodit i zakhodit (The sun rises and sets) [Russian Prisoners’ Song] (Russian folk song)3:33

(B29244-1) 1004



Hayes, 14 July 1924

16.KNYAZ’ IGOR: Zdorov li knyaz’? (PRINCE IGOR: Are you well, Prince?) [Khan Konchak’s Aria, Act 2] (Borodin)4:45

(Cc4883-4) DB799, Victor 6533

17.Vdol’ po Piterskoy (Down the Petersky) (Russian folk song)2:27

(Bb4884-3) DA621, Victor 1050

18.ZHIZN’ ZA TSARYA: Moyo detishche, Antonidushka (A Life for the TSar: My dearest child, Antonidushka) (Glinka)4:48

(Cc4890-1) DB758, Victor 6534

19.Somneniye (Doubt) (Glinka)4:37
 with Marjorie Hayward, violin 

(Cc4891-2) DB881, Victor 6512


Tracks 1–5, 7 and 16–18 with orchestra, conducted by Eugene Goossens
Track 6 with orchestra and male chorus, conducted by Eugene Goossens; Sydney Coltham, tenor; Walter Glynne, tenor; Browning Mummery, tenor; Leonard Hubbard, baritone; Peter Dawson, bass-baritone; Edward Halland, bass
Track 8 with orchestra and male chorus, conducted by George W. Byng; Leonard Hubbard, baritone; Walter Glynne, tenor; Ivor Walters and William Michael, basses
Tracks 9 and 10 with orchestra, conducted by Julius Harrison
Tracks 11–14 with orchestra, conducted by Rosario Bourdon
Track 15 with Feodor Koenemann, piano
Track 19 with unidentified pianist

Tracks 1–5, 8, 10, 13, 15, 17–19 sung in Russian.
Tracks 9, 11, and 12 sung in Italian.
Tracks 6, 7, and 14 sung in French.


CD 7 (78:31)


Hayes, 8 October 1924

1.Die beiden Grenadiere (Vo Frantsiyu dva grenadera) (The Two Grenadiers), Op. 49, No. 1 (Schumann)3:07

(Cc556-5) DB102

2.KNYAZ’ IGOR: Ni sna, ni otdykha izmuchennoy dushe (Prince Igor: Neither sleep nor rest for my tormented soul) [Prince Igor’s Aria, Act 2] (Borodin)4:34

(Cc5195-2) DB799



Hayes, 26 October 1925

3.BORIS GODUNOV: Da zdravstvuyet Tsar’ Boris Feodorovich! … Skorbit dusha (Long live Tsar Boris Feodorovich! … My heart is heavy) [Coronation Scene] (Mussorgsky)8:24

(Cc7064-3 and Cc7066-1) DB900, Victor 11485
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on the first side of this scene.

4.FAUST: Seigneur, daignez permettre à votre humble servante [Church Scene] (Gounod)9:23
 with Florence Austral, soprano 

(Cc7067-2 and Cc7075-1) DB899

5.FAUST: Quand du Seigneur le jour luira [Church Scene, Side Two, Alternative Take] (Gounod)4:44
 with Florence Austral, soprano 

(Cc7075-2) this take was used on later issues of DB899



Hayes, 5 November 1925

6.DEMON: Na vozdushnom okeane (On the ocean of the air) (Rubinstein)4:40

(Cc7193-1) issued only on HMB53

7.DEMON: Ya tot, kotoromu vnimala (I am the one to whom you listened) (Rubinstein)3:45

(Cc7194-1) issued only on HMB53



Hayes, 20 May 1926

8.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: La calunnia è un venticello (Rossini)3:56

(Cc8412-1A) DB932

9.Die beiden Grenadiere (Vo Frantsiyu dva grenadera) (The Two Grenadiers), Op. 49, No. 1 (Schumann)3:09

(Cc8413-2A) DB933, Victor 6619

10.Pesnya Mefistofelya o blokhe (Mephistopheles’s Song of the Flea) (Mussorgsky)2:54

(Cc8414-2) DB932

11.Ey, ukhnem! (Song of the Volga Boatmen) (Russian folk song, arranged by Chaliapin and Koenemann)3:53

(Cc8415-2) previously unissued
Note: The master for this disc is damaged.

12.Nochnoy smotr (The Midnight Review) (Glinka)4:11

(Cc8416-1A) DB933, Victor 6619

13.BORIS GODUNOV: Proshchay, moy syn, umirayu (Farewell my son, I am dying) (Mussorgsky)4:28

(CR375-1) DB934, Victor 6724

14.BORIS GODUNOV: Zvon! Pogrebal’ny zvon! (The knell! The funeral knell!) (Mussorgsky)4:26

(CR374-4) issued only on Australian pressings of DB934.
Note: We are using this take to present this scene as it was published in Australia. Unpublished take 3 follows out of sequence.

15.BORIS GODUNOV: Zvon! Pogrebal’ny zvon! (The knell! The funeral knell!) (Mussorgsky)4:29

(CR374-3A) previously unissued

16.BORIS GODUNOV: Da zdravstvuyet Tsar’ Boris Feodorovich! … Skorbit dusha! (Long live Tsar Boris Feodorovich! … My heart is heavy) [Coronation Scene] (Mussorgsky)8:26

(CR377-2A and CR378-2A) unissued on 78rpm
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on the first side of this scene.


Tracks 1, 2, 6, and 7, with orchestra, conducted by Julius Harrison
Tracks 3–5 with orchestra and chorus, conducted by Albert Coates
Tracks 8–13 with orchestra, conducted by Eugene Goossens
Tracks 14–16 with orchestra and chorus, conducted by Eugene Goossens

Tracks 1–3, 6, 7, 9–16 sung in Russian.
Tracks 4 and 5 sung in French.
Track 8 sung in Italian.


CD 8 (71:38)


Covent Garden, 31 May 1926
Recorded during a performance of MEFISTOFELE (Boito)

1.Ave, Signore degli angeli e dei santi [Prologo]3:28

(CR383-1) DB940
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on this side.

2.Ave Signor! [Mefistofele’s Entrance, Prologo]4:04

(CR384-1) DB940

3.Salve Regina [Prologo finale]5:49

(CR385-1A and CR386-1A) D1109
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on these sides, but can be heard shouting along with the chorus, and whistling at the conclusion of the Prologue.

4.Son lo spirito che nega [Act 1]3:13

(CR388-1) DB942

5.Ah! Su! Riggiamo, riggiamo [Ridda e fuga infernale, Act 2]2:58

(CR390-1A) DB942



Camden, New Jersey, 15 March 1927

6.Pesnya Mefistofelya o blokhe (Mephistopheles’s Song of the Flea) (Mussorgsky)2:59

(CVE37851-1) 6783



Camden, New Jersey, 16 March 1927

7.BORIS GODUNOV: Kak vo gorode bylo vo Kazani (It all happened in the town of Kazan) [Varlaam’s Aria, Act 1] (Mussorgsky)2:29

(BVE26100-4) 1237, HMV DA891

8.MEFISTOFELE: Ave signor! [Prologo] (Boito)3:13

(BVE27089-7) 1269, HMV DA962

9.KNYAZ’ IGOR: Greshno tait’ ya skuki ne lyublyu (PRINCE IGOR: I can’t conceal that I dislike boredom) [Prince Galitsky’s Aria, Act 1] (Borodin)3:36

(BVE27091-2) 1237, HMV DA891



Camden, New Jersey, 18 March 1927

10.IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA: Dunque la calunnia che cos’è … La calunnia è un venticello (Rossini)4:41

(CVE26102-6) issued only on Victor 6783

11.LA SONNAMBULA: Il mulino, il fonte, il bosco … Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni (Bellini)3:11

(BVE27088-5) 1269, HMV DA962

12.The Blind Ploughman (Clarke)3:06

(BVE37854-1) 1365, HMV DA993



Liederkranz Hall, New York City, 7 April 1927

13.DON QUICHOTTE: Ô, mon maître, ô mon grand! [Death of Don Quichotte] (Massenet)8:46

(CVE38334-1 and CVE38335-1) 6693, HMV DB1096



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 13 June 1927

14.BORIS GODUNOV: Zvon! Pogrebal’ny zvon! (The knell! The funeral knell!) (Mussorgsky)4:33

(Cc10938-3) DB934, Victor 6724
Note: This recording was used for all issues of DB934 except for Australian pressings which use CR374-4, CD 7, Track 15.



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 15 June 1927

15.Prorok (The Prophet), Op. 49, No. 2 (Rimsky-Korsakov)4:08

(Cc10957-1) issued only on Victor 7199

16.Kak korol’ shyol na voynu (When the king went forth to war), Op. 7, No. 6 (Koenemann)3:55

(Cc10958-1) DB1068, Victor 7199

17.Kak korol’ shyol na voynu (When the king went forth to war), Op. 7, No. 6 (Koenemann)3:54

(Cc10958-2) previously unissued



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 17 June 1927

18. In questa tomba oscura (Beethoven)3:31

(Cc10961-2) issued on early pressings of DB1068


Tracks 1–5 with orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Vincenzo Bellezza
Tracks 6–13 with orchestra, conducted by Rosario Bourdon
Tracks 14–18 with orchestra, conducted by Lawrance Collingwood


Tracks 1–5, 8, 10, 11, and 18 sung in Italian.
Tracks 6, 7, 9, and 14–17 sung in Russian.
Track 12 sung in English.
Track 13 sung in French.


CD 9 (72:52)


Paris, 27 September 1927

1.Ty vzoydi, solntse krasnoe (Arise, fair sun) [Barge-Haulers’ Song] (Russian folk song)2:31

(CTR3079-2) issued only on HM 185

2.Iz-pod duba, da iz-pod vyaza (From under the oak, from under the elm) (Russian folk song)1:54

(CTR3079-2) issued only on HM 185

3.Ochi chornye (Black Eyes) (Gypsy romance)3:37

(CTR3080-1) DB3463, Victor 15236



Paris, 29 September 1927

4.Pokayaniya otverzi mi dveri (Open the gates of repentance) (Vedel)4:24

(CTR3106-2) issued only on HMB 185



Royal Albert Hall, London, 11 October 1927
Recorded during a concert performance of MOTSART I SALYERI (Mozart and Salieri) (Rimsky-Korsakov)

5.Vse govoryat: net pravdy na zemle (Everyone says there is no fairness on earth)7:42
 with Theodore Ritch, tenor 

(CR1525-1, CR1526-1) issued only on HM 173

6.Kak nekiy kheruvim (Like a certain cherub)4:22
 with Theodore Ritch, tenor 

(CR1527-1) issued only on HM 174

7.Ty zasnyosh’ nadolgo, Motsart! (You will sleep forever, Mozart!)3:09
 with Theodore Ritch, tenor 

(CR1528-1) issued only on HM 174



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 20 October 1927

8.Prorok (The Prophet), Op. 49, No. 2 (Rimsky-Korsakov)4:24

(Cc10957-2) DB1103

9.In questa tomba oscura (Beethoven)3:40

(Cc10961-4) this take replaced take 1 on DB1068; also issued on Victor 6822

10.SADKO: O skaly groznye (Against the cruel crags) [Varangian Merchant’s Song] (Rimsky-Korsakov)3:39

(Cc11705-2) DB1104, Victor 6867

11.Ey, ukhnem! (Song of the Volga Boatmen) (Russian folk song, arranged by Chaliapin and Koenemann)3:33

(Cc11709-1) DB1103, Victor 6822

12.KNYAZ’ IGOR: Zdorov li knyaz’? (PRINCE IGOR: Are you well, Prince?) [Khan Konchak’s Aria, Act 2] (Borodin)4:47

(Cc11710-2) DB1104, Victor 6867



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 19 June 1928

13.DON GIOVANNI: Madamina, il catalogo è questo (Mozart)5:29

(Bb13832-1A, Bb13833-1) DA994, Victor 1393



Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 22 June 1928
Recorded during a performance of Faust (Gounod)

Act 1

14.Rien! En vain j’interroge8:48
 with Joseph Hislop, tenor 

(CR2097-1 and CR2098-1) unissued on 78rpm
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on these sides.

15.Mais ce Dieu, que peut-il pour moi?10:51
 with Joseph Hislop, tenor 

(CR2099-1, CR2100-1, and CR2101-1) unissued on 78rpm


Tracks 1–3 with Aristov Choir and balalaika orchestra, conducted by Alexander Scriabin
Track 4 with Aristov Choir, conductor unidentified
Tracks 5–7 with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society, conducted by Albert Coates
Tracks 8–12 with Orchestra, conducted by Albert Coates
Track 13 with orchestra, conducted by John Barbirolli
Tracks 14 and 15 with orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Eugene Goossens

Tracks 1–8, sung in Russian.
Tracks 9 and 13 sung in Italian.
Tracks 14 and 15 sung in French.


CD 10 (77:29)


Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 22 June 1928
Recorded during a performance of Faust (Gounod), (continued)

Act 2

1.Allons Amis! Point de vaines alarmes! … Le veau d’or3:37
 with Franklyn Kelsey, tenor 

(CR2103-1) unissued on 78rpm

2.Nous nous retrouverons, mes amis!4:45
 with Jane Laugier, soprano, and chorus 

(CR2104-1A) DB1189


Act 3

3.Faites-lui mes aveux3:10
 with Jane Laugier, soprano 

(CR2105-1) unissued on 78rpm
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on this side.

4.Salut! Demeure chaste et pure4:58
 with Joseph Hislop, tenor 

(CR2106-1) DB1189
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on this side.

5.Il était temps! Sous le feuillage sombre2:05

(BR2107-1) unissued on 78rpm


Act 4

6.Qu’attendez-vous encore … Vous qui faites l’endormie4:16

(CR2109-1) unissued on 78rpm



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 30 June 1928

7.Der Doppelgänger (Dvoynik), No. 13 from SCHWANENGESANG, D.957 (Schubert)4:04

(Cc13897-1A) DB1184, Victor 7116

8.Der Tod und das Mädchen (Smert’ i devushka), Op. 7, No. 3, D.531 (Schubert)2:08

(Cc13898-1) DB1184, Victor 7116

9.Oh, could I in song tell my sorrow (Malashkin)2:28

(Bb13899-2A) DA993, Victor 1365
Note: The English text that Chaliapin sings on this record is not a direct translation of the Russian text that he sings on his 1921 recording, CD 5, Track 2. The English text is by Rosa Harriet Newmarch.



Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 4 July 1928
Recorded during a performance of BORIS GODUNOV (Mussorgsky)

10.Da zdravstvuyet Tsar’ Boris Feodorovich! (Salve a te, Zar Boris Theodorovich!) (Long live Tsar Boris Feodorovich!) [Coronation Scene, Side One]4:20
 with chorus 

(CR2127-1) unissued on 78rpm
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on this side.

11.A ty, moy syn, chem zanyat? … Dostig ya vysshey vlasti (And you, my son, what are you busy with? … I have attained the highest power) [Boris’s Monologue, Act 2]8:21
 with Chaliapin singing in Russian with Margherita Carosio, soprano, singing in Italian 

(CR2130-1A and CR2131-1A) DB1181

12.Ukh, tyazhelo! Day dukh perevedu (Ah, I am suffocating) [Clock Scene]3:59

(CR2134-1A) DB1182

13.Vashei strasti ya ne veryu, Pane (Il vostro amor mi lascia indifferente) (Do not speak to me of love and passion) [Polonaise - Garden Scene]3:36
 with Irene Minghini-Cattaneo, soprano, and chorus 

(CR2135-1) unissued on 78rpm
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on this side.

14.Vali syuda! Na pen’ sadi, na pen’, rebyata! (Sia tratto qui, sul tronco messo ei sia, fratelli) (Bring him here, put him on the tree trunk, brothers) [Scene of the Riot at Kromy]4:06
 with chorus 

(CR2136-1) unissued on 78rpm
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on this side.

15.Chto-zh, poydyom na golosa, boyare? (Su, boiardi, incominciam! Chi parla?) (Come, boyars, let us begin! Who wants to speak?) [Scene in the Duma, Side One]3:19
 with chorus 

(CR2138-1) DB1182
Note: Chaliapin does not sing on this side.

16.Zhal’, Shuyskogo net knyazya (Ma qui non è Shuysky) (But Shuysky is not here) [Scene in the Duma, Side Two]3:04
 with Chaliapin singing in Russian with Angelo Bada and chorus singing in Italian 

(CR2139-1A) DB1183

17.Ya sozval vas, boyare (I have called you, boyars) [Scene in the Duma, Side Three]2:58
 with Chaliapin singing in Russian with Angelo Bada singing in Italian 

(CR2140-1A) unissued on 78rpm

18.Ostav’te nas! Uydite vse! … Proshchay, moy syn, umirayu (Leave us! Everyone go away! … Farewell my son, I am dying) [Farewell of Boris]7:38
 with chorus 

(CR2141-1A) DB 1183, (CR2142-1A) DB3464, Victor 15177

19.Plach’te, plach’te, lyudie (Weep, weep, people) [Death of Boris]4:35
 with Chaliapin singing in Russian with Margherita Carosio, soprano, and chorus, singing in Italian 

(CR2143-1A) DB3464, Victor 15177


Tracks 1–6 with orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Eugene Goossens
Tracks 7–9 with orchestra, conducted by Eugene Goossens
Tracks 10–19 with orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Vincenzo Bellezza


Tracks 1–6 sung in French.
Tracks 7 and 8 sung in Russian.
Track 9 sung in English.
Tracks 10–19 sung in Russian and Italian.


CD 11 (71:09)


Small Queen’s Hall, London, 13 June 1929

1.Vdol’ po Piterskoy (Down the Petersky) (Russian folk song, arranged by Alexandrov)2:05

(Bb16990-4) DA1061, Victor 1557

2.Mashen’ka (Russian folk song)3:43

(Bb16991-2) DA1061, Victor 1557

3.Proshchay, radost’, zhizn’ moya (Farewell to thee, my joy, my life) [Siberian Prisoners’ Song] (Russian folk song, arranged by Karatygin)4:06

(Cc16992-2) DB1352, Victor 7601



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 14 June 1929

4.Le cor (Flégier)4:54

(Cc17102-2) DB1342, Victor 7442

5.Staryi kapral (The Old Corporal) (Dargomyzhsky)4:45

(Cc17103-2T1) DB1342, Victor 7422



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 19 June 1929

6. Ona khokhotala (She laughed) (Lishin)3:41

(Cc17115-2) DB1352, Victor 7601



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 30 June 1929

7.Spoken sketch: Telephone conversation with Sacha Guitry and Yvonne Printemps2:34

(Test matrix 792-1, transferred 17 December 1934 to matrix 0EA249-1) unissued on 78rpm



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 7 November 1929

8.Nochen’ka (Night) (Russian folk song, arranged by Chaliapin)4:32

(Cc18144-1) previously unissued



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 10 November 1929

9.ALEKO: Ves’ tabor spit (All the gypsy camp is sleeping) (Rachmaninoff)4:50

(Cc18156-1) DB2145, Victor 14902

10.Trepak, No. 3 from PESNI I PLYASKI SMERTI (SONGS AND DANCES OF DEATH) (Mussorgsky)4:27

(Cc18157-1) DB1511



Salle Pleyel, Paris, 27 February, 1930

11.FAUST: Un rat, plus poltron ... Le veau d’or est toujours debout (Gounod)3:37
 with Michael Cozette, baritone 

(CF 3000-2) DB1437, Victor 7600

12.FAUST: Vous qui faites l’endormie (Gounod)3:18

(CF 3001-2) DB1437

13.FAUST: Vous qui faites l’endormie (Gounod)3:19

(CF 3001-3) DB1437, Victor 7600

14.DON QUICHOTTE: Quelle histoire! … Ça, vous commettez … Quand apparaissent les étoiles [Sancho Panza’s Aria, Act 4] (Massenet)3:58

(CF3002-2) issued only on HMB 182



Salle Chopin, Paris, 12 June 1930

15.Sten’ka Razin (Russian folk song)4:08

(CF 3357-3) DB1469

16.Somneniye (Doubt) (Glinka)5:06
 with Lucien Schwartz, violin 

(CF 3358-2) issued on early pressings of DB1469, Victor 15422

17.Uznik (The Prisoner), Op. 78, No. 6 (Rubinstein)2:54

(BF3359-2, re-recorded in 1934 on twelve-inch matrix 2EA5705-2) DB3463, Victor 15236

18.Nochen’ka (Night) (Russian folk song, arranged by Chaliapin)5:08

(CF 3360-2) DB2145, Victor 15422



Track 1 with Petersky balalaika orchestra
Track 2 unaccompanied
Track 3 and 6 with Ivor Newton, piano
Tracks 4 and 5 with orchestra, conducted by George W. Byng
Track 7 spoken
Track 8 with Max Rabinowitsch, piano
Tracks 9 and 10 with orchestra, conducted by Lawrance Collingwood
Tracks 11–14 with orchestra and chorus of the Paris Opera, conducted by Henri Busser
Tracks 15–18 with Ivan (Jean) Bazilevsky, piano


Tracks 1–3, 5, 6, 8-10, and 15–18 sung in Russian.
Tracks 4, and 11–14 sung in French.
Track 7 spoken in French.


CD 12 (72:46)


Salle Pleyel, Paris, 21 January 1931

1.Pokayaniya otverzi mi dveri (Open the gates of repentance) (Vedel)4:47

(2G111-1) previously unissued

2.Pokayaniya otverzi mi dveri (Open the gates of repentance) (Vedel)4:41

(2G111-2) DB1510

3.Nyne otpushchaeshi raba Tvoego, Vladyko (Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace) [Prayer from the Russian Orthodox Liturgy] (Strokin)3:34

(2G112-1) previously unissued



Salle Pleyel, Paris, 20 January 1931

4.Nyne otpushchaeshi raba Tvoego, Vladyko (Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace) [Prayer from the Russian Orthodox Liturgy] (Strokin)3:30

(2G112-2) DB1510

5.VRAZHYA SILA: Poteshu-ka svoyu khosyayku … Shirokaya maslenitsa (MALEVOLENT POWER: I’ll amuse my hostess … Merry Shrovetide) [Eremka’s Song, Act 2] (Serov)4:25

(2G113-2) DB1511



Salle Pleyel, Paris, 23 January 1931

6.BORIS GODUNOV: Da zdravstvuyet Tsar’ Boris Feodorovich! (Long live Tsar Boris Feodorovich!) [Coronation Scene, Side One Only] (Mussorgsky)3:52

(2G114-1) previously unissued
Note: Only side one of this scene was recorded at this session. Chaliapin does not sing on this side, but we include it here for the sake of completeness.



Small Queen’s Hall, London, 13 May 1931

7.Somneniye (Doubt) (Glinka)4:37
 with Cedric Sharp, cello 

(2B883-2) DB1469

8.Gelb rollt mir zu Füßen (Klubitsya volnoyu kipucheyu Kur)(The turbulent waters of the Kur are boiling), No. 9 from 12 LIEDER DES MIRZA-SCHAFFY (PERSIAN SONGS), Op. 34 (Rubinstein)4:42

(2B884-3) DB1525

9.Élégie (Massenet)4:16
 with Cedric Sharp, cello 

(2B885-1) DB1525, Victor 14902



Kingsway Hall, London, 6 June 1931

10.BORIS GODUNOV: Dostig ya vysshey vlasti (I have attained the highest power) [Boris’s Monologue, Act 2] (Mussorgsky)5:06

(2B577-2A) previously unissued

11.BORIS GODUNOV: Dostig ya vysshey vlasti (I have attained the highest power) [Boris’s Monologue, Act 2] (Mussorgsky)5:04

(2B577-3) DB1532, Victor 14517

12.BORIS GODUNOV: Ukh, tyazhelo! Day dukh perevedu (Ah, I am suffocating) [Clock Scene] (Mussorgsky)3:58

(2B578-1A) previously unissued

13.BORIS GODUNOV: Ukh, tyazhelo! Day dukh perevedu (Ah, I am suffocating) [Clock Scene] (Mussorgsky)4:05

(2B578-2) DB1532, Victor 14517



Kingsway Hall, London, 8 June 1931

14.RUSALKA: Okh, to-to vse vy, devki molodye (Ah, you young lasses are all alike) [Miller’s Aria, Act 1] (Dargomyzhsky)3:51

(2B579-2A) DB1530, Victor 7704

15.RUSALKA: Zdorovo, zdorovo, zyat’! (Good morrow, son-in-law!) [Mad Scene] (Dargomyzhsky)9:16
 with Georgi Pozemkovsky, tenor 

(2B580-1 and 2B581-1) DB 1531, Victor 11-8695

16.RUSLAN I LYUDMILA: O radost’! ... Blizok uzh chas torzhestva moego (Oh joy! … Already the hour of my triumph is near) [Farlaf’s Rondo] (Glinka)3:02

(2B582-2) DB1530, Victor 7704



Tracks 1–4 unaccompanied with Paris Russian Opera Chorus, conducted by D. Aristov
Track 5 with balalaika orchestra and chorus, conducted by O. Tchernoyarov
Track 6 with Paris Russian Opera orchestra and chorus, conducted by D. Aristov
Tracks 7 and 9 with Ivor Newton, piano
Track 8 with orchestra, conducted by Lawrance Collingwood
Tracks 10–16 with London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Max Steinmann

All tracks are sung in Russian.


CD 13 (75:19)


Salle Pleyel, Paris, 26 February 1932

1.Nyne otpushchaeshi raba Tvoego, Vladyko (Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace) [Prayer from the Russian Orthodox Liturgy] (Strokin)3:05

(2W1228-3) DB1699, Victor 7716

2.Zhilo dvenadtsat’ razboynikov (The Legend of the Twelve Brigands) (Russian folk song, arranged by Zharov)4:01

(2W1229-4) DB1700, Victor 7717

3.Pokayaniya otverzi mi dveri (Open the gates of repentance) (Vedel)4:21

(2W1327-1) DB1699, Victor 7716

4.Vniz po matushke po Volge (Down Mother Volga) (Russian folk song, arranged by Alexandrov)3:25

(2W1328-2) DB1700, Victor 7717



Salle Pleyel, Paris, 1 March 1932

5.Slava Tebe, Gospodi (Glory to Thee, O Lord) [Twofold Litany], No. 6 from LITURGIA DOMESTICA, Op. 79 (Grechaninov)4:32

(2W1337-1) previously unissued

6.Slava Tebe, Gospodi (Glory to Thee, O Lord) [Twofold Litany], No. 6 from LITURGIA DOMESTICA, Op. 79 (Grechaninov)4:23

(2W1337-2) previously unissued

7.Slava Tebe, Gospodi (Glory to Thee, O Lord) [Twofold Litany], No. 6 from LITURGIA DOMESTICA, Op. 79 (Grechaninov)4:21

(2W1337-3) DB1701, Victor 7715

8.Veruyu! (I believe) [Creed from the Russian Orthodox liturgy] (Arkhangelsky)4:12

(2W1338-2) DB1701, Victor 7715



Salle Chopin, Paris, 9 January 1933

9.Bolero (Dargomyzhsky)2:24

(0PG431-1) issued only on HMA 46



Salle Chopin, Paris, 13 March 1933

10.Ce château neuf [Chanson du départ de Don Quichotte]3:35

(0PG429-3) DA1310

11.Je veux chanter ici [Chanson du Duc]3:44

(0PG428-4) DA1310



Salle Chopin, Paris, 9 January 1933

12.Un an, me dure la journée [Chanson à Dulcinée]3:28

(0PG430-1) DA1311 2



Salle Chopin, Paris, 13 March 1933

13.Ne pleure pas, Sancho [Chanson de la mort de Don Quichotte]2:58

(0PG637-1) DA1310



Salle Chopin, Paris, 19 March 1934

14.Pesn’ ubogogo strannika (Song of the Needy Pilgrim) (Manykin-Nevstruev)3:34

(0PG1422-1) DA1371, Victor 1983

15.Ty vzoydi, solntse krasnoe (Arise, fair sun) [Barge-Haulers’ Song] (Russian folk song)3:33

(0PG1423-3) DA1371, Victor 1983
Note: This is actually a re-recording of Take 1 recorded at a higher volume.



Tokyo, 6 February 1936

16.Pesnya Mefistofelya o blokhe (Mephistopheles’s Song of the Flea) (Mussorgsky)3:05

(8112-4) Japanese Victor ND2, U.S. Victor 14901

17.Ey, ukhnem! (Song of the Volga Boatmen) (Russian folk song, arranged by Chaliapin and Koenemann)3:29

(8113-4) Japanese Victor ND2, U.S. Victor 14901



Private undated cylinder recordings, 1898-1902

18.SADKO: O skaly groznye (Against the cruel crags) [Varangian Merchant’s Song] (Rimsky-Korsakov)2:01
19.KNYAZ’ IGOR: Tol’ko b mne dozhdat’sya chesti (PRINCE IGOR: If only I could have the honor) [Prince Galitsky’s Aria, Act 1, Second Stanza] (Borodin)1:54
20.FAUST: O nuit, étends sur eux ton ombre (O, noch’, oden’ ty ikh svoim pokrovom) (Gounod)0:53
21.Nochen’ka (Night) (Russian folk song)2:33
22.Snezhki beloye, pushistye (White, fluffy snow) (Russian folk song)1:44
23.Ekh, vse-to ya glazki, glaza proglyadela (I have worn my eyes out) (Russian folk song)1:13
24.Akh ty, solntse, solntse krasnoe (O thou sun, fair sun), Op. 10, No. 1 (Slonov)2:49

Tracks 1, and 3–8 with the Russian Metropolitan Church Choir of Paris, conducted by Nicolai Afonsky
Track 2 with small male chorus of the Russian Metropolitan Church Choir of Paris, conducted by Nicolai Afonsky
Track 9 with Piero Coppola, piano
Tracks 10–13 with orchestra, conducted by Jacques Ibert
Tracks 14 and 15 with balalaika orchestra and Afonsky Choir
Tracks 16 and 17 with George de Godzinsky, piano
Tracks 18–21 and 24, with unidentified pianist
Tracks 22 and 23, unaccompanied

All tracks are sung in Russian except Tracks 10–13, which are sung in French.



•     •     •     •     •

Producers: Ward Marston and Scott Kessler

Audio Conservation: Ward Marston and J. Richard Harris

Photographs: Girvice Archer; Gregor Benko; Joseph Darsky; the Metropolitan Opera Archives, John Pennino, Archivist; Charles Mintzer; Jihoon Suk; and André Tubeuf

Booklet Coordinator: Mark S. Stehle

Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi



Marston wishes to thank the following collectors for placing their collections of Chaliapin discs entirely at our disposal: Gregor Benko; Lawrence F. Holdridge; Peter Lack; and Owen Williams, son of collector Richard (Bebb) Williams

Marston is thankful for Veli-Jussi Koskinen’s digital transfers of (CD 1, Track 9), (CD 4, Track 4), and (CD 10, Track 17); and Ilya Shutenko’s digital transfer of (CD 10, Track 13).

Marston is grateful to David Bond, whose transformational gift is tremendously appreciated.

The Complete Chaliapin is sponsored by major gifts from Stephen Bauman, Arthur Lawrence, Paul Terry, and Des Wilson.

Marston would also like to thank this set’s many contributors for their tremendous generosity: Wayne Anderson, Jack Bulmash, Henry Fogel, John Frigo, Cary Frumess, Harry Glaze, Dennis Hardwick, Alfred King, John Lambert, Jeffrey Miller, John O’Brien, Phillip Pearl, Carlos Mendes Pinheiro, Jr., Bob Simon, Joseph Simunac, Neville Sumpter, Charles Tarverand, Erkki Valsta.

Marston thanks Gregor Benko, John Bolig, Veli-Jussi Koskinen, Neal Kurtz, and Ilya Shutenko for their editorial and discographic help.



The late John Steane, in his book Voices—Singers & Critics (Duckworth, London 1992, p. 226) quotes an interesting review of Chaliapin by the esteemed critic Ernest Newman: “He is in the fullest sense of the word a singer…he can produce satisfying musical tone with his mouth in any position, pronouncing any vowel, any consonant, expression or shade of thought or feeling. He can sneer, or hiss, or cackle, or fume, and still the tone remains inexplicably musical…. Chaliapin at fifty-eight can sing all the Italians off the stage.”

Bel canto with a Russian accent

There have been imitators of Chaliapin, some of them great artists in their own right, but none have been able to recapture the spontaneous, chameleon-like variety of his singing. This vast range of expression, as well as his bel canto mastery of vocal shading and rhythmic elasticity, was due partly to superior intellectual gifts which, however, he could not have realized in vocal terms had he not been blessed with splendid vocal training by his principal teacher, Dimitri Andreevich Usatov (1847–1913). In 1893 the twenty-year-old Chaliapin was stranded in Tiflis (Tbilisi), hungry and desperate for work, when one day he went to visit Usatov, who had been a celebrated tenor and friend of Tchaikovsky, and was now settled as a teacher in Tiflis. Usatov was so impressed by the young man’s voice that he not only gave him free lessons for a year, but also fed and clothed him. Chaliapin never forgot his debt to Usatov, and after his teacher’s death he continued to support his widow financially. (In the spring and summer of 1897 Chaliapin made his first journey outside Russia—to Paris—with a view to taking singing lessons, but it is not known whether he actually took lessons or not.)

Usatov had been a pupil of the excellent Belgian baritone Camille François Everard (1824–1899), known to this day in Russia—where he settled as singer and teacher after a successful debut in Saint Petersburg in 1853—as Camille (or Camillo) Everardi. He had studied in Paris with Manuel Garcia II, and so Chaliapin—mostly, I suspect, unknown to the critics and audiences who heard him in Milan, Paris, London, and New York—belonged to the “family tree” of Garcia pupils, like Peter Dawson, Clarence Whitehill, Dora Labbette, Miriam Licette, Ada Adini, and so many others.

In 1860 “Signor Everardi”, after considerable success in Paris, appeared in the Italian Opera Season at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, where he was heard by that masterly critic, Henry Fothergill Chorley, who rather liked him. Of his debut in La favorita we read: “Signor Everardi (another French baritone) as the King, made a very striking first appearance. He has sufficient style, self-control, with due self-abandonment (when that is wanted), and dramatic feeling, to redeem what defects of voice may be charged against him. The impression which he made was real, and he may be listened for by all true musicians with expectation in other operas. In La favorita he was singing music too high for him; but there was no mistaking his treatment of the part.” (The Athenaeum, No. 1694, 14 April 1860.) Of Il barbiere di Siviglia Chorley reports:

“Signor Everardi’s Figaro is clever, busy, and well-sustained” (The Athenaeum, No. 1699, 19 May 1860.) When the French bass Edouard Gassier made his London debut in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Mr. Chorley snapped “We cannot but fancy him superfluous in a theatre which possesses so meritorious an artist as Signor Everardi.” (The Athenaeum, No. 1703, 16 June 1860.) From No. 1704, 23 June 1860, we learn that “Signor Everardi confirmed every good impression made on us by his singing” (in Rossini’s Stabat Mater). Finally, referring to the closing of the 1860 season, Mr. Chorley opines that “Signor Everardi could with difficulty be replaced by any artist of his class”, and that he is “rising in public appreciation.” Unfortunately, London never heard him again.

Other pupils of this noteworthy teacher were the tenor Nicolai Figner, the baritone Joachim Tartakov, and the bass Fyodor Stravinsky (father of the composer).

When, in his books, Chaliapin fulminated against bel canto, he meant to castigate singers who were only interested in producing beautiful sounds or dazzling audiences with their brilliant vocalization, and who showed no interest in the dramatic content of operatic or concert music. The true ideals of bel canto are, ironically, those very aspects of the Garcia method that Chaliapin imbibed from Usatov: the old Italian method of breathing, smooth vocal emission, blending of the registers, mastery of legato and portamento di voce, correct enunciation, and control of vocal shading and coloring. Although he was perfectly capable of clean and precise execution, as we hear in some of the earlier records, he never showed any real interest in florid singing. Despite the attempts of some critics to set up Adam Didur or the great Vladimir Kastorsky as bel canto singers in opposition to the “rougher” Chaliapin, one only has to listen to Chaliapin singing Malashkin’s song “Oh, could I in song tell my sorrow” to understand why Levik compared him with Battistini. Chaliapin enjoys the same kind of vocal and rhythmical imagination that illuminates Battistini’s singing, and there is a similar underlying musical and vocal tension in his legato that can blossom into powerfully sustained singing of extraordinary intensity. To follow with the score his 1912 recording of “Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni” from La sonnambula is to realize at once how carefully he has prepared this classic exercise in bel canto: every portamento written in by Bellini is elegantly executed, the syncopated notes delicately stressed, the voice floating on the breath throughout, and the tone of nostalgia perfectly captured. The neatly vocalized cadenza includes an interpolated high F and ends on a beautifully controlled crescendo on the C above the bass stave. A small but enthusiastic chorus adds to the effect of this delightful record.

If we compare Chaliapin with Kastorsky in the aria from A Life for the Tsar, we hear their similarity of technique and musical approach—Kastorsky produces his upper notes in the same classical manner as Chaliapin. The timbre of Kastorsky’s voice is smoother, creamier than that of his more famous rival, and he sings the aria beautifully with a suitably haunting, melancholy tone, his limpid voice suggesting the purring of a fat black cat; we might compare him with Pol Plançon. However! Chaliapin not only illuminates every phrase with his unique eloquence—even in the primitive 1902 recording—but somehow he even manages to convince us that his is the more beautiful voice.

Did this great singer suffer any vocal decline?

This publication of all Chaliapin’s recordings, from nineteenth-century cylinders to the Tokyo Victors of 1936, drives home the point that in a forty-year career and despite an unconventionally hectic lifestyle, his voice never suffered any serious deterioration. In some ways, indeed, it improved over the years. The London critics in the ‘twenties sometimes complained that the voice was no longer what it had been in 1913 and 1914, but they may have been reviewing first-night performances at which the susceptible and temperamental bass was not in top form. It is true that even his great record of “Oh, could I in song tell my sorrow”, which was recorded in 1921 during his first visit to England after the war and the revolution, suggests some thinness of tone that might be attributed to his sufferings during that terrible period. However, Ernest Newman wrote of his first 1921 concert: “In the old days what made him so remarkable was not only the glory of his voice, but his extraordinary command of it. Last night this art of his was as wonderful as ever; it really seemed as if we had heard no real singing since he left us in 1914.” (Quoted in Victor Borovsky’s Chaliapin, a Critical Biography, Hamish Hamilton, London 1988, p. 441.) The most experienced of London critics, Herman Klein, when reviewing in the Gramophone Chaliapin’s 1926 re-recording of the “Farewell and Death of Boris”, wrote: “He is now fifty-four, and has been before the public well over thirty years. Yet his forces remain in all respects undiminished; while the magnifying power of the new process would appear, if anything, to strengthen and enhance the individual qualities and volume of his tone until they equal those of the living organ.” It is interesting that Klein should declare, when reviewing the “Death of Don Quixote” from Massenet’s opera, “The voice alone carries one back to Chaliapin’s best days, so strong, so clear, so robust is it…. On the whole, I think this by far the best record that he has ever made and perhaps the finest piece of voice recording that HMV has ever issued to the public.” (Quoted from Herman Klein and the Gramophone, edited by William R. Moran, Amadeus Press, Portland, Oregon, 1990.)

The cylinder recordings, made when Chaliapin was in his mid-twenties, seem to have been rather well recorded but have suffered from wear. Their clearer portions reveal a singer already master of his craft. Slonov’s song “O thou sun, fair sun” ends with the highest note recorded by Chaliapin, an A natural. It is a falsetto note, a remnant of his choirboy’s voice, and very beautiful and effective. The interesting thing for the vocal enthusiast is the way he executes the arpeggio leading to it, passing from an A, top line of the bass stave, to the high E, changing from a full chest voice into the light, mixed sound of his typical falsetto, and then he surprises us by going up to the high A, on which there is even a sort of crescendo and diminuendo. He is clever enough not to let us hear any “gear changing”.

In the G&Ts of 1902 we hear the familiar voice in the full panoply of youth, with almost a tenor-like ring to the highest notes. In the excellent records made in Saint Petersburg in 1907 and in Paris in 1908 we hear a rich bass-baritone timbre in the lower register, with a light and unobtrusive vibrato, and in the upper range, beginning perhaps on the B above the bass clef and extending up at least to the high F sharp, we hear a beautifully produced mixed voice, with the head resonance predominating, and with hardly any vibrato unless he is singing loudly with an increased proportion of chest voice. In fact, his method resembles that of Plançon, who, according to Caruso, “sang like a ‘cello”. This technique, derived from the old-Italian school of singing, not only enabled Chaliapin to preserve his voice into old age but also facilitated his singing of arias in a high tessitura. His singing of the “Calf of Gold” song from Faust, for example, improves over the years: in the 1907 version he resorts to singing the repeated E-flats of “Et Satan conduit le bal” in a rather rough full voice, whereas in the recordings of 1923 and 1930 he lets the head voice predominate, encompassing these trying passages with ease, and the sustained E-flats are very brilliant. The live performance from Covent Garden in 1928 is in some ways even more impressive. In the electrical recordings the vibrato is looser in the low and medium range, and possibly the tone has lost some of the furry richness of the early records, but this seems to indicate the results of a busy thirty years of correct singing rather than any kind of wear on the voice: on the contrary, in the 1931 recording of “Farlaf’s Rondo” from Russlan and Ludmilla the rapidity and incisive quality of the patter singing is superior to what we hear in the 1908 recording, and this late version is crowned with a truly spectacular high F. The earlier records reveal a weakness in the low notes, even the A-flat being breathy, but this part of the voice steadily improved: in the live Faust of 1928 he actually takes an optional low F—not the organ-pipe sound we might expect from a Russian bass, but a correctly sung note. In “Le cor”, once a favorite bass showpiece, where others descend to the low D, Chaliapin rises suavely to a hauntingly atmospheric D above the stave in mixed voice. His low D, an appropriately ghostly note, is featured at the end of “Death and the Maiden”. In the 1907 “Sérénade” from Faust he is one of the few basses to sing the laughter on high G as indicated in the score, but one would not call the sounds he emits as typical singing of the Garcia school!

Chaliapin’s command of light and shade is legendary, and he worked seriously on this aspect of his art, as Fred Gaisberg reveals: “Frequently he came to our recording studios, and I carried out for him a series of experiments in voice-placing and tone-color, principally in those falsetto effects of which he later became so fond.” Chaliapin’s friendly relationship with the Gramophone Company, and with Gaisberg in particular, led to the happiest results: no record was ever published in which the genial giant was in less than good voice. (It is perhaps worth noticing that the early electrical and somewhat experimental-sounding recordings of two arias from The Demon, which were not passed for publication, seem to show the voice in a rather ragged and worn condition, although his legato in “On the ocean of the air” is nearly as lovely as in his 1911 recording.)

The recording sessions were frequently a cause of emotional stress: “He never made a gramophone record willingly; he had to be coerced and almost kidnapped. He went to the grave without discovering the most propitious hour of the twenty-four in which to record. Eventually I learned that it was useless to call a Chaliapin session before 8 in the evening or even later.” (quoted in Jerrold Northrop Moore, A Voice in Time, the Gramophone of Fred Gaisberg 1873–1951, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1976).

Borovsky’s excellent biography includes a staggering gallery of photographs of the artist in many of his roles, often in extremely dramatic poses; they confirm that he was a larger-than-life figure on the stage, just as he sounds on records. John Steane (op. cit., p. 266) amusingly quotes a review of Boris Godunov from 1928 by the English critic Dyneley Hussey, one of the very few ever printed that criticized Chaliapin’s acting: “his methods belong to a school of acting which passed away in this country when Sir Herbert Tree died.” Now, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852–1917), an English actor and theater manager, was a very charismatic actor able to really adopt a different (speaking) voice for each character that he played, as we can hear on his five G&T records of 1906. This would be very dangerous for a singer to imitate, but it was obviously a problem to which Chaliapin devoted a great deal of thought. In his records of the three roles in Boris Godunov he does succeed in somewhat differentiating the voices of the three characters he undertakes, finding a rather somber but noble tone for the monk Pimen, especially in the beautifully sung 1910 recording of the monologue “Yet one more final tale”, and a riotously vulgar tone for “Varlaam’s Song”. His Boris sings in a dignified tone that is likely to give way at any moment to delirium.

One should mention his eccentricities; his singing is replete with personal mannerisms that must have disconcerted the more straight-laced critics. His attitude to florid singing is idiosyncratic: in the “Calf of Gold” recordings of 1902 and 1907 he is trying to sing the florid passages accurately in the accepted manner, whereas in 1923 he articulates several of them with his celebrated “intrusive W”—or is it an “intrusive B?”—giving a bumbling effect. Who knows? Maybe, in an excess of scrupulousness, he felt that this gave added clarity to the composer’s notes. By 1931 all the florid passages in this aria are articulated by means of the “intrusive W”. The same gradual abandoning, over the years, of a clean execution in favor of the “Chaliapin effect”, may be heard in “La calunnia”. Another mannerism, this one more skillfully disguised, is the occasional tendency to precede a consonant with an unwritten vowel (true disciples of bel canto such as Patti and Battistini do not do this): for example, in Méphistophélès’s “Sérénade” he sings: “a-N’ouvre ta porte, ma belle, a-Que la bague au doigt.“ No singer trained in the old French school would contemplate doing this. Also, in all his French-language recordings of the Sérénade, he mispronounces the words “au doigt”—not that this slip in any way reduces the effect of his rallentando, and the nasty, insinuating tone of the word “bague”. (He is telling “Catherine” to get herself a ring on her finger before she slips up again.) At this point I must point out that although Chaliapin’s pronunciation of French, Italian, and English is idiosyncratic, critics then and now tend to overlook this deficiency. Melba and Mary Garden did not get away with it!

Chaliapin’s frustration in never realizing onstage an interpretation of Gounod’s Méphistophélès that could satisfy his craving for a complete and striking characterization might, in part, have been due to a basic incompatibility with French operatic style. He had already played Bertram in Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable, the role on which Méphistophélès is based, and he knew that a mixture of the serious and the buffo styles was called for: in “Nous nous retrouverons” from the Covent Garden live performance we can actually hear someone laughing, presumably at Chaliapin’s antics. Plançon’s various recordings of the Sérénade show a similar mocking tone sustained throughout an impeccable legato line based on a constant portamento di voce, with a similar use of rallentando and perfectly executed high E-naturals in head voice; Chaliapin, we feel, is aiming at something like this, but whereas Plançon’s style is the epitome of elegance and understatement, Chaliapin goes “over the top” in singing, acting, and rhythmic elasticity, rather overloading poor Gounod’s meticulously polished music.

It may be true to say that Chaliapin’s repeated recordings of a particular piece, over a period of years, constitute improvements over the original versions, though, for example, there is something unforgettable about the 1902 “Night”, with its clean execution and haunting tone, that even the fine later versions cannot quite replace. The 1908 “La calunnia” contains some decorations that he omitted from later recordings, though in this case his ideal version would seem to be the 1912 Milan recording, in which his ornamentation is fairly clearly defined and the interpretation delightfully saturnine, without exaggeration. However, the 1927 Victor is likely to be everyone’s favorite—a brilliant recording of a staggering performance, in which Chaliapin achieves a diminuendo on the high E after taking it fortissimo, then descending an octave by means of a graceful portamento. In the recitative he also sings a short interjection of Don Bartolo, whereas in the 1926 electric HMV he introduces an entire spoken phrase in which Don Bartolo croaks: “Ma questa è la fine del mondo!” We may assume that Antonio Pini-Corsi, a great Bartolo, might well have made such an interpolation in someone else’s aria. Chaliapin’s liberal ornamentation shocked Tullio Serafin, but in fact these graces were sung by all Italian basses before 1914 (and were recorded by Francesco Navarini and Agostino Lanzoni, to name but two) and they do, in fact, embellish the music.

The recordings from Boris Godunov demand separate consideration because of Chaliapin’s fanatical love of Mussorgsky. It has been particularly interesting for me to follow them with a vocal score used by the great conductor Ettore Panizza, which contains the Italian translation used at Covent Garden and many penciled-in indications of performance practice. How curious that Chaliapin should have recorded music for Pimen and Varlaam in 1910, before committing any of Boris’s music to wax! Records demonstrate, rather surprisingly, that as early as 1911 he had already “fixed” his interpretation of the Prayer and Death: all later recordings contain the same changes to words and notes, as well as interpolations such as the sustained B-flat, pianissimo, at the end of the Prayer. The 1911 recording is very fine, but is eclipsed by the live recording of 1928, in which we hear the wonderfully expressive and still beautiful voice resonating through the warm acoustic of Covent Garden, and we can hang onto every pianissimo and thrill to the chilling moments together with that fortunate audience. This live performance enjoys wonderful conducting by Vincenzo Bellezza, and all the long stage pauses, bumps, and bangs, and even the occasional cough from the audience add to the electric atmosphere. One big difference is in the monologue “I have attained the highest power”: in the stage performance Chaliapin closely follows the score’s plentiful suggestions for soft singing, whereas in his acoustic recording of 1923, in which the music is squeezed onto one single side, he is louder and more aggressive. Although he generally takes the lower note when Mussorgsky (or Rimsky-Korsakov) offers alternatives, at Covent Garden he includes a high G-flat which he omits in 1923. In 1931 Chaliapin produced, in Paris, a “re-studied” revival of Boris Godunov and at the time he recorded two sides from the opera which have remained unpublished and which are lost to us. It would have been interesting to hear what changes, if any, he had made to his most famous interpretation.

His song recordings, ranging from his beloved Russian folk songs and concert songs to lieder by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Grieg, English ballads and French art songs, all treated to a unique transformation by the Master, culminate in a group of songs recorded in 1931: Doubt (Glinka), Élégie (Massenet), and the so-called Persian Love Song by Rubinstein. Out of these charming but hardly great songs the Master has wrought three masterpieces of musical and dramatic expression in his unique personal style. After hearing him sing “Doubt” the melody remains obstinately in the head and is difficult to shake off. Of the two electrically recorded versions, his tones blend better with Cedric Sharpe’s ‘cello rather than with the finely played but thin-toned violin of Lucien Schwartz, but he is in better voice with Schwartz and ends on a virtuoso high E pianissimo. Massenet’s “Élégie”, a once very popular song, enjoys a unique interpretation based almost entirely on piano and pianissimo singing. Finally, Chaliapin has transformed Anton Rubinstein’s attractive song “The turbulent waters of the Kur are boiling” into a thing of magic, incorporating some of the piano part into the vocal line: even without knowing a word of Russian, generations of music-lovers have remained enchanted by this gorgeous oriental tapestry of clever vocal effects culminating in a pianissimo high G in a falsetto that is cleverly blended into the head and chest voices, as we can hear when he wanders back down the scale. The whole song heartbreakingly suggests lost love, nostalgia, regret. Of course, he had been practicing these “special effects” for years, especially in his recordings of folk songs, where the variety and magnetism of his singing is frequently amazing, perhaps especially so when he is joined by a lively chorus—after Gaisberg’s descriptions of what went on backstage at these sessions, we can only marvel that recordings probably made in the middle of the night should be so eternally rewarding.

© Michael Aspinall, 2017



At any other time the very great Russian basso Vladimir Kastorsky (1870–1948) and his equally great Ukrainian counterpart Lev Sibiryakov (1869–1938) might have come to enjoy wider acclaim than they did, but unfortunately for them they were put in the shade by their contemporary Feodor Chaliapin. Chaliapin ranks with Caruso and Maria Callas as one of the three greatest singers and most potent and influential operatic artists of the twentieth century. In one respect his achievement was even more remarkable than theirs: The naturally affecting quality of high voices had given the soprano and tenor the ascendancy in opera for more than a century and a half; even the most renowned basses from Galli and Lablache to Edouard de Reszke and Plançon had been reduced to playing subordinate roles. Chaliapin changed all that, not by trying to outmatch them where he never could have—in the production of clarion high notes or brilliant fioritura—but by transforming the bass from a character and supporting player into the protagonist. In his great days he never played comprimario roles. No company could have afforded to waste him on them, for he was also the first bass to demand, and receive, fees as high if not higher than any prima donna or primo tenore; in the 1920s in the United States with the Hurok company he received $3,500 a performance, a record that stood unbroken for thirty years, until—appropriately enough—the arrival of Callas. He accomplished this supremacy by means of the Russian opera, until his time something provincial and obscure.

From its beginnings in the works of Verstovsky and Glinka the bass had played important parts, but it was not until Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov that the Russian histrionic and vocal genius found an opportunity for full expression. It was Boris that made Chaliapin and which he popularized, first in Russia and then throughout the world. He stamped his personality indelibly on the part, creating a performing tradition that is still extant. Equally he transformed and expanded traditional conceptions of non-Russian roles, particularly Méphistophélès in the operas of Gounod and Boito. Chaliapin was the quintessential Russian. Born of peasant stock in the first generation after the freeing of the serfs when a whole people was becoming aware for the first time of their own identity, he was himself an expression of that awareness, and his art of a nation’s deep-rooted and all-embracing culture. From his childhood, he was familiar with the music of the people: real folk music, not the boozy balalaika numbers that he used to sing in later years for fun—and money. The folk music of Russia a hundred years ago was rich and varied, especially the unaccompanied songs for groups of different voices with their simple but affecting harmonies. From this experience, Chaliapin acquired that unerring ear which enabled him to make such an effect in his early recording of ‘They don’t let Masha walk across the brook’ [Mashen’ka], a tour de force in which the line of the melody is sheer perfection and the story is graphically told by subtle graduations of color and an almost insolently masterful use of dynamic variations. Like Caruso, as a boy Chaliapin sang in a church choir, and though he was never a devout man, all of his life Russian liturgical music evoked a deep response in him and one which he communicates fervently in so many records, in particular in Gretchaninov’s Twofold Litany [Liturgia Domestica] ‘Glory to the Thee, O Lord’, one of the greatest pieces of declamation on record.

But formative though the influence of folk and church music was and important as it remained to him for the rest of his life, it was through the theater that his art was to find complete expression. By his own account he was twelve years old when he was taken to see one of the many travelling companies that trouped back and forth across old Russia. It was love at first sight, and from that time he does not seem to have seriously entertained any other ambition than a career on the stage. His first theatrical experiences date from 1889 when he was only fifteen; in the following year he undertook his first major operatic role that of Stolnik in Moniuszko’s Halka. At first he appeared in plays as well as opera, but as his voice developed his inclination towards the lyric theater grew. Then in 1892 he had the first of those lucky breaks which are such a feature of the careers of the greatest artists: he met Dmitri Uzatov, a retired tenor who was then teaching in Tiflis. Uzatov realized the young man’s potential and offered to give him lessons, apparently for nothing. He was a formative influence on Chaliapin, not so much for the reason usually given—that it was he who introduced Chaliapin to the works of Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov (he would have found them anyway)—but for the technique he gave him.

Thirty-five years separate Chaliapin’s first recording session for the G&T company in Moscow in 1901 from the last in Japan in 1936. Even then when he was sixty-three and in failing health—he died two years later—his singing is still richly expressive, his voice in fine condition; only the greatest technical skill as well as sheer physical strength could have sustained him through such a career so that at the end he was still singing with virtually unimpaired mastery. This skill he acquired from Uzatov. We are not surprised to discover that Uzatov’s teacher, Camille Everardi, was a pupil of Garcia.

Chaliapin’s histrionic genius has never been seriously questioned, and happily we still have some record of it in the Pabst film Don Quixote (the French version with Dorville as Sancho Panza is superior to the English version); the death scene alone would put him alongside Garrick, Kean and Salvini(1). Yet the idea of him, so often repeated, as actor first and only a singer afterwards is flatly contradicted by his records. They provide incontrovertible evidence that his singing was profoundly musical, that all the many expressive devices he used, as with baritone Mattia Battistini, were not extra-musical, grafted on or interpolated, but arose out of a vocal line informed by a legato that was securely poised on the breath. The infinite variety of nuances, the range of vocal coloring, his peculiar management of ornaments and cadenzas—though stylistically at odds with tradition—were, all of them, rooted in a classical vocal technique. It is only a seeming paradox that he who inveighed so strongly against the self-regarding virtuosity of his day should unwittingly have exemplified the ideals of the great singing masters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For them singing was a complete form of expression. A mastery of vocal art, of its graces and refinements, was an essential part of the musical idiom of the day. But they took as much account of the words and were equally concerned with conveying dramatic truth. It may well be that if Tosi(2) could have heard Chaliapin and Plançon, he would have thought the Russian, not the Frenchman, the paragon of bel canto. For all his undoubted mastery, there is a certain contrivance in Plançon’s technique, a self-conscious gentlemanly style. His singing lacks the spontaneity and intensity that were so much prized by the classical masters, and which are such remarkable features in Chaliapin’s recordings. Artifice is wearing; whereas Chaliapin’s voice, to the top F, remained fresh and responsive long after he had turned fifty, at the same age Plançon’s high notes, as recordings attest, were noticeably thin and unreliable. Of the countless singers on records Chaliapin was probably the most completely integrated artist, his genius most perfectly fusing drama and music. He never seemed technically or consciously to sing: I mean that he did not need to make any obvious effort or laryngeal adjustment to modulate from his everyday way of speaking to the act of singing. There were magical moments when Chaliapin would suddenly modulate from histrionics to the purest vocalism and achieve the most perfect legato of any Italian.

It may seem odd to compare him with Patti; yet what Verdi wrote of her could equally well apply to him: “… perfectly organized. Perfect equilibrium between singer and (actor), a born artist in every sense of the word.”

In 1894 he left Tiflis and went to St. Petersburg, where he secured an engagement with the Panayev company, one of the many private companies which were such a feature of operatic life in pre-revolutionary Russia. In the autumn of that year he moved to the Imperial Mariinsky Theater, making his debut as Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust. Thereafter he sang Zuniga in Carmen, Count Robinson in Cimarosa’s Matrimonio Segreto, Russlan, Doubrovsky in Nápravník’s opera, and what was to become one of his favorite roles, the Miller in Dargomizhsky’s Rusalka. Though he made a considerable impression, his success was by no means complete. His acting style in particular was thought crude, undisciplined, not properly formed and obviously provincial. In 1896 he left the Mariinsky to join Mamontov’s company, first in Nizhny Novgorod and later in Moscow. The two years he spent with Mamontov were crucial. At last he had the opportunity to develop his talent in a conducive artistic environment and to undertake for the first time those roles that were to bring him lasting fame, as well as to make his fortune. For Mamontov he sang Susanin in Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar, Ivan the Terrible in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Maid of Pskov, Dosifey in Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, Holofernes in Serov’s Judith, Salieri in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri—which he created—and, above all, the title-role in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. He returned to the Imperial Opera in 1899, first to the Bolshoi and then to the Mariinsky. By this time he was the mature artist we hear in his recordings. Until the Revolution he sang regularly at both theaters.

In 1901 he made his first visit outside Russia when he sang the title-role in Boito’s Mefistofele at La Scala, in a cast that included Emma Carelli and Enrico Caruso; Toscanini conducted. Although the opera had been given on a number of occasions in previous seasons, Chaliapin’s sensational interpretation completely outclassed his predecessors’; even Boito was impressed: “Only now do I realize that I never had, up to this time, any but poor devils.… Not only a splendid singer but a superlative actor. And in addition to this, he possesses a positively Dantesque pronunciation.” He returned to La Scala on various occasions during the next thirty years. From this time Boito’s Mefistofele became one of his favorite parts. He sang this part as well as Philip II, Don Basilio, Holofernes, Ivan the Terrible and Colline during his many visits to Monte Carlo. In 1907 he made his Met debut in the role, but there for the first time he suffered a setback. New York society was scandalized when [quoted from Seltsam’s Metropolitan Opera Annals]—

…he casts off a cloak resembling Papageno’s parrot-like habiliments and bares himself to the rump. It is stupendously picturesque, of course … but calls to mind, more than anything else, the vulgarity of conduct which his countryman Gorki presents with such disgusting frankness in his pictures of Russian low life … Mr. Chaliapin is undoubtedly an artist, even if his ideals are not praiseworthy. His physical appearance ought not to create greater admiration than his splendidly rotund voice and his eloquent declamation…

Amid all the critical cerebration over his stagecraft, only Henry Finck recognized his real genius; even the usually perceptive Henderson rated it ‘cheap claptrap’. Chaliapin dissolved into what Geraldine Farrar called a ‘huge pout’, and vowed never to return to New York. When he did in 1921, the Russia he knew and loved had been swept away, and the world too had lived through a holocaust without parallel in the history of mankind.

The war was to make the most profound and lasting changes in Russia; the collapse of the Russian army led to revolution. In February 1917, less than four years after the splendid ceremonies celebrating its tercentenary, the Romanov dynasty was deposed. That October the fledgling republic was itself overturned by the Bolsheviks. An iron curtain did not descend at once and during the next ten years Russian artists continued to visit the West fairly regularly, but the glories of the Imperial Opera were at one with Nineveh and Tyre. A few of its artists, chief among them tenor Leonid Sobinov and soprano Antonia Nezhdanova, preferred to remain and serve the new regime but many, including some of the most distinguished, went abroad never to return. Even those who had once made common cause with progressive and socialist movements were hardly prepared for the harsh reality of the brave new world. Chaliapin spent a few years as an honored but, in his opinion, insufficiently remunerated artist of the people and then left to recoup his fortune in the United States. The men of the revolution watched him go with mixed feelings; by then he had become an unmanageable embarrassment, for such was his prestige that there was no way in which they could discipline him. At his last public appearance in Russia at the opening of the Third International Congress in Moscow in 1921 [quoted from La Revue musicale mensuelle]—

In front of eight or nine hundred international delegates and many thousands of Bolsheviks from Moscow, he sang in turn in French, German, Italian and English. “As I am a nationalist,” he began, “first of all, I shall sing in Russian.” At this everyone laughed. When the audience clamored for more he replied, “Comrades,” employing the word with infinite expression, “what has become of discipline?” At this everyone laughed even more. Finally when he broke into the old song of the peasants in revolt, singing with passion and art, the entire hall took up the refrain and the Communists gave him the kind of ovation that only Lenin gets. A veritable god among artists!

He was obliged to leave behind him all the valuable things he had accumulated in the affluent pre-war days, or almost all of them; he did manage to get away with eight priceless Gobelin tapestries. When an inexperienced Soviet customs officer found them in his baggage, Chaliapin ingeniously explained that they were just some backcloths for Boris Godunov.

After an absence of fourteen years he reappeared at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. Though he had been singing for more than a quarter of a century, he was at the summit of his vocal and interpretative powers. What the sheltered pre-war society had thought ‘vulgarity’ and ‘disgusting frankness,’ experience had shown to be real. He reappeared as Boris, and this time swept all before him. In 1907 the critics had been impressed by his ‘splendidly rotund voice’, but offended by the frank realism of his acting. This time with one accord they all acclaimed him, as in this review by Henry Krehbiel from the New-York Tribune:

Last night nobility of acting was paired with a beautiful nobility of voice and vocal style, and his Boris stood out of the dramatic picture like one of the old-time heroes of tragedy … He sang in Russian: and though it was possible even for those unfamiliar with the language to feel some of the intimacy which must exist between the original text and the music, the effect upon the Russians in the audience was akin to frenzy. All that we have heard of the greatness of his interpretation of the character of Boris was made plain. It was heart-breaking in its pathos, terrible in its vehemence and agony.

Out of Pushkin’s bloody regicide, Mussorgsky fashioned the greatest bass role in opera, a Russian Macbeth, an enormously demanding but equally rewarding role. And like Macbeth, while it is difficult to give a totally ineffective performance, to give a really memorable one is just as hard. As Krehbiel’s review attests, Chaliapin’s personality, his huge physical presence and magnificent singing, left an unforgettable impression on those who saw him in this role. No less remarkable were his Méphistophélès, Ivan the Terrible in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Maid of Pskov, Dosifey in Khovanshchina, the Miller in Dargomizhsky’s Rusalka and the eponymous hero in Don Quichotte (which was specially written for him); all of them very different from each other, each was a classic interpretation. As the accompanist Gerald Moore has written, even in those roles, which in lesser hands might be considered small: Don Basilio, Colline and Khan Konchak—

…one’s eyes were drawn to him as to a magnet; there might be two or more principals on the stage and a chorus of sixty all singing their hearts out but one only saw Chaliapin. In the Polovtsian Dances in Prince Igor, the scene packed with chorus and dancers, most of the audience looked only at Khan Konchak even though he was enthroned to one side, to give the ballet stage center. I know because I too was magnetized, and watching him, hugged myself with delight.

Like MacGregor(3), where he sat, that was the head of the table.

He repeated his New York triumphs throughout the United States and also in Europe, when he visited Covent Garden for the first time in 1926, and reappeared at the Paris Opéra and at La Scala, Milan. Wherever he went, he was greeted like the Tsar; he once remarked that had Nicolas let him play the role there would have been no revolution. It was significant that the same New York critics who now hailed him as the Tsar had previously dismissed him as a muzhik(4); in the intervening years a world war and the Russian Revolution had completely upturned the values of the Edwardian era; what had been thought unnecessarily crude and vulgar was now deemed noble and profoundly moving. No bass before or since has enjoyed such acclaim or such fees. He excused his rapacity to Raoul Gunsbourg, pleading that he was not stingy, only grasping (recounted by Gunsbourg in his memoirs). During these years he began another career as a recitalist, which was to occupy him increasingly in the remainder of his life. For Chaliapin the concert platform was an extension of the theater and his recitals were dramatic events. The New York Times reported:

Mr. Chaliapin issues no program of his own selections but announces before each song what it is going to be by the number it bears in the book of words in English translation, with which the audience is expected to provide itself. It is the same process as announcing hymns from the hymn book in church, but unlike the hymn book, the collection of Mr. Chaliapin’s words is sold at 25 cents.

For the audience the uncertainty added immeasurably to the excitement: for the accompanist, as Ivor Newton and Gerald Moore recall, it was an occupational hazard. At a concert in Manchester with Gerald Moore in Schumann’s ‘Two Grenadiers’, Chaliapin thumped the lid of the piano to accelerate the tempo when he came to the Marseillaise section. In this song he even thrust his hand into the pocket of his dress suit at the allusion to Napoleon. Yet he did it so naturally that no one smiled. Sometimes, when he thought the piano postlude an anticlimax, he would stride off, leaving the accompanist to finish as best he could in the face of a wildly cheering public. On other occasions, as at the end of Aleko’s aria from Rachmaninov’s opera, he would listen with such intensity that there would be no sound or movement in the audience until (the pianist) finally lifted the pedal at the end of the last bar.

The gramophone cannot preserve a singer’s physical presence, yet Chaliapin’s art was so perfectly integrated, his singing so much an expression of the man himself, that his records almost achieve the impossible. Not surprisingly the histrionics in the Clock Scene and Death are tremendous but in the long phrases of Boris’s Farewell, he creates an effect quite as potent solely through his singing. The timbre of the voice is characteristic, the tone limpid and correctly placed on the breath, the registers smoothly blended and like Battistini, his mastery of the head voice is complete. All of Chaliapin’s technical skill was deployed for expressive purposes. For him speech and song were indissoluble; at its most intense speech turned into song and no mechanical adjustment was necessary; this is especially evident in the declamatory passages in the Clock Scene. The extraordinary dynamic range from a resonant forte through every shading to a hushed and—as we hear it in the famous live recordings, from Covent Garden—perfectly audible pianissimo, was achieved entirely through intensity; never does he sing softly or loudly for its own sake; every effect has its cause. When he derided the empty virtuosity which took no account of words, he was merely echoing Tosi’s complaint two centuries previously that singing which is instrumental in conception neglects the proper affections and disregards precisely that which makes the human voice unique: its ability to place words into the musical tone. Chaliapin’s instincts, like his training, were classical (through his teacher Uzatov); for him beautiful singing was not merely smooth vocalism with some facility in the execution of fioritura, but a language of expression, the grammar of its effects responsive to the setting of the words. Just as Battistini had infused his singing with the more dramatic style of the music of the late nineteenth century and achieved it entirely by musical means, so Chaliapin sought to translate Italian bel canto into Russian opera and song. In Malashkin’s ‘Oh, could I in song tell my sorrow ’ (for Rachmaninoff no one could sing a love song as Chaliapin did), the flowing cantilena is full of nuances, the line punctuated ardently but not broken up; even when he pushes a note sharp deliberately, so as to stress a particular word or syllable, the tension is sustained. In his singing we can hear the traditional Italian devices modified, the messa di voce (of which he was an especial master), marcato, martellato and suoni ribattuti, to suit the Russian language and music. Although he rarely uses portamento in the Italian fashion, his singing is based in a portamento of the breath precisely as is Battistini’s; it is implicit in all of his phrasing. His idiosyncratic treatment of mordents and gruppetti in French and Italian music has come in for a good deal of criticism, but, although it is unstylish, the use of the intrusive ‘w’ was not the result of a technical frailty but an attempt, albeit an unsuccessful one, to put new feeling into an old form. Even in Bellini’s ‘Vi ravviso’, where he can hardly vie for smoothness of manner with Plançon, the interpretation, despite the eccentric style, is supremely expressive, especially the opening recitative ‘Il mulino, il fonte, il bosco’. In everything he did there was an extraordinary spontaneity and intensity, both highly prized features of bel canto.

Some fifty years ago, an excellent Italian conductor, Ottavio Ziino (1909–1995), who had seen and heard Chaliapin in the theater, told me: “If he were singing today, he would never be allowed to do what he did!” He was referring not only to Chaliapin’s willful way with time, but the whole idea of a mere singer seizing control of a performance in all its musical and pictorial details, and expecting the conductor simply to follow him. It is interesting to speculate whether conditions in the lyric theater today would allow such a genius to flourish, inspire others, and sell so many recordings!

© Michael Scott

The essay above was taken from The Record of Singing, Volumes 1 and 2, with the permission from Michael Scott. This information was combined to create a more cohesive article.


Feodor Ivanovitch Chaliapin — one’s eyes were drawn to him as to a magnet; there might be two or more principals on the stage and a chorus of sixty all singing their hearts out, but one only saw Chaliapin. In the Polovtsian Dances in Prince Igor, the scene packed with chorus and dancers, most of the audience looked only at Khan Kontchak, even though he was enthroned on one side, to give the ballet center stage. I know because I too was magnetized and, watching him, hugged myself with delight. Every moment I have seen and heard this majestic giant on stage I recall with relish

Before the First World War, Chaliapin created a furor at Drury Lane. This was the epoch in opera when voice was all that mattered; whether the singer could act was of no moment. But Chaliapin was a great singing actor, he lived in the part he was creating and was a master of the art of make-up: His commanding height and magnificent presence made a regal Czar in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. By some miracle, though not at the same performance, he became the embodiment of the impoverished drink-sodden Varlaam, the monk with the begging bowl. He was the all-conquering Khan Kontchak in Borodin’s Prince Igor, and an unctuous shriveled Basilio — a sort of Uriah Heep — in Rossini’s Barber of Seville.

The piping days of peace found Chaliapin in Russia and it was difficult to get him out; opera houses in the western capitals were clamoring for him, the Gramophone Company wanted more records. Who was the magician to spirit him out? None other than the mighty atom(5) Fred Gaisberg, recording manager for H.M.V., who went to Russia to do the trick. He succeeded after much difficulty.

Great was my excitement when I was invited to play for Chaliapin, but that gives no idea of the dread I felt at the prospect of working with this man. I had seen him many times in opera, glaring at the conductor, and more or less leading the orchestra himself by beating time with his hands if the tempo did not please him. In recitals with pianoforte, his behavior could be much worse. Not content with thumping out the rhythm by banging his hand on the piano, he strode over to the accompanist in the middle of a song recital at the Royal Albert Hall, and beat time on the pianist’s shoulder. What should I do if this happened to me?

Not without relish I was told of the unrehearsed “scene” at a rehearsal of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart et Salieri when the conductor, annoyed by Chaliapin’s gestures and stampings at the orchestra, laid down his baton saying, “Kindly remember that I am the conductor.” To which came the instant reply: “In a garden where there are no birds, a fart is a nightingale.” This gratuitous insult terminated the rehearsal, for the conductor left the building. Charles B. Cochran was sponsoring this performance, and had a worrying time prevailing upon the conductor and singer to get together again; he finally tracked down the former who promised to be on the rostrum for the opening performance the following evening. Next he had to pin down the Russian who was staying at the Savoy, but on calling there he was told that Mr. Chaliapin was out. The impresario sat and waited for several hours, and at two in the morning, in strolled the giant with the blandest and most genial of smiles. Of course he would be ready for the performance “tomorrow — or rather this evening. Dear Mr. Cochran you should not worry — I do not worry — I have been walking until this hour in the deserted streets of your so beautiful London!”

I resolved that there should be no such warfare when I played for Chaliapin and accordingly asked for Fred Gaisberg. He was scarcely five feet tall; he could, when he wished, exercise great charm, was never known to raise his voice and when roused, still soft-spoken, was a lion-tamer. In the twenties the recording studio of H.M.V. was in their factory at Hayes, Middlesex, and when a Caruso, a Paderewski, a Melba arrived on the scene the metaphorical red carpet was in evidence. It was certainly rolled out for Chaliapin. Engineers, conductor, even the most hard-bitten member of the orchestra felt a slight tremor at his entry. Everyone knew that that benevolent smile could very quickly turn to dramatic displeasure. This, as he afterwards told me, was sometimes assumed. There was only one man who could exercise some measure of control over the temperamental singer; it was Gaisberg, and if Feodor Ivanovitch sensed that Fred was displeased, he gradually simmered down. Chaliapin did all his wonderful recordings attended by the ubiquitous Fred Gaisberg, the only man capable of keeping the unruly giant in order. Chaliapin, highly nervous and impatient, roared like a bull when things went wrong and intimidated the conductor or anyone near at hand. It was just a happy family.

I expected to receive the scores for a couple of dozen songs and arias, and ample allowance for one recital. Instead I found that I had two hundred to cope with and they were delivered in a portmanteau. It was a huge task to study them all.

Gaisberg, the Lord Chamberlain, ushered me to the Chaliapin hotel suite for my first rehearsal and as the King was waking from his siesta in the next room I practiced Mozart’s Madamina at lightning speed. Above my noise I heard thunder in the distance.

“What’s he say?” I asked Fred.

“He says — is good.”

Chaliapin came in clad in a pair of shorts and a kimono round his shoulders. His torso was bare and was so white, so vast, it reminded me of a wall on the Acropolis. In most amiable mood he expressed gratification during our rehearsal that I knew how to make a rallentando.

I was hardly ready, lacking self-confidence, to shoulder the responsibility of playing for such a mighty but wayward personality. Yet he never betrayed any impatience. Certainly he would criticize. I shall never forget as I played the long pianoforte introduction to Martini’s Plaisir d’amour that he stopped me, saying, “Not just the notes. Not just the notes.” It can be so beautiful if played thoughtfully and expressively but my uninformed strumming made it sound commonplace. I took it home to think about it.

At a Chaliapin concert booklets were sold instead of programs. They contained translations of arias and songs, all numbered, of what might or might not be sung. Before each song, Chaliapin boomed out, “Numbaire forty-five. Numbaire forty-five” — then he would give the audience a moment to read the translation and this would give the accompanist time to find the music. All this gave the impression that the great man was obeying a whim. No indication was given to me in the artists’ room as to his intentions and for my first two concerts I was on tenterhooks wondering what was coming next. But the realization soon dawned on me that he kept pretty much to the same program on every occasion and always included The Volga Boat[men] Song. Eighty-five percent of the music I had sweated over was never performed.

It is easy for a small man to write derogatorily of a big man, but I hope I shall not be accused of doing so when, in the light of my experience now, I say that Chaliapin was not a first-class Lieder singer. A song by Schubert or Schumann would be distorted out of all recognition by his wayward rhythm and his own personal interpretation of the poem. In Der Tod und das Mädchen, death would become a sinister threatening spectre, instead of the sublime comforter that Claudius’s words and Schubert’s music indicate. The Grenadier in Schumann’s music and Heine’s words, expiring to the sound of the Marseillaise, became a conquering and resilient figure; and when I played the pianoforte postlude — which depicts the dying soldier’s gradual collapse, the music was unheard, engulfed by the storm of applause which Chaliapin deliberately evoked. He was bowing to all sides of the Hall while I played and was walking off the platform before I had finished.

The most discriminating devotee of Schubert and Schumann would be swept, temporarily at least, off his feet, against his better judgement, by the man’s histrionic mastery and the power of his personal magnetism. The accompanist, on the other hand, far from being carried away had to keep the coolest head; his senses had to be alert as he tried to anticipate what the singer would be doing next: Was he going to hurry a certain phrase, neglecting to take the breath in the middle of it as sometimes he did? — This next note, was he going to make a fermata on it or was it to be abandoned quickly? Was it going to be made the climax of the phrase or would it become a subito pianissimo? It was all a question of mood — not the mood of the music but of the singer and whether he considered himself in good voice or not.

Yet there is no doubt in my mind that I was playing for a great singer, who could lift the audience out of their seats and thrill them as few basses before or since have been able to thrill. Certainly I have never been associated with a more exciting artist.

At one concert while I was playing an introduction which in rehearsal he had asked me to play as softly as a whisper, I heard a deep rumble coming from the singer.

“What’s he saying?” I whispered to Gaisberg who was turning the pages for me.

“He says — more sonorous,” came a hiss on my left.

Chaliapin was a large lovable baby and I believe that many of his displays of temper could be attributed to impishness. He was a spoiled child who expected to get his own way and he roared or adopted a tragic, majestic mien when he was thwarted.

Fred Gaisberg suggested to me in Glasgow that we visit the singer’s bedroom at noon to see how our hero was faring. There he was sitting up in bed with the only solid food he allowed himself prior to a concert: a boiled egg and coffee.

“Well, Feodor Ivanovich, is everything all right?” And then I saw a tragic performance, Boris Godounov’s death scene was enacted: a distant mumble like the growling of a double-bass came from the depths of his being, as with beetling brows and mouth drawn down in despair I heard these anguished words, “M-m-m-m-they bring no salt with my egg.” Gaisberg immediately summoned the culprit and — “Say, do you call yourself a waiter? Say, you are not up to your job — it is too difficult for you.” I almost felt sorry for the waiter under the lash of Gaisberg’s tongue. I stole a glance at Chaliapin: he stole a glance at me — and immediately the expression of saintly martyred majesty slipped from his face like a mask and, like a naughty schoolboy, he gave me a large wink. He was thoroughly enjoying himself.

I was very happy when Messrs. Lionel Powell and Holt asked me to play again for him the following season when they engaged him on their “Celebrity Tour.” And here I made a mistake for I told L. G. Sharpe, Chaliapin’s personal representative in England, that the fee I had received before and was now offered, was inadequate. As far as I can remember I asked for an increase of five guineas per concert. To some concert promoters in those days, and to Messrs. Powell and Holt in particular, the accompanist was hardly considered a supporting artist: he was a cipher of little importance, contributing no more to the success of the concert than the cloakroom attendant at the other end of the hall. The star, I would be told, is the draw at the box office while the accompanist does not draw a bean. And the star would get the fees he demanded — in Chaliapin’s case four hundred guineas a concert — while the promoters would do a smart stroke of business by refusing to augment the accompanist’s stipend by a few guineas. It was a waste of time to point out that the accompanist must be worthy of the occasion, that the singer would scarcely give of his best if he received inadequate support from the piano. Perhaps it was not the moment for me to adopt such an attitude. I was too young then and perhaps not sufficiently experienced as an artist to justify my stand. At all events, I lost Chaliapin — never to play for him again.

Note: This article comprises most of the material from the chapter on Feodor Chaliapin in Gerald Moore’s memoirs, Collected Memoirs: Am I Too Loud?, Farewell Recital and Furthermoore, published by Penguin, London, 1986


As singer and actor, Chaliapine was pre-eminent. Had his interest lain in that direction, he could have become equally great as a producer; his charm was invincible, his temper terrifying and the impact of his personality overwhelming. He never ceased to act, on the stage or platform, when meeting with people socially, or in his own room as he sat, wearing a gorgeous-coloured dressing-gown and a vividly patterned scarf, solving chess problems or playing patience. Simply by virtue of his own performances, he set a new standard of acting on the opera stage. A born, instinctive actor, he was never less than natural; he acted not for effect but because it was his nature to do so.

I first met Chaliapine at a recording session in the [Small] Queen’s Hall, built as a home for recitals, which went through many vicissitudes before H.M.V. found that it made an ideal recording studio. I arrived punctually, braced to meet the unaccountable, remembering all I had heard of his temperamental outbursts and capacity for hardly governable rage. Everyone present, as we awaited his arrival, even the recording engineers, seemed highly nervous at the prospect of terrifying things that might happen as the afternoon proceeded. Chaliapine had asked for a small orchestra of balalaikas to provide local colour with the piano for a Russian song ‘Down the Petersky’, the ‘Petersky’ being a street in Moscow.

When he eventually arrived, beautifully dressed and sunnily charming, he bowed, apologised for being late and explained that he had been detained by his tailor. His courtesy was overwhelming and he bowed to the only woman present as though she were a grand duchess. He settled down to work, and all went well until we reached the gay little street in Moscow. For a time it was difficult to get the balalaikas to play as Chaliapine wanted them and the more the music was discussed, the less satisfactory the performance became.

Eventually Chaliapine himself decided to take control. ‘May I take your baton?’ he asked the conductor with the utmost politeness, and then things immediately went right. The band played as if they were inspired. The largest balalaika, an instrument which because of its size had to be played as it lay upon a table, was in the hands of the only woman, dressed in severe black, angular and, as the charitable put it, of a certain age. Her playing still caused Chaliapine some concern and, in the mood of extreme graciousness which had so far prevailed, he asked her permission to demonstrate how he wished her to play a certain glissando passage. She then played it perfectly and, when Chaliapine thanked her, he threw her a kiss, and for a moment she became positively beautiful. Then I began to realise the complete validity of the Chaliapine legend as I had known it.

Another of our tasks that afternoon was Massenet’s Elégie—a song Chaliapine loved to sing, which ends with a soft high note. For this recording Cedric Sharpe played the cello obbligato, and again it seemed difficult to get a satisfactory record; as work went on, Chaliapine took off his collar and tie, then opened his shirt to the waist, displaying a startlingly white, hairless torso. ‘We shall get it right now,’ he declared confidently, and all went well until the closing bar of the song, when his voice cracked on the penultimate note. At this, Chaliapine flew into a rage and hit himself, with full force and clenched fist, on the side of the face, hard enough to make himself stagger. Cedric Sharpe hid behind his cello and I was prepared to dive under the piano, but the storm was momentary and ended with an apology. ‘Forgive me, gentlemen,’ he said mournfully, ‘but you must admit that that was very disappointing.’

At the end of that first recording session, he told me that he would be singing at a soirée at Lady Ludlow’s the following week, and asked me if I would play for him; I willingly agreed to do so, and after that we undertook many concerts together, here and abroad. I am still proud to have played frequently for Chaliapine and to have lived to tell the tale, for wherever he was, anything could happen.

He was born in 1873, the annus mirabilis for voices, and had begun while still a boy to earn his living as a docker on the Volga. Without education or musical background he won a dominating position not only in the musical life of Russia, but throughout the world. His opera career started early, in St. Petersburg, where, in spite of his unconventional style and forceful personality, he soon began to find favour. Before long he was accepted in the world of writers, artists and musicians and, before middle age, had reached a status which probably no other singer has ever rivalled. Russian people, who still speak of him with reverence, had a special affection for him based not only upon the magnificence of his voice and his vivid brilliance as an actor; the purity and precision of his diction, which was the result of his feeling for words, made his compatriots glory in the beauty of their language.

In the historic Russian Opera Season at Drury Lane, before the First World War, he showed London acting on the opera stage such as it had never seen before; he was not only a splendid tragedian but a brilliant comic actor who at home could keep a party in roars of laughter by miming to his own gramophone records of opera or silently impersonating an old cobbler mending a shoe, an old woman threading a needle or stirring soup. One of the odder features of Russian operas is that amongst their dramatis personae there is almost invariably a comic drunkard, usually, to add to the oddity, a priest and, of course, a bass. Chaliapine delighted in these parts and could play them as superbly as he played a great tragic rôle like Boris Godounov; occasionally he would demonstrate his incredible versatility by playing both tragic and comic rôles in the same performance.

Once, long after Chaliapine’s death, I was leaving a party at the same time as Sir Isaiah Berlin. The weather was so bitterly cold that it had persuaded me to give my fur-lined coat one of its infrequent outings. Sir Isaiah looked at it.

‘Did Chaliapine give you that coat?’ he asked, and for a time we talked of the great man, whom Sir Isaiah remembered from the days of his greatness in Russia for, he told me, as a child of seven, before the revolution, he had been taken to hear Chaliapine in Boris Godounov.

‘It’s not the death scene in which I remember Chaliapine,’ he told me. ‘About that I remember only that one of the chorus forgot to rush forward and support him as he tottered down the steps, and was kicked sharply by another boyar. That I enjoyed very much indeed. What haunts my memory is the ghost of Dimitri, or rather, Boris’s hallucination. Chaliapine seemed physically to contract as he clutched the table-cloth of the table on the extreme left of the stage, behind which he stood. His features contorted, and his voice in some miraculous fashion seemed at the same time to sing magnificently while sounding distorted and strangled. He gradually disappeared or nearly so, behind and underneath the table, half pulling the table-cloth over himself. The whole thing was most terrifyingly hypnotic.

‘I don’t think that at that age I could have known what was being represented, only that a huge, marvellously dressed man was going through an agony of terror or some abnormal and very frightening condition. His dilated eyes and the violent, twisted, continuously expressive miming remain with me to this day. He was certainly the greatest actor that I’ve ever seen. If I’d been more highly strung, or more imaginative, I dare say I should have had a series of nightmares after this. But I can’t say that I did—only a vivid memory which his later performances in Boris in London and elsewhere, didn’t seem to me to reproduce. He still acted marvellously, but not in that uniquely naturalistic terrifying way. But, of course, that may have been mere childish imagination and not a true memory at all.’

In Chaliapine’s great days he would unofficially supervise the entire production of any opera in which he sang, select the costumes and decide the lighting; his eye for detail missed nothing even down to the rings he was to wear. One day, when we were recording, we were visited by Sacha Guitry and Yvonne Printemps, who were in London playing in Guitry’s Mozart; to Yvonne Printemps, Chaliapine was, incidentally, ‘Le tigre’. As we had tea together at the end of the recording, Guitry encouraged Chaliapine to talk about the theatre, and his conversation ranged widely over matters of stage management, production, lighting, acting technique and method as well as over matters of taste; suddenly Guitry whose most notable characteristic was not modesty, turning to me, said, ‘Compared to him, we’re all amateurs.’

His first engagement outside Russia was in the land most famous for its singers; he was to undertake the title rôle in Boïto’s Mefistofele at La Scala, Milan. It was typical of his thoroughness that to prepare for his appearance in Milan he learnt Italian (as every serious singer should) and studied every rôle in the opera.

The musical director of La Scala at the time was the thirty-seven-year-old Toscanini, who was to direct and produce Boito’s work; the Faust was Caruso who, like Chaliapine, was thirty-one. With such inflammable personalities involved, it is not surprising that there were some heated arguments. Chaliapine decided that the costumes designed for the production were unsatisfactory and that he would design his own. Very shortly before the dress rehearsal was due to begin, Toscanini found his Mefistofele, with hardly any clothes on, standing in the wings.

‘Please go and dress,’ he said. ‘We’re about to begin.’

‘I am dressed,’ said Chaliapine, who strode on to the stage and rehearsed looking magnificently satanic with very little on. As he tempted the aged Faust, he introduced weird hissing and whistling sounds when he was not singing. The aria of temptation became, as he sang it, the most devilish music ever written.

When Chaliapine first went to America, shortly after the Russian Revolution, he did not take the precaution of learning English and his Russian-born manager, Sol Hurok, had been in the United States long enough to forget most of his own language but not long enough to perfect his English. Hurok arranged a large press conference for the great singer and asked an eager audience for questions.

‘May we ask Mr. Chaliapine how the Revolution has affected the arts in Russia?’ a journalist immediately asked.

The question was translated and Chaliapine thought deeply for a moment or two. Then, with all the dramatic power at his command, he stood up and began to speak in Russian. His answer began quietly, but the quietness was that of a master of histrionic effect. What he told his audience, he explained to me later, was that art in Russia stood like a knight in impregnable and indestructible armour; no revolution could crush it. As he elaborated his ideas, he introduced into his oration every shade of tone of which his magnificent voice was capable, used every expression of his face, every masterly gesture of his eloquent hands. Climaxes were followed by tense, dramatic silences until, with a final cry of triumph, he flung himself back into his chair.

The journalists had been spellbound by the long oration and turned eagerly to the manager, who hesitantly stood up, stood for some moments in deep thought and then delivered his translation.

‘Mr Chaliapine says it’s much the same,’ he explained.

In the opera house he was regarded with awe and terror. At the Lyceum, when Beecham brought a Russian company to London in 1931, it was almost frightening to watch members of the chorus flatten themselves into total self-effacement against the wall of a corridor as he strode along, but he told me more than once that he found a recital far more taxing in itself than any operatic rôle; in essence he was an actor, and a recital gave him more personalities to assume and many more characters to create without the aid of costume, scenery and stage lighting.

When we began to work together, Chaliapine said that what he expected from an accompanist was ‘the fingers of a virtuoso, the head of a musician and the heart of an artist’. When we rehearsed, he would sit beside me at the piano—as if he were about to give me a piano lesson—and he would explain precisely what he wanted. Though he was in no way a pianist, he could always demonstrate, playing any chord in an accompaniment, precisely the tone colour he required. It was from working with him that I began to understand how to match at the keyboard the wonderful toneless tone he used to give to Russian songs of death, a technique I have always tried to develop. He would translate the songs for me in his strange but telling English and often enough he would talk about the composer whose music we were engaged in preparing; several of the Russian masters, like Rimsky-Korsakov, he had known personally.

‘Without Rimsky-Korsakov,’ I have heard him say, ‘the world would still be ignorant of Boris Godounov.’

It occurred to me, whenever I heard this tribute, to feel that Chaliapine himself could have claimed some of the credit for making Moussorgsky’s masterpiece known all over the world. The music of Moussorgsky had a special appeal for him; he always attached great importance to the words he was singing, and he explained that Moussorgsky had solved the problem of making the Russian language flow naturally in musical phrases. In an English singer’s repertoire, ‘The Song of the Flea’ is simply a boisterous comic song, but when Chaliapine sang it, one recognised it as a masterpiece of satire, full of the biting irony of Goethe’s poem, and when he sang the ‘Songs of Death’ he made an audience’s flesh creep.

I greatly enjoyed our rehearsals, and he appeared to do so too. Our preparation would be both lengthy and meticulous, but nothing could guarantee that he would sing the programme he had so painstakingly prepared; he would consider the condition of his voice and, as he became aware of the atmosphere of an audience, he would grow into sympathy with its mood, and sing whatever seemed suitable. The range of his repertoire—the songs of death which are so prominent a feature of Russian life, comic songs and love songs, French and Italian arias and Lieder—was remarkably comprehensive. Though there was nothing faked about his acting or his singing, for his temperament and sincerity were reinforced by complete technical control, he was apt to overdramatise Lieder, a form which demands an emotional restraint not natural to the uninhibited Russian temperament. After one concert, however, Richard Capell, whose book about Schubert’s songs is the one authoritative work on the subject, wrote that to hear Chaliapine sing Der Doppelgänger was a thrilling and unforgettable experience. On the same day, The Times, however, regarded the inclusion of Schubert’s song as ‘a pity’, as, in the anonymous critic’s view, the singer showed no understanding of its style; for neither the first nor the last time, two eminent critics stood at opposite poles, and the subject of their difference, though perhaps a little nettled, was not unduly disturbed.

‘Have you the honour of knowing the critic of The Times?’ he asked, and when I confessed that I had not, he continued, ‘That is sad. It would be interesting if he would come and explain this song to me.’

Whatever he sang, he was able to colour his voice marvelously to suit its needs. Quiet songs, like Beethoven’s In Questa Tomba appealed to him, and it sometimes seems that no one has really sung a love song since Chaliapine died. His telling mezza voce, unusual in bass voice, was always effective but especially moving in love songs, and he seemed to revel in his soft high notes. One of his favourite concert items was an aria from Aleko which Rachmaninov wrote when he was only twenty-one. It ends with a postlude of about twenty bars. Chaliapine would never permit this to be cut, and not a sound would come from the audience until I finished playing. If applause ever kills the closing bars of a song, it is because the singer, by relaxing after his final notes, suggests to the audience that everything important has been done; Chaliapine knew this well enough and could stand silent and motionless without relaxing a fraction of his control over his listeners until I finally released the pedal.

I soon found that it was unwise to talk before a concert began. Chaliapine would pace up and down the artist’s room like a tiger determined on escape, creating an atmosphere of enormous nervous tension, but when his moment came he would rush, all smiles, on to the platform and everyone, except the accompanist, could relax. He would ceremoniously give me a copy of the song (which sometimes I had never seen) from which to play while he himself sang from another, which he would read through a lorgnette. In place of the normal set programme, his audience would be given a book containing the words of over a hundred songs and arias, and he would announce the number of the song in the book of words (almost as though it were a hymn for his congregation) before he began.

Once a particular song was requested at an Albert Hall concert, but we had no copy of it with us. Chaliapine’s valet, a Russian whom we all called ‘the bolshevik’, was hurried away in a taxi to fetch the music from the Savoy; by the time he arrived back with it, we had reached the final encores. Chaliapine snatched the music from ‘the bolshevik’, rushed on to the platform, gave me one of the two necessary copies, announced the number of the song and signalled me to begin. At the end of the first line he stopped with a terrifying strangled cry: ‘God, what has happened?’ I asked myself. In the urgency of the moment he had given me a tenor copy and kept the bass for himself, so that I was playing the accompaniment four tones too high.

Sometimes on tour he suddenly would decide that he was ill, had lost his voice and was incapable of singing. If at the last moment all argument and persuasion had failed, or his mood grew too trying to be borne, the infallible remedy was to ring up his wife, wherever in Europe or London she might be; two or three sentences from her were always enough to bring him back to normal.

In the opera house, he could be a splendidly wholehearted partner of artists who won his sympathy; he and Oda Slobodskaya were alone on the stage whilst Slobodskaya had a long aria in Russlan and Ludmilla. Chaliapine sat perfectly still downstage, focusing through the strength of his own concentration all the audience’s attention upon the soprano. In the opera house, however, where there are more things to go wrong and more people to exacerbate sensitive nerves than anywhere else, his rages were most awesome. He was allergic to tenors. In Denmark he lifted a very short Faust up bodily and deposited him on a seat, so that the Garden Scene would have the advantage of a Faust at the proper level. During another performance of the same opera, his dislike of the tenor got the better of him completely; in the Garden Scene, Mephistopheles took Faust firmly by the hand, dragged him round and round the stage and did not relinquish him until he decided to march downstage and conduct the conductor.

At the same time, he was capable of the most sincere modesty and courtesy. After a performance of Boris at the Lyceum, I saw Lloyd George, with his wife and daughter Megan, in his dressing-room. During one of our recitals I took Chaliapine a message that the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, would like to call on him. Immediately, Chaliapine said, ‘It would not be proper for the Prime Minister to call on me. I should go to him.’ And at once he set off to do so.

Hearing that I was going to Paris after a tour with him, he approached me with the manner of a grand seigneur. ‘Please remember,’ he said, ‘that when you are in Paris there is always a place at my table for you.’

Naturally I accepted his invitation, was invited to lunch and found him living in the utmost luxury. He was wearing a strangely brilliant red frock-coat, edged in black braid, over black and white sponge-bag trousers. With us at the table were several elderly ladies and gentlemen who seemed to have stepped out of a play by Chekhov. The splendid tapestries on his walls had, he claimed, passed through the Russian customs because the officials had mistaken them for theatrical scenery. The same patrician style led him to travel with his own wines and to indulge a wonderfully developed sense of dress not less effective off the stage than on it. He had suits and hats for every occasion and every mood, his dressing-gowns were creations of unusual splendour and he always travelled with a miniature suitcase entirely filled with ties, hand-made for him by Doucet, in the Rue de la Paix.

Meeting him unexpectedly in Salzburg, I found him dressed in just the right cool clothes for a summer festival and, as always, so striking-looking that nobody in the city could miss him. Before I had time to greet him he insisted that I should lunch with him that very day; immediately he hustled Madame Chaliapine, two of his daughters, and myself into a large limousine, explaining that he had found an inn high up in the mountains which provided superlative lamb cutlets.

The drive was a long one, and I began to wonder in which country the inn was situated, but when eventually we reached it, the mountain view proved worthy of all the superlatives Chaliapine had lavished on it during the drive. The tables were bare wood, well-scrubbed, and the decoration can only be described as ‘early White Horse Inn’. While the landlord and his wife greeted us with full honours, I watched the chauffeur unload the boot of the limousine. He brought out elaborate hors d’oeuvres, salads, strawberries and wines—every delicacy for a Lucullan banquet to go with the lamb chops which were all that the inn was asked to serve.

Often a call on Chaliapine would take on the quality of a royal levée. He would receive visitors, if it suited his convenience to do so, in his bedroom; managers and others concerned in his business life had to learn not to be surprised if he chose to receive them while he was in his bath. Modest as he could be to those whom he considered great, he had no uncertainties about his own position in the world. He had known everyone, one felt—The Czar and his Grand Dukes, Lenin, Trotsky, Rachmaninov, Mahler (who had often conducted him); his conversation could create for his listeners a sense of intimacy with the great. I always remember his story of how, as young men, Rachmaninov and he had gone to sing to Tolstoy. Rachmaninov and Chaliapine were born within a few months of each other and became close friends, and though Rachmaninov was rarely seen to smile, Chaliapine loved to think out stories that would amuse him. Of all conductors, Rachmaninov was Chaliapine’s favourite, and he said that when Rachmaninov accompanied him at the piano they sang together as one man. They were both at the beginning of their careers when the invitation came to visit Tolstoy, who was living in Moscow at the time. Overawed by the great man’s presence, both were too shy to accept the tea they were offered. But Rachmaninov played some of his piano pieces although his fingers showed signs of nervousness, and he accompanied Chaliapine in some songs, including his own recently composed ‘Song of Destiny’, which is built round the theme of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony which Beethoven himself called ‘Fate knocking at the door’. Countess Tolstoy and her sons applauded, but the great old patriarch neither applauded nor said a word to thank them and it was a relief to them when one of the sons suggested going off to a café where they could hear good gypsy singers.

At times Chaliapine was capable of wildly high-spirited nonsense. After a leisurely post-concert supper in Birmingham, it was almost impossible to convince him that a walk in search of Birmingham’s night-life at a quarter to midnight would be fruitless. To have lunch with him at the Savoy, of course, invariably meant that I was greeted with great cordiality by many eminent people who never found it necessary to speak at length to me at other times, and Chaliapine was hugely delighted at discovering what he claimed to be the guilty secret of my private life when I was greeted with devoted affection as ‘Darling Ivor’ by Olga Lynn, the tiny soprano who was a power in the social life of the London of the day. At times his humour was wildly out of keeping with the company in which he found himself. After a concert in a Scottish town, the Lord Provost came to the Artists’ room to pay his respects. Chaliapine immediately noticed that this important visitor had a dour, severe, puritanical look. With a wave of his hand he presented me to the visiting dignitary. ‘Sir,’ he said with great formality, ‘may I present my accompanist, Mr. Ivor Newton, a friend of sixty years’ standing.’ (That, I could not help hoping, was self-evident nonsense.) ‘In the world of music,’ Chaliapine continued grandly, ‘he is an aristocrat.’ Then, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, he concluded, ‘And he is a rare judge of women’.

Chaliapine lived a life totally unfettered by convention, but his affection for his wife and family, and his pleasure in their company, was always touching. Madame Chaliapine granted him complete freedom of action, and was repaid by his complete trust in her. She always treated me with great kindness and friendliness. She was a woman whose beauty lasted throughout her life, and she never lost the manner, poise and stately simplicity of the well-bred Russian. Her willful husband knew that he could depend upon her strength in the black moods that sometimes overcame him, and whatever may have been the difficulties inherent in being the wife of an artist so much larger than ordinary life, she showed no signs of feeling them a strain.

After the Revolution, Chaliapine’s position in Russia became dangerous, for his disregard of government discipline and his complete devotion to his art in a communist society that, at the time, necessarily found other problems more pressing, led to relations becoming perilously strained. It was Madame Chaliapine who took steps to gain permission for her husband to leave Russia in 1921, with little more than a few trunks full of theatrical costumes, and settle in Paris. Having left one fortune behind him, it was not long before he made another. A true Russian, Chaliapine never lost his homesickness for the Russia he had left, but he recognized his wife’s wisdom in arranging for his departure before his relations with the authorities reached breaking point.

His love for his children always touched me. One of his daughters, Marfa, married an Englishman and lived near Newcastle; there was an occasion when she travelled down to Manchester to meet her parents and joined us at supper after a concert. She was fair and strikingly beautiful, and her father was delighted to be with her as we sat in the French Restaurant of the Midland Hotel. He blissfully stroked her hair, saying little. Suddenly he stopped and looked round. ‘I mustn’t do this in public,’ he exclaimed, ‘you’re much too beautiful to be any man’s daughter.’

A few years later Marfa brought her own child, Natasha, then a little girl of four or five, to hear Chaliapine sing in Newcastle. Delighted that his little granddaughter would hear him, he had a simple Russian song translated into English so that he could sing it to her, and at every opportunity we rehearsed it so that he could master the English words. As we reached the final group, in which he was going to include it, he came across to me at the piano, disappointment written large across his face. ‘What am I to do?’ he asked sadly. ‘Natasha is fast asleep.’ Nobody could have failed to be moved by the tenderness of a man whose complicated moods could be difficult and exhausting.

All the same, his family was not immune from the difficulties and exhaustion of bearing with his rages. A family crisis during a summer spent at St. Jean de Luz made him decide to drown himself in the sea. Madame Chaliapine, perhaps a little less concerned than the ideal wife might be in such circumstances, told him that as the tide was out, he would find the operation difficult. Nevertheless, he swept determinedly from the room. After a short time, Madame Chaliapine sent Marfa to bring him back if she could, but neither she nor her daughter, nor anyone else in the household for that matter, showed any undue sign of panic. All of them had noticed that as he made his way to the beach he had carefully rolled up the legs of his trousers to keep them dry.

When he lay dying of leukaemia in Paris, I called for news and was allowed to see him. It was pitiful to find him living a real death scene after having watched him act so many operatic deaths with his unparalleled, enormous power. He was suffering terribly from toothache, as though death was determined to treat him maliciously. Only a little time after I left, with his wife and family gathered round him, he spoke to Madame Chaliapine. ‘Why is it so dark in this theatre, Masha?’ he asked. ‘Tell them to turn up the lights.’ He did not speak again.

I returned a few hours later to find him lying in state in the Russian style, obliquely across the room from one of its corners and surrounded by flowers. He lay in evening-dress, as though resting before a concert, and was as magnificent in death as he had been in life. An ikon lay on his chest and a larger one was above his head, across the corner of the room; his expressive hands were pathetically still. His old valet, at whom I had often seen him throw things, was kneeling alone and in tears, praying at the foot of the bier.

At the entrance of the apartment stood a little table with a massive inkstand and a visitor’s book on it. One of the first names to be written was that of his life-long friend, Rachmaninov. Before the funeral, it looked as though all the great men of France and of music had called to pay homage; the lying-in-stage might have been that of a king.

The funeral service was in the Russian Metropolitan Church in Paris, and the choir sang the beautiful Litany by Gretchaninov which Chaliapine had often sung himself. The church was so crowded that an overflow of mourners knelt on the steps outside. For the many Russians there, living in exile in Paris, the death of Chaliapine meant the end of the Russia they had known and loved.

Note: This article comprises most of the material from the chapter on Feodor Chaliapin in Ivor Newton’s memoir, At the Piano—Ivor Newton, The World of an Accompanist, published by Hamish Hamilton in 1966.


What is a bass? The term has always been rather elastic but even so, it was a shock when Opera magazine published a booklet entitled Basses in Opera—of the thirteen singers profiled, six were baritones. One of the great things about Feodor Chaliapin was that he focused our attention on what it took to be a real bass. He did not have a particularly fruity low range, but in the lower-middle, middle, and upper-middle registers he produced a true bass sonority. From him, therefore, we can extrapolate some sort of a definition: if it sounds like a bass and it behaves like a bass, singing bass roles, it is a bass.

Further than that, Chaliapin to a large extent defined the bass Fach. His influence, not always entirely benign, spread across the generations. Although renowned as an opera singer, he commanded some 200 songs and folk songs; and he recorded roughly as many songs as operatic scenes. There is no particular reason why a folk song such as “Down the Petersky should be reserved for bass voices, but Chaliapin sang it and made it famous—and today it would sound “wrong” in the tones of a tenor or soprano. Great singers make their own rules, and the qualities that make them instantly recognizable, when one of their recordings is played, often have as much to do with idiosyncrasy as timbre. Many of the Chaliapin mannerisms, usually employed to add emphasis to what he sang, were taken up by succeeding generations of basses. One has to go to a singer of equal stature—say Mark Reizen—to find someone with the self-control to avoid such mimicry.

Chaliapin had few structured singing lessons and, like many artists of his time, string players as well as singers, he learned from what he heard going on around him. Because he grew up in an era of well-schooled singers, much of what he picked up was good. His cello-like legato and instinctive portamento were exemplary. A few habits were more questionable but he adopted them because they worked for him and assisted him in his project to bring a new realism and vividness to his stage portrayals: Various writers have drawn attention to the strange “w” sounds which he employed in music demanding flexibility. Another habit of his was to use aspirates and staccato sounds, where other singers would have striven for a smooth glide over divisions. A striking example is the aria “Vieni, la mia vendetta” from Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, where Chaliapin sings “vende-he-he-he-ta”. In theory it is all wrong but I have to say that, when I think of that fine aria, it is always his 1912 recording that comes to mind. Before the bel canto brigade pop their monocles, I should mention that many of the greatest singers used the occasional aspirate for emphasis, though perhaps not quite so flagrantly. And when Chaliapin comes to the cabaletta, he exudes a colossal authority, firmly founded on an innate sense of rhythm.

When Chaliapin began his operatic career there were few outstanding basses on the scene, and few roles in which a bass could shine. Chaliapin forced the impresarios and the public to accept the idea of a “star” bass. He virtually invented the roles of Boris Godunov and Mefistofele; and at a time when his Russian rivals were already dividing into serious basses and character basses, he excelled in both departments. Through his many recordings, he promulgated a fair amount of standard repertoire but also made people aware of operas they could never hope to see in the opera house. A work such as Verdi’s Don Carlo, rarely staged in those days, was at least represented in record catalogues by Chaliapin’s two discs of King Philip’s aria. His Italian enunciation might falter, but how vividly he conveyed the King’s sadness, the sorrow of a wounded, aging lion. Of his successors, perhaps only Nicola Rossi-Lemeni succeeded so well in portraying a frail Philip—sometimes, when seeing or hearing this opera, one can wonder why the Queen would forsake such a magnificent figure as Philip for a comparatively weedy tenor! The same deep sadness pervades Chaliapin’s delivery of another Verdi soliloquy, Silva’s “Infelice, e tu credevi” from Ernani. Ezio Pinza or Tancredi Pasero may bring us “perfection” in this aria, but Chaliapin’s “imperfection” has its own rewards.

Such exotic creations as Farlaf in Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila, or the Miller in Dargomyzhsky’s Rusalka, were beyond the wildest dreams of opera lovers in the west, but Chaliapin brought them directly into the parlor via the gramophone. On record his listeners could not appreciate his mastery of makeup, by which he often made a typical singer’s round face into a long, thin visage, but they could “see” his characterizations because his singing had so much “face”. Connoisseurs might mutter about the almost barbaric force of his characterization of Gounod’s Méphistophélès, or Rossini’s Don Basilio, but they could hardly ignore him. I recall the late composer and musicologist Antony Hopkins saying, after Chaliapin’s electric record of Leporello’s catalogue aria had been played on the radio: “Unforgivable liberties, unforgettable ideas.”

For me it is fascinating to reflect that the Italian comic genius of opera buffa was imported to Russia, only to be re-imported to Milan by Chaliapin. His imaginative touches, the shrinking of his tone to a barely audible pianissimo when Leporello sings “La piccina”, or his lapses into parlando in Basilio’s “La calunnia”, licensed such comic specialists as Pavel Zhuravlenko, much influenced by him, to raise gales of laughter for later Russian generations. And his little decorations were in perfect style—as was his cadenza in a gravely serious Italian aria, Rodolfo’s “Vi ravviso” from Bellini’s La sonnambula.

Chaliapin is said to have known some 200 songs, although relatively few of them stayed in his active repertoire. The pianist Gerald Moore has written of being required to master an enormous repertoire before he accompanied Chaliapin in recital. The singer would “spontaneously” select an item from a booklet containing 103 songs and arias which had been distributed to the audience. He would announce its number, allowing time for Moore to find the music and his auditors to find the text, but the program rarely varied much.

The song records take in Western composers such as Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Grieg, Flégier, Clarke, Ibert, and Massenet. One could wish for more but the list compares well with the discographies of Chaliapin’s contemporaries; and even when he is accompanied by orchestra rather than piano, his singing teems with detail. He recorded Russian songs by composers such as Glinka, Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky, Korganov, Lishin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Koenemann, Manykin-Nevstruev, Sokolov, Glazunov, Liapunov, Slonov, and Malashkin. Most were sung with piano but a few, such as Dargomyzhsky’s “The Old Corporal” and Glinka’s “The Midnight Review”, were documented only with orchestra. They were still given spell-binding interpretations which influenced subsequent generations—Mussorgsky’s setting of Goethe’s “Song of the Flea” became compulsory for Russian basses. The one tragic absentee was Chaliapin’s close friend Rachmaninoff, who dedicated a number of songs to him and often accompanied him in recital. On 25 January 1914, in a Saint Petersburg session, Chaliapin recorded “When yesterday we met”—ironically not one of the songs dedicated to him. The disc was not issued, although fortunately at least one test pressing survived, and he never returned to it in the studio; so the one singer who could have brought Rachmaninoff fame as a song-writer was not represented in the catalogs. This is all the sadder as the performance is an excellent one, even if the piano is too loud vis–à–vis the voice.

It is wonderful to have a number of discs of Russian church music, to remind us that Chaliapin was a boy chorister. Religious chant fed into the music of the Russian nationalists and no doubt informed the great bass’s interpretations of their music. Many of Chaliapin’s records were Russian folk songs. With these he adopted a rather throwaway style, often shortening note values, which came across as authentic although other singers had equal success with a more emphatic delivery. Sometimes this throwaway style found its way into Chaliapin’s operatic characterizations, not always successfully. An example is the Unknown’s Aria from Verstovsky’s opera Askold’s Tomb, where he does not really “nail” the folk-like tune: his colleague Grigory Pirogov is far to be preferred in this number. To turn to an undoubted Chaliapin success, we must consider the now-ubiquitous “Song of the Volga Boatmen”, created in the studios of HMV. Chaliapin was dubious about recording it, as it was just a refrain or work-song and its collector, Balakirev, had published just one verse. Fred Gaisberg persisted, together they worked out two more stanzas, and Chaliapin persuaded Feodor Koenemann to write an arrangement. The 1922 acoustic recording required five takes, of which the fourth was chosen, and although the electric version needed four takes, of which the third was preferred, it sold so well that the singer pocketed £3,000 in royalties. Yet another version, with piano, was Chaliapin’s very last 78rpm side, made in Tokyo on 6 February 1936.

To have the whole of the recorded Chaliapin spread before us is of inestimable value. Like other popular stars of “serious” music, such as Peter Dawson, Chaliapin tends to be reduced to a handful of greatest hits; and almost invariably the electric versions are chosen. Chaliapin was just short of his twenty-ninth birthday when he first recorded; and sometimes, when listening to his early acoustic discs, the beauty of his youthful tone can take the listener’s breath away—in the 1908 Paris recording of “Lakmé, ton doux regard”, for example.

© Tully Potter, 2017


Feodor Chaliapin did not possess the most beautiful voice, nor was his musicianship always irreproachable. Yet his power to communicate directly transcended the mere sound of his voice or his technique, and a century later through recordings, his power remains astonishing to new generations of listeners. Perhaps Chaliapin’s records preserve his unique artistry more completely than almost any other singers who have recorded. We can almost feel his presence in the grooves, for every nuance of a Chaliapin record is directed at making a connection between singer and listener. To me as a blind person and having no visual picture of Chaliapin’s physical appearance, he is the only singer whose recordings convey an actual visual image of the man that corresponds to historical fact.

Chaliapin’s art and recorded legacy had a decisive influence on my own musical development and subsequent work. When I was six years old and beginning to show a keen interest in classical music, a great-uncle gave me a large stack of old 78s, including two by Chaliapin, “Song of the Flea” and “Song of the Volga Boatmen”. These old records became my great joy, playing them over and over to the annoyance of my parents and siblings. Caruso was my favorite because his voice was so irresistibly sonorous, whereas Chaliapin produced quite a different effect. I had no idea what the “Song of the Flea” was about, but I loved hearing that laugh which sounded so sinister. The “Song of the Volga Boatman” thrilled me because of the way Chaliapin could sing so softly and then arch his voice into full-throated declamation. Those Chaliapin records haunted me then, and they still haunt me sixty years later.

So enthralled was I with these old records that as a growing boy I began to seek out 78s in second-hand stores. When I was in my late teens, I bought many old records from an elderly man, who had participated as a supernumerary at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music when Chaliapin came with the Metropolitan Opera to perform Boris. He said that the sheer power of Chaliapin’s voice and personal presence on stage was so arresting that he could never forget it, claiming it was one of the great experiences of his life. This was reinforced during my frequent conversations with Philadelphia critic, Max de Schauensee, who had heard Chaliapin often, and told me of the tremendous effect the basso had on audiences.

I began collecting Chaliapin’s records, and was always on the lookout for LP reissues of him. In 1966, Melodiya produced the first large-scale reissue of Chaliapin, an eight-LP set augmented in 1973 with two additional discs. In 1973 EMI issued a marvelous two-LP-Chaliapin collection, including several previously unpublished sides. A few years later, they released a fabulous three- LP collection of live Covent Garden recordings from 1926 and 1928, including excerpts from Mefistofele, Gounod’s Faust, and Boris Godunov, all featuring the great Chaliapin. As EMI collections of Melba, Tetrazzini, and Battistini emerged, I expected that a complete Chaliapin edition would follow, but nothing appeared. Therefore, the idea that I might produce such a compendium was always in the back of my mind if only I could locate all of the records.

During the 1990s I became acquainted with Vladimir Gurvich, a Russian émigré living in New York. A computer programmer by occupation, record collectors worldwide knew him as the supreme authority on Chaliapin recordings. Gurvich had authored an authoritative discography, printed as an appendix in Victor Borovsky’s 1988 biography. By the time of our meeting, he had managed to assemble the most complete collection of Chaliapin recordings in the world, including all eight of the rare 1902 G&T discs as well as test pressings of unpublished recordings. Over several decades, he had spent hundreds of painstaking hours researching the Russian texts of Chaliapin’s recordings, and preparing literal English translations of each. Vladimir and I had discussed at length the idea of Marston producing a complete Chaliapin edition, but before we could proceed, he died suddenly during a research and collecting trip to Russia.

In 2001, the New York based CD-label Arbiter announced that they were to launch a complete Chaliapin series from the collection of Vladimir Gurvich, and about one CD per year was issued through the fifth volume. To the disappointment of vocal enthusiasts, however, the project foundered, and nothing more was heard. Helen Gurvich, Vladimir’s widow, had given me access to his entire collection of recordings as well as the typescript of texts and translations that her late husband had prepared. When it was clear that Arbiter was not going to continue its Chaliapin series, Scott Kessler (my partner in Marston and life) and I decided that we must find a way to finish this vitally important project.

The catalyst came in June 2015 when we received an unexpected letter from Arthur Lawrence, a loyal customer living in Australia, offering to help underwrite a reissue of Chaliapin’s electrical (post-1925) recordings. His thought was that since most of Chaliapin’s acoustic records were available on the Arbiter series, Marston could continue where Arbiter stopped. The idea was a good one, and we sent a mass email stating our intention to produce the project if we could generate sufficient interest among our regular customers. The response was an immediate affirmative, with a number of our supporters offering additional financial help if we would consider expanding the project to include every known Chaliapin recording. We decided immediately to move forward with it, engaging Michael Aspinall to write a critical essay about the records, and researching previously written essays on the great bass that would be appropriate. We also felt it important that Vladimir Gurvich’s texts and translations be a major part of the accompanying booklet.

Our next task was to locate striking photo images of Chaliapin, feeling such an elaborate booklet would require numerous photos. We contacted our usual helpers Charles Mintzer, Girvice Archer, Gregor Benko, André Tubeuf, and the archive of the Metropolitan Opera, all of whom sent us many splendid operatic poses and portraits. But it was Charles Mintzer who was especially helpful by introducing us to Joseph Darsky, one of the most avid Chaliapin enthusiasts in the world, who had assembled an extensive archive of Chaliapin photos, clippings, and memorabilia. Mr. Darsky had written articles and books both in Russian and English on the great bass, and had worked with Vladimir Gurvich on his texts and translations. He immediately offered to help, quickly sending scans of more than a hundred photos. Joseph has been additionally helpful with correcting the Russian titles in our track listings, and suggesting minor changes to Gurvich’s Russian texts.

Opinions vary widely as to how the Cyrillic alphabet should be transliterated into Roman letters. To make it as easy as possible for our readers to decipher the Russian words, we chose to adopt the least complicated system of spelling, employing no diacritics while using the traditional spellings of familiar Russian names. English titles given in the track listing are not necessarily literal translations from the Russian, but are the titles by which these selections have been commonly known. Record labels are usually not a reliable source for English translations of Russian titles. A case in point: one copy of 022185, “The tempest rages in the fields” by Sokolov, (CD 2, Track 14), bears the English translation “She Made a Noise and Became Very Gay”. One can only guess as to how that translation emerged, since nothing like that appears in the Russian text.

Regarding the sources used for remastering the records, and the challenges that my assistant Richard Harris and I faced along the way: Chaliapin’s popularity during the 1920s and 1930s was such that his records sold extremely well. Even some of his pre–World War One recordings stayed in the HMV and Victor catalogues through the end of the 78-rpm era. It would be difficult to imagine almost any collection of classical 78s that would not contain Chaliapin records. Later Chaliapin records were nearly as common in secondhand shops as those of Caruso or McCormack. Yet copies of several titles are extremely difficult to find, while several unpublished discs have proven impossible to locate at all. Fortunately, many of the metal masters were preserved, and up through the early 1960s, collectors were permitted to purchase custom-made-shellac pressings from the original masters, which were usually in pristine condition. Vinyl pressings from masters have also circulated among collectors, often playing even more quietly than shellac discs. We were fortunate to be able to use more than a hundred of such pressings for this set. The remainder was remastered from the best available commercial pressings. In many cases, no fewer than six excellent copies were available from which to choose the one yielding the clearest reproduction and least amount of noise. In every case, we experimented with different stylus sizes listening for optimum results. Key signatures were checked and verified against scores, with transpositions duly noted in the track listings. Establishing correct keys for some of Chaliapin’s unaccompanied folk songs proved challenging, especially when a particular recording session had included no discs of standard repertoire that would help to determine a correct playback speed for the session. In those cases I used my ear, comparing the song in question with other Chaliapin recordings of the same song.

Each track in this set is listed in its original language. When a recording was sung in a language other than the original, that title is listed immediately after in parentheses. Subtitles are given in brackets. In those instances when operatic arias or scenes were recorded over two or more sides, we have generally opted to present the entire selection as one track point, listing all matrix and catalog numbers. For example, the Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov, recorded on two sides, is listed here under one track. In one instance only did we decide to present a three-sided scene as three separate tracks: the Scene in the Duma from the 4 July 1928 Covent Garden performance of Boris Godunov, CD 10, Tracks 15, 16, and 17; this would have been difficult to list as one track because of changes in language between Italian and Russian.

The earliest Chaliapin recordings were wax cylinders made privately prior to the advent of commercial recording in Russia. There are nine known cylinders, all in Russian archives. Vladimir Gurvich was not able to date them but felt that they were all made between 1898 and 1901, and was certain that they were recorded at different times. We were not able to gain access to the original cylinders but are fortunate to have transfers (albeit rudimentary ones) that were obtained by Mr. Gurvich. Apparently he was only able to procure eight of the nine. We have presented them, played at the correct speeds, as an appendix to CD 13.

Chaliapin made his first commercial records in January and February, 1902, for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company. Masters for these, sadly, were not saved by the company, as they had been for many of Caruso’s early records. These eight “G&T” discs were practically unseen by western collectors, who considered them to be among the “holy grails” of vocal records. During the last twenty years, however, a small number of these major rarities have found their way into the hands of a few fortunate collectors at prices often in excess of two thousand dollars each. Vladimir Gurvich had acquired two copies of each of Chaliapin’s 1902 discs, and in 2002 I made archival transfers of each one, knowing that such treasures would perhaps never again pass through my hands. I also was fortunate that the late Sir Paul Getty permitted me to make transfers of the Chaliapin G&Ts in his collection. The transfers presented here are amalgamations of the best-sounding portions of each disc. All eight of these recordings have some pitch drift, the correction of which required reducing the playback speed between the beginning and end of each selection to maintain constant pitch. Checking each side against the score, we found that they all play at a nominal speed of 77rpm except for matrices 575x and 577x, which play about 5rpm higher.

With Chaliapin’s growing popularity, it is difficult to imagine why he did not record again for five years after 1902, while other prominent Russian singers recorded prolifically during that time. Finally, in 1907, the Gramophone Company again engaged him to record, and that session produced six published sides: three arias and three songs. Those marvelous recordings remained in the catalog for only a few years, but four of the six have circulated as vinyl pressings from the masters, which were used for this set. Chaliapin’s second 1907 session, held just weeks later in Milan, was unsuccessful. All fourteen sides were rejected as “mechanically unsatisfactory”. No masters or documentation survive from that session, but four test pressings of unaccompanied folk songs do, found on CD 1, Tracks 15–18, giving clear evidence of why no recordings from that session were published.

In 1908 Chaliapin was brought to Paris in the company of impresario Sergei Diaghilev, creating a sensation with Boris Godunov. While there, the Gramophone Company held two recording sessions that yielded eight published sides: five arias and three rare discs of unaccompanied folk songs. Matrix 621i, “Luchinushka,” is so rare that for years it was thought to have been unpublished. In the 1990s, however, several copies of the disc with printed labels surfaced, proving that it actually did go into production.

The sessions between 1910 and 1914 all produced excellent-sounding records with Chaliapin invariably in fine voice. Although these were issued originally as single-faced discs, many of them became available in the mid-1920s as double-faced copies in HMV’s Historical Catalog, remaining in print through the 1930s. Playback speeds vary considerably between sessions, ranging from 75 to 82rpm, but proved to be consistent within each session.

With the outbreak of World War I, the Gramophone Company closed their Russian branch in 1915, and Chaliapin made no further records in Russia. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Chaliapin was not permitted to travel abroad until 1920. In 1921, he made his first trip to England in eight years, and during his stay in London, the Gramophone Company asked him to record. Four recording sessions were held at the company’s studios in Hayes, Middlesex, between 9 and 12 October. Twenty sides were cut, ten of which were published by His Master’s Voice in England and by the Victor Talking Machine Company in the U. S. One unpublished side from these sessions exists as a test pressing—two songs by Eduard Grieg, CD 4, Tracks 22 and 23. In January 1922 Chaliapin made his first U. S. Victor recordings and continued to record for the company until 1927. Many of Chaliapin’s post-1921 HMV and Victor records were issued by both labels, and we were fortunate to have access to several copies of each record, all in excellent condition.

Victor and HMV switched to the Western Electric system of recording in April 1925, and Chaliapin made his first electrical recordings in October for HMV at the Hayes studios. The electrical process used microphones and electrical amplification, giving a much more accurate reproduction than the acoustic recording horn process. This new method also permitted recordings to be made at remote locations with the electrical signal sent by phone line to a recording studio where the discs would be cut. The Gramophone Company made its first remote recordings on 28 October 1925 in London at St John’s Church, recording several organ solos by Cecil Whitaker-Wilson, with the signal relayed to a studio where the discs were cut. Kingsway Hall was the next venue to be used, followed by Queen’s Hall, Small Queen’s Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Westminster Abbey, and the New Gallery Cinema. On 31 May 1926, HMV recorded for the first time at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, during a performance of Boito’s Mefistofele featuring Chaliapin. Nine sides were cut, but only six published: the three orphan discs destroyed. The tragic loss is matrix 389, Chaliapin’s “Son lo spirito che nega” which he did not otherwise record.

During the following two years, excerpts from three further live Chaliapin performances were recorded, all great treasures: a 1927 Royal Albert Hall concert featuring Rimsky-Korsakov’s one-act opera, Mozart and Salieri, and 1928 Covent Garden performances of Gounod’s Faust and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. Only four sides were recorded from Mozart and Salieri, none of which were published at the time of recording. Seventy-five years later, however, they were issued as 78rpm pressings by Historic Masters. The 1928 Covent Garden Faust yielded thirteen sides. Only two were published at the time, but thankfully, nine additional sides were preserved and are issued here.

Over the years, there has been some confusion concerning the recordings made during the performance of Boris Godunov given at Covent Garden on 4 July 1928. Here is the authoritative information: Twenty sides were recorded during the performance, matrices CR2124–2143. Six sides were published at the time, and two published after Chaliapin’s death. Following is a listing of exactly what was recorded, which matrices were published, and which matrices survive:

4 July 1928, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London (Public performance) (relayed to Small Queen’s Hall) Engineers: A. S. Clarke, G. W. Dillnutt, A. D. Lawrence, A. J. Twine

Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky)
Feodor Chaliapin (bs), Margharita Carosio (sop), Olga De Franco (ms), Angelo Bada (ten), Irene Minghini-Cattaneo (ms), Luigi Manfrini (bs), Royal Opera Orchestra and chorus, conducted by Vincenzo Bellezza.

CR2124-1-1A, Prologue – Introduction, part 1 (Chorus) no copy exists

CR2125-1-1A, Prologue – Introduction, part 2 (Chorus) no copy exists

CR2126-1-1A, Prologue – Pilgrims’ Chorus (Chorus) no copy exists

CR2127-1-1A, Prologue – Coronation scene, part 1 (Chorus) unpublished on 78rpm, but master exists

CR2128-1-1A, Prologue – Coronation Scene, part 2 (Chaliapin and Chorus) no copy exists

CR2129-1-1A, Act 2 – Clapping Game & Entry of Boris (Chaliapin, Carosio, and Franco) no copy exists

CR2130-1-1A, Act 2 – Monologue, part 1 (Chaliapin and Carosio) published on DB1181

CR2131-1-1A, Act 2 – Monologue, part 2 (Chaliapin) published on DB1181

CR2132-1-1A, Act 2 – Duet of Boris and Shuysky, part 1 (Chaliapin and Bada) no copy exists

CR2133-1-1A, Act 2 – Duet of Boris and Shuysky, part 2 (Chaliapin and Bada) no copy exists

CR2134-1-1A, Act 2 – Clock Scene (Chaliapin) published on DB1182

CR2135-1-1A, Act 3 – Polonaise (Cattaneo and Chorus) unpublished on 78rpm, but master exists

CR2136-1-1A, Act 4 – Revolutionary Scene, part 1 (Chorus) unpublished on 78rpm, but master exists

CR2137-1-1A, Act 4 – Revolutionary Scene, part 2 (Chorus) no copy exists

CR2138-1-1A, Act 4 – Scene in the Duma, part 1 (Chorus) published on DB1182

CR2139-1-1A, Act 4 – Scene in the Duma, part 2 (Chorus, Bada, and Chaliapin) published on DB1183

CR2140-1-1A, Act 4 – Scene in the Duma, part 3 (Chaliapin and Bada) unpublished on 78rpm, but master exists

CR2141-1-1A, Act 4 – Farewell of Boris, part 1 (Chaliapin) published on DB1183

CR2142-1-1A, Act 4 – Farewell of Boris, part 2 (Chaliapin) published on DB3464 and Victor 15177

CR2143-1-1A, Act 4 – Death of Boris (Chaliapin, Carosio, and Chorus) published on DB3464 and Victor15177

The confusion lies in the fact that the Gramophone Company published eight sides of choral selections from Boris Godunov, made during two recording sessions held at Covent Garden on 7 and 9 July 1928 using the same orchestra, chorus, and conductor as in the live performance of 4 July. The matrix numbers for those are CR2148, 2149, and 2152–2157. Apparently the company’s intention was to publish some of the choral sides from the live performance, but these were deemed unsatisfactory and were remade during the subsequent recording sessions. In 2005, a CD issue on the Guild label, alleged to contain all extant sides from the live performance, in fact used all eight of the remade choral sides, implying that they were from the live performance. Matrices CR2154, 2155, 2156, and 2157 comprise the entire Revolutionary Scene, only part of which had been recorded during the 4 July performance. Here we include all extant matrices from the 4 July performance, but none of the sides from the subsequent Covent Garden non-Chaliapin, choral sessions.

The remainder of Chaliapin’s recordings, made in London, Paris, and Tokyo, were not difficult to locate, except for the elusive disc DB1510, the rarest of Chaliapin’s electrics. That disc was deleted from HMV’s catalog almost immediately after its release and survives only in a very few copies. Many of the late records were pressed in France, Australia, and the U.S.A. on fine, quiet material, and some pristine vinyl pressings from the masters also exist.

We have attempted to locate all extant unpublished Chaliapin test pressings, but it is impossible to know what exists in every collector’s holdings. In fact, three unpublished records are thought to exist somewhere, but they have not so far surfaced. We hope that collectors will contact us with information about any Chaliapin records that are not included here. If any such come to light, we will make every effort to issue them.

Ward Marston, August 2017

Feodor Chaliapin: The Complete Recordings [pdf]

Perhaps the greatest value of this set is that it enshrines a manner of performance that nowadays would be unthinkable. No-one would have the chutzpah to perform the way Chaliapin did, which such passion, honesty, authenticity of feeling and uninhibited directness. Every music college should own copy of this set, a testament to what is possible but what is so rarely achieved.

—Rob Cowan, Gramophone, January 2019

Féodor Chaliapine, Édition Complète Définitive [pdf in French and English]

At last! Through the magic and perseverance of Ward Marston, here it is finally this integral Féodor Chaliapin definitive desired for decades... we can currently assert that this achievement for Ward Marston is an apotheosis, the work of a lifetime...

—Michel Tibbaut, ResMusica, December 21, 2018

Feodor Chaliapin, Singen Als Daseinsakt [pdf]

—Jörg Friedrich, Opera Lounge

Chaliapin, Phenomenon–Part One [pdf]

The most important event, artistically speaking, of the 2018-19 opera season so far has been the release of Feodor Chaliapin/The Complete Recordings on the Marston label. The 13-CD box contains every side and cylinder, published and unpublished, that Chaliapin is known to have recorded. In terms of sound restoration and pitch verification, Ward Marston has met, if not transcended, his own loving and scrupulous example, and in terms of packaging, presentation, and documentation has outdone even the finest of the earlier CD and LP hommages to this mightiest of singingacting exemplars.

—Conrad Osborne, March, 2019

Chaliapin, Phenomenon–Part Two [pdf]

I said at the opening of Chaliapin/Part One that the release of this artist's complete recorded output by Marston is the most significant event of the current opera season. And this may have struck some of my readers as odd and even self-contradictory, coming from someone who insists that opera as opera exists only in theatres, in the bringing-into-life of a work by in-the-flesh performers, in eye/ear simultaneity, in three dimensions, without cameras or mikes, and in real time. Secondary oralities, no matter how perfectly crafted, are not opera as opera, and neither is a document of any sort, for eye or ear. But I stand by both claims, and this is the reason: More than any other artists' (all honor to Caruso, Callas, Lotte Lehmann—see the posts of Sept. 29 and Oct. 13, 2017—and many others), Chaliapin's records bring to the mind's eye and ear the ideal of the singingactor assoluto in a form that is still recognizable to us, even after the generational adaptations of the intervening decades.

—Conrad Osborne, March, 2019

Chaliapin, Phenomenon–Part Three [pdf]

As with the Faust, Rusalka, and Don Quichotte excerpts from this same time period, these are the recordings that had wide circulation on RCA Victor for twenty years here in the U.S., and through which I first became enthralled with both the artist and the music. I still own their now-greyed 78s. They've never sounded this good.

—Conrad Osborne, April, 2019