A unique find shed light on the unknown pages of the history of the Moscow Art Theater


The story of this movie started in an unusual way. Irina Korchevnikova, who worked at the Art Theater under Oleg Efremov and Oleg Tabakov, received a call at the beginning of the 2000s from the famous actress Tatyana Lavrova and said that from New York, from the Russian consulate, she was informed that some American woman had brought them a large box. There was an archive of the actress of the very first generation of the Art Museum, Maria Nikolaevna Germanova, and the American woman who handed it over to the diplomats was the daughter-in-law of Maria Nikolaevna.

“And we were looking for this archive in the USA,” says Irina Korchevnikova. – When I opened the box, I gasped, there was just a treasure: diaries and multi-page manuscripts of the actress with her notes, many photographs. I started reading and immediately came across an entry from 1918: “My misfortune, my illness gives me many days of leisure. I wanted to write about our life, about Russia, about the war, about the revolution, and how these great world events seem to be experienced by me, a small unit.

The find first formed the basis of a book with diaries and memoirs of the actress, published in 2012. And finally, Irina Korchevnikova, together with director Igor Kolyadin, made a film about her. Its incredible value lies in the fact that in the stories about the fate of the outstanding tragic actress, who was called the “Russian Duse”, the picture of the past is restored – the Moscow Art Theater, which we did not know, and the very Russia in which we did not live.

with Stanislavsky. Tours in Kyiv. 1912

Stanislavsky spread his hands: “Well, of course, the first one came”

Maria Nikolaevna Germanova came from an Old Believer family, her grandmother had a great influence on her, who brought up strictness in her towards herself, and this strictness later manifested itself in relation to everyone around her. “Two purest flames burned in a child’s soul like a double helix: art and religion,” she wrote about herself, and this is not just a beautiful phrase. By the way, the first Moscow Art Theater students were very religious, churched.

She even came to the theater in special dresses, because she treated him like a temple. Without a shadow of irony, characteristic of today’s artists who love to joke: “Temple-temple – and there is no person.” At that time, in the young Art School, everything was different for the still young Stanislavsky and his students. Even “theatre” was capitalized.

“What an amazing time it was! And what an amazing theatre! The wooden lining of the lodges and balconies, the cloth curtain with a seagull embroidered on it, everything called for ascetic work, enveloping with mysticism, almost religiosity. I could not breathe the air of our Theater. I was the first to arrive and the last to leave. Stanislavsky once accidentally came before everyone else, found only me in the foyer prepared for the rehearsal, and spread his arms with a smile: “Well, of course! The first one came.”

Stanislavsky liked to strike fear into his artists. Germanova tells cruel things on the pages of her diary. As if not about a noble gray-haired handsome man from the century before last, but about a pragmatic producer of some project. “He looked at the actors as a mass, from which it is necessary to knock out clichés, prima donship, all the acting tinsel. In the name of this, he did not spare the actors, did not consider their pride. But he was forgiven both ridicule and rudeness for how amazingly he taught us, how he helped in the roles.

Her idol is the great Italian actress Eleonora Duse. For her sake, Maria Germanova is learning Italian in order to understand and fully enjoy her game. At the first opportunity, he will go to Italy and stay at the same hotel where Duse lived. Their meeting did happen. “In those few happy days in Turin, she did not let go of me,” we read in the diaries. – She immediately realized that this young Russian woman rushed to her from distant Moscow not out of an empty feeling. Simply, in a comradely way, she spoke to me about acting, about sacrifice, obedience and humility.

If the young fan knew that, having reached heights in the profession, she would often remember Duse. Over the years, Germanova, feeling that acting work, service is the path to loneliness, could only quote her idol. “Once I complained to her about my loneliness. And Duse, with some patient pride, said: “Oh … loneliness! Without him, I would not have created anything!”

With Vasily Kachalov in the play Brand. 1906

Gift from Polenov’s grandson

Frames flash on the screen: pre-revolutionary Moscow, bright Easter, the coronation of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and the tragedy on Khodynka. Favorite roles are Agnes in Brand, Sophia in Woe from Wit, Marina Mnishek in Boris Godunov, her incomparable Grushenka in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Critics, in particular, noted the tragic qualities of her temperament and extraordinary beauty. This allowed them to name Maria Germanova one of the best actresses of her generation. It will not be a mistake to call her the only tragic actress not only in Russia, but also in Europe after the death of Eleonora Duse.

And then there is a unique shooting found in the film archive – the role of Anna Karenina in the black-and-white film of the same name, of course, silent, filmed in 1914. The film has been screened extensively abroad. The footage was found in the Moscow archive, but there were problems with the recordings of Germanova’s voice. But chance helped.

In 2002, the grandson of the artist Polenov Alexander Alexandrovich Lyapin came to the Moscow Art Theater Museum, who actually needed to get permission to look after the grave of the actors of the Art Theater Polikarp Pavlov and Vera Grech, who were buried in the cemetery in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois in Paris. As a gift, he gave the museum a disc with a unique recording of what the researchers had been looking for for a long time – Maria Germanova reads fragments from Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” and Turgenev’s story “Enough”. This recording was made at one of the concerts in Paris in the 30s.

But to use the recording, the origin of which was unknown, the authors of the film need to get permission. And then a special military operation began and, as a reaction to it, a tough sanctions policy of the West, including on Russian culture. But the filmmakers decided to go all the way: the search for the origin of the recording led them to the National Library of France. Library staff helped in its digitization: “And we got what we were looking for, the voice of Maria Nikolaevna,” says Irina Korchevnikova.

Pious communion with the suffering Motherland

When the First World War began, which “practical Europe met with enthusiasm and enthusiasm,” Germanova wrote: “… And everything went to dust. As in a fairy tale: a rooster crowed, and where there were piles of gold, there was a pile of ashes. The actress will accept the February revolution with enthusiasm, and later she admits: “Like most of us, stupid intellectuals.” And then he will see with his own eyes the devastating consequences of the revolution: in their ancestral home in Palna, the library was burned, and all the horses were shot with a revolver.

And how terrible her beloved Moscow looked! Ruined, abandoned, like a beggar. Germanova leaves Russia with her husband and son. Life in exile is the last bright page in the life of actress Germanova. She did not return to Russia because of the political convictions of her husband, Alexander Kalitinsky, a scientist, specialist in the Russian icon, twice arrested as a prominent Left Socialist-Revolutionary, moreover, declared an enemy of the people with deprivation of all rights. The family remained in Prague: he created the “Kondakov Institute”, in which he united the students of the historian of Byzantine and ancient Russian art Nikodim Kondakov and published a unique book about Russian icons. And she stood at the head of the so-called Prague group of the Art Theater.

The Russian troupe was based in the famous Theater on Vinohrady. Here, in 1924, the premiere of the play “Medea” took place: the director was Maria Germanova, the performer of the main role was herself. The Prague troupe and its creative leader, the actress Germanova, were a success with the European public. “And I thanked the Czechs, the Bulgarians, and the Serbs with pleasure. It was a pious communion with our suffering Motherland through its art. I keep, as a treasure, an icon – a copy from the Nesterov Mother of God, which was presented to me by one officer, ”wrote the actress.

“What do you! It’s worth a dollar!”

The memoirs of the “Russian Duze” can still serve as a reference book for modern actors, who would do well to know in detail the history of the domestic theater beyond its borders, to understand who is who and who is worth what. Here, for example, her experience in America, where she gave acting lessons and where she was convinced that “in America, money is the measure of everything.” By the way, the same can be read in Yesenin’s memoirs after his visit to America, among other cultural figures.

Maria Nikolaevna often reproached her students with the fact that they think they buy everything, like in a vending machine: a $5,000 token – and you instantly have a good director-teacher from Europe, who immediately turns everyone into actors. “At one rehearsal,” Germanova recalled, “I was surprised how a young man in a scene with a girl he is in love with and whom he wants to marry, behaves casually, speaks cheekily. This surprised me, and I told him to bring her flowers to the rehearsal. At least one rose. Then they both openly laughed: “What are you! It’s worth a dollar!”

In interviews that the Russian actress gave abroad, she did not hide the fact that she wanted to leave for Russia. “What real Russian can be happy away from his homeland?” But why didn’t she come back? She needs to think about her Prague group, about those for whom she once took responsibility. But she abandoned the idea of ​​​​returning to Russia, now Soviet. “I refused to return home because I did not believe that art could exist in the conditions that prevailed in Soviet Russia. Dostoevsky is banned. Chekhov is a rare and unwanted guest. How can you live in such a theater? And didn’t come back.

Maria Germanova died in Paris on April 9, 1940 at the age of 57. She was buried in the Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois cemetery. She did not have any of her relatives left in Russia: her brother was repressed and shot. At present, the granddaughter of Maria Nikolaevna, Sylvia Braude, lives near Washington. Her great-nephews (children of sister Augusta Peltenburg) are Christian Peltenburg-Brezhnev, a famous artist, the second is Michael Peltenburg-Brezhnev, a doctor, lives in Italy. And the archive of the great Russian actress was transferred to the Russian consulate by her first daughter-in-law Beverly Plachek.

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