6 Today is the 90th birthday of Pavel Lisitsian (1911). From 1940 through the 1960s, Lisitsian was one of the stars of the Bolshoi Theater. Listeners were mesmerized not only by his beautiful baritone voice, but also by his talented acting. His most famous parts included Robert in Jolanta, Mazepa in Tchaikovsky's opera of the same name, Escamilio in Carmen, Amonasro in Aida and many others. Yet it was his portrayal of Yevgeny Onegin in the famous Tchaikovsky opera which was considered his finest work, so much so that he was called "the inimitable Onegin." Not surprisingly, Lisitsian was the first Soviet singer invited to sing on the stage of New York's Metropolitan Opera.
7 Day of National Accord and Reconciliation. For nearly 80 years this day was a celebration of the Anniversary of the Great October Revolution. After the breakup of the USSR, rather than cancel the familiar November holiday, it was changed into this present form.
11 This is the centenary of Yevgeny Charushin (1901-1965). A student of the Petrograd Academy of Arts (graduated 1926) Charushin had a multifaceted, bright talent: he was an artist, a children's writer, a theater decorator and sculptor. However, the illustrations for his own books and those of other writers soon became his chief life work His illustrations for Vitaly Bianki's book Murzuk were purchased by the Tretyakov Gallery upon the book's publication in 1927. Many generations of Russian children were brought up on Charushin's books, e.g. Chur (1930), Baby Birds and Little Wolf (1932-1936), Nikita and his Friends. In 1965, Charushin was awarded a Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Children's Book Illustrations at the international Children's Book Show in Leipzig.
12 Today is the 180th anniversary of the birth 1 of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), one of the greatest writers in the Russian pantheon. In 1843 he graduated from St. Petersburg's Military Engineering School (where he enrolled at the behest of his father) and was employed at the Design Service of the Engineer Department. He resigned a year later, convinced that literature was his true vocation. His first novel, Poor Folk was published in 1845 and was hailed by critic Vissarion Belinsky as "the advent of a new unparalleled talent." In his later novels, White Nights (1848) and Netochka Nezvanova (1849), his literary realism laced with psychological analysis is fully apparent, as he places extraordinary characters in extraordinary situations. "They all say that reality is dull and boring, so to distract oneself they turn over to art, for fantasy they read novels," the author wrote. "To me it is the other way round: what can be more fantastic and unexpected than reality?"
This quote proved all to true about Dostoyevsky's own life. His literary career came to an abrupt halt in 1849 when lie was arrested as a member of the Petrashevsky Circle (which touted utopian socialism). He was on the gallows when pardoned and sent to Siberian labor camps for four years. After the death of Nicholas I, the more liberal Tsar Alexander II returned to Dostoevsky his rights of nobility, and eventually permission to resettle in St. Petersburg. In those years he created his next major work: The Humiliated and Insulted (1861). The ten years of physical and moral hardship in exile had sharpened Dostoevsky's receptiveness to human sufferings. They also marked his disenchantment with socialist illusions. Dostoevsky came to advocate Russia's special path "to an earthly paradise," facing off against the writers Chernyshevsky and Dobrolyubov.
In 1865, in Wiesbaden, Dostoevsky began working on his seminal novel, Crime and Punishment (finished in 1866), which reflects upon the complex path of his own internal torments: a path to redemption via humility and self-abnegation.
After marrying his secretary-stenograph Anna Snitkina in 1867, Dostoevsky spent several years abroad (in Germany, Switzerland and Italy). During those years, Dostoevsky worked on his novels The Idiot (1868) and The Devils (1870-1871). Upon returning to his homeland, the Dostoevskys bought a dacha near St. Petersburg, in Staraya Rusa, where the writer penned his novels The Adolescent (1874-1875) and The Brothers Karamazov (1878-1879). Perhaps his last great contribution to Russian literature was his brilliant speech of June 6,1880, at the unveiling of Pushkin's monument in Moscow. The writer Ivan Aksakov called it "a speech of genius, a historical event."
17 Today is the centenary of film director Ivan Pyriev (1901-1968), one of the founding fathers and maitres of Soviet cinema. Pyriev directed 17 films, established the Creative Union of Filmmakers, and headed the leading Soviet film studio, Mosfilm, for 20 years. Pyriev received a record six State Prizes for his work (in 1941, 1943, 1946, 1948, 1951). A People's Artist of the USSR, Pyriev enjoyed nationwide fame for the creation of what have come to be called "Soviet blockbusters," be they musicals, fairy tale films or war films. And Marina Ladynina, who starred in most of Pyriev's hits--The Rich Bride (1938), Tractor Drivers (1939), The Swineherd and the Shepherd (1941), Cossacks from Kuban (1950)--was the personification of Pyriev's cinema. Actually, the lattermost film, which portrayed the merry life of Kuban Cossacks, was sharply criticized in the perestroika era for "false exuberance" of life in a Cossack village while the country was actually living under much harder conditions. Critics had a point, yet the film was nevertheless hugely popular because Pyriev knew his art. Proof of this is his screen versions--now all classics of Russian cinema--of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novels, including The Idiot (1958) with Yuri Yakovlev as Count Myshkin and the Dostoevskian Yulia Borisova as Nastasya Filipovna. The Brothers Karamazov (1967-1968), starring Mikhail Ulyanov and Andrei Myagkov, earned Pyriev a post mortem Special Prize at the 1969 International Moscow Film Festival.
18 Vyacheslav Pyetsukh (1946), arguably one of the most popular (and now most published) Russian writers turns 55 today. His recent book (a collection of stories and novels), State Child (1997, Vagrius) earned him many prizes. A native Muscovite, Pyetsukh worked as a history teacher before literature burst into his life and pinned him to his writing desk He is master of the short story focused on the "mysterious Russian character." "As a matter of fact," wrote Pyetsukh, "the much-vaunted mystery of the Russian soul has a very simple explanation: the Russian soul has it all ... the creativity, the sweeping spirit of negativism, the economic enthusiasm, the sense of national dignity and that utopian trait of flying in the clouds. It is the latter that we are especially good at ..." Sometimes his portrayal of Russians borders on the macabre, yet, his sense of humor always saves the day.
19 The writer Emil Braginsky (1921-1998) 19 would have been 80 today. A script writer who greatly influenced Russian cinema, he penned scripts for such films as The Mexican (1955), Vasily Surikov (1959) and If You Are Right (1963). Starting in the mid-1960s, he teamed up with film director Eldar Ryazanov and the Braginsky-Ryazanov duo created many masterpieces for the Russian Silver Screen (including comedies such as Watch Out for the Automobile, A Zigzag of Luck, Irony of Fate, A Business Romance, Garage and others), many of which--full of not only sharp satire but also soft irony, sadness, humanism and goodness--have become an integral part of Russian life and popular culture.
Today is also the 190th anniversary of the birth of Mikhail Lomonosov (1711-1765), poet, scientist and founder of Moscow University. Author of several brilliant poems, he also made a significant contribution to Russian science, laying the foundation for physical chemistry. He also helped to standardize the Russian literary language, wrote a Russian grammar and a manual of rhetoric. The critic Vissarion Belinsky wrote that, "Our literature began with Lomonosov ... he was its father ... its Peter the Great... Do I need to say he was a great man marked by the cache of a genius?" Lomonosov dedicated one of his first odes to Peter I. His poetry was dominated by patriotic and civil themes, of the dedication to labor and science for the sake of glorifying one's homeland. Lomonosov created the first prototypes of highly artistic Russian verse. He also highlighted the importance of interaction between different sciences. In his preface to the book, "Basics of Metallurgy or the Mining Industry," he said: "No doubt, eac h science contributes to another science, thus physics contributes to chemistry and to mathematics just like history contributes to poetry."
22 Today is the bicentennial of the birth of Vladimir Dal (1801-1872), Russian writer, lexicographer and ethnographer. A graduate of St. Petersburg's Naval School (1819) he wrote his first poem ("Vadim") in 1818. Yet he soon discovered another vocation, which later became the passion of his life: collecting the "emeralds of the Russian language"-i.e. proverbs, sayings, idioms and words. The famous dictionary bearing his name features over 200,000 entries, of which Dal collected 80,000. The dictionary was published for the first time in four volumes in 1861-1867. Because of this immense work, very few know of Dal's other endeavors. In 1826, upon retiring from the army, Dal entered the Medical School of Derpt (modem day Estonia) University, even taking part in the RussoTurkish War, where he earned fame as a great surgeon. In 1830, Dal published his literary works, The Gypsy and Russian Fairy Tales, under the nom de plume Kazak Lugansky. His interest in Russian fairy tales drew him close to Alexander Pushkin, wh o offered Dal the plot of the tale "About Georgy the Brave." Dal reciprocated by offering Pushkin the plot of his now famous fairy tale "Of the Fisherman and the Fish." Such creative cooperation quickly turned into a friendship. In 1837; upon learning about Pushkin's deadly duel, Dal sat by Pushkin's bedside until the poet's last breath. Appreciating such devotion, Pushkin's widow Natalia Goncharova offered Dal the coat Pushkin wore at the duel, as well as his emerald ring.
27 Two hundred years ago today Alexander Varlamov (1801-1848), composer, singer and conductor, was born. He authored the ever popular romansy (romantic songs) "The Snow Storm is Mopping the Street," "Don't Wake Her Up At Dawn," "The Red Sarafan," "The Lonely White Sail" and others. Any well-educated Russian today still recognizes the music and lyrics of these poignant tunes. A great singer, Varlamov also taught music at the Russian embassy's church in the Hague, and served as "composer of music" at the Imperial Theater. In 1840, he published Full School of Singing, the first Russian textbook on the art.
29 Today is the 35th birthday of actor Yevgeny Mironov (1966), one of the brightest stars of contemporary Russian cinema. Mironov was selected as one of Russian Life's "100 Young Russians to Watch," and was profiled in our January/February 2001 issue.
4 Introduction of the Virgin to the Temple. This Russian Orthodox holiday is one of the twelve important holidays in the church year.
Today is also the centenary of the actor Nikolai Simonov (1901-1973). Starting in 1924, he was one of the leading actors at the Leningrad Theater of Drama named for Pushkin. His most famous theatrical roles were Satin in Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths and Fyodor Protasov in Leo Tolstoy's Living Corpse. But Simonov's trademark role was his interpretation of Russian emperor Peter I in the 1937-1939 film by director Vladimir Petrov (based on Alexei Tolstoy's novel). TV viewers also recall his romantic Enchanted Wanderer in a TV play based on Nikolai Leskov's novel of the same name.
5 On this day 60 years ago the Soviet counteroffensive began in the Battle for Moscow. This day is now marked nationwide as a Day of Military Glory (see story, page 49).
Today is also the 140th anniversary of the birth of artist Konstantin Korovin (1861-1939) often called the Russian impressionist. A fine lyricist, Korovin rendered his deep affection for Russian nature in such landscapes as "In the Boat" (1887), "By the Balcony" (1886), "The Bridge," "Summer Lilac" (1895) and others. Korovin was also a theater decorator; he worked on decorating Savva Mamontov's Russian Private Opera along with other major Russian artists like Vasily Polenov, Mikhail Vrubel and Valentin Serov. Korovin also created stage decorations for Bolshoi performances of The Snow Maiden, Tsar Saltan, Christmas Night, Sadko, Korsar and Don Quixote. In 1923, Korovin emigrated to Paris where he worked for the next 16 years, until his death.
Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956), a founder of Russian constructivism, was also born on this day. Constructivism sought a new approach to working with materials, color and space, first experimentally, and then to employ what was learned in these experiments "to realize the communist expression of material structures." The movement greatly influenced art, theater and architecture in the early Soviet era, and Rodchenko became one of its chief spokespersons, working in sculpture, painting, photography and even typography (he created several typefaces for Russian publishing houses, and for such now-famous Russian magazines as Ogonyok and Smena--the font used for the headline of our Battle for Moscow story in this issue is based on his design). While Rodchenko developed a huge body of sculptural, graphic and theatrical work in the early 1920s, from the late 1920s on he worked increasingly with photography, graphic design and typography. The artist's basic-works and teachings are even today required reading for Russ ian students of design.
8 Ten years ago today, the final chapter of the Soviet Union began to be written. At a small town outside Minsk, the leaders of the three Slavic republics (Russia, Ukraine and Belarus) preempted Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's attempts to hold the USSR together with a new Union Treaty by signing an agreement to create the Commonwealth of Independent States. The three states comprised 80% of Soviet territory and 73% of its population. Gorbachev quickly denounced the agreement (the Belovezh Accords) as illegal, but within 10 days Gorbachev realized the end was near. On December 21, 11 of the Soviet states signed the Belovezh Accords and on December 25, Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president. With that, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.
Meanwhile, 260 years ago on this day the explorer Vitus Bering (1681-1741) died. He arrived in Russia from Denmark at a young age. As an officer of the Russian Navy, he conducted expeditions to Kamchatka (in 1725-1730) and 1733-1741 (dying in the course of this trip). He traversed the strait between the Chukotka peninsula and Alaska and this strait is now named for him. Bering reached North America and discovered several islands of the Aleutians archipelago. His name was also given to islands in the North Pacific.
10 180 years ago today the poet Nikolai Nekrasov (1821-1878) was born. "I devoted my lyre to my people," he wrote in one of his last poems-and how true this was. Nekrasov's poetic credo was: "You may not be a poet, but you are bound to be citizen." This translated into a social responsibility, which led Nekrasov to versify on the sufferings of simple Russians, e.g. in his poems "Stiffy Without Happiness," 'Morning,' 'The Fatherland," and "On the Road." His poem "Who Lives Well in Russia?" (1866-1876), dedicated to the hard fate of simple Russians remained unfinished at his death. He sang the praises of die wives of Decembrists in the poem "Russian Women" (1871-1872). For almost 20 years (1847-1866), Nekrasov headed the literary journal Sovremennik, turning it into the mouth-piece of progressive Russian thinking. Nekrasov made a serious contribution to the Russian language, enriching it with bright colloquialisms, folk idioms and phraseology. In fact, Russian Life has often used quotes-turned-into-cliches from Nekrasov poems, for example our March 1996 cover quote from his "Red-Nose Frost": "In Russia's unbounded expanses, those strong stately women are seen, with dignified calm on their faces, the gait and the glance of a queen".
12 60 years ago the actor Vitaly Solomin (1941) was born. Upon graduating from Tschepkin's Theater School, Solomin joined the Maly Theater, where he earned the best and most prestigious roles in such major plays as The Inspector General (by Nikolai Gogol), Woe from Wit (by Alexander Griboyedov). Later, Solomin staged a series of plays including the musical Krechinsky's Wedding and Alexander Gain's Sirene and Viktoria. But it is Solomin's cinematic roles which are best known to millions of Russians: Elder Sister (1967), Dauriya (1972), Flying Mouse (1979) and Silva (1981), where he starred next to his elder brother, Yuri Solomin (now director of the Maly Theater). In recent years, Vitaly Solomin conquered fans with two TV serials, both staged by director Igor Maslennikov. In the romantic Winter Cherry, lie starred as an indecisive husband split between his wife and lover. He also received wide acclaim for his role as Doctor Watson in a Russian series of Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
16 Today is the centenary of military commander Nikolai Vatutin (1901-1944). His talent showed brightly on the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, where he commanded the troops of the Voronezh, the South-West and the First Ukrainian Fronts. Marshal Georgy Zhukov praised Vatutin for his "unique working capacity and the breadth of his strategic thinking." Vatutin made a serious contribution to Russian military art through his brilliant operations encircling enemy formations, as well as his art of moving whole groups of fronts and his know-how in the organization of operative defense.
18 Today would have been the 80th birthday the famous clown and film actor Yuri Nikulin (1921-1997), whose name was given t the Old Russian Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard (see Russian Life's obituary for Nikulin in our September 1997 issue). Not only did Nikulin score many laughs with his funny circus gags, but he also was one of Russia's great comic actors of the 20th century. To millions of cinema lovers he is known as the Odd Hall (Balbes) from the hilarious trio Trus-Balbes-Byvaly (Coward, Oddball, Experienced), created by film director Leonid Gayday in his comedies Operation Y, and Prisoner of the Caucasus. Arguably, his best comic role was as the hapless Semyon Semyonovich in Diamond Ann. Vet this clown-actor also excelled in serious roles, such as in the films When Trees Were Big and They Fought for the Fatherland.
23 Poet and bard Yuly Kim (1936) was born on this day 65 years ago. One of the founders of the Russian bard movement which flourished in the 1960s early 1970s, he is best known as the composer of lyrics for the soundtracks to By the Lake (1969), Dot, Dot, Comma (1971), Bumbarash (1972), Twelve Chairs (1977), Five Evenings (1978) and An Ordinary Miracle (1979). His songs are full of irony, humor and wise euphemisms. He has worked widely in the theater, and wrote the widely popular play Noah and his Sons (1984).
23 Today is the 70th birthday of actor Lev Durov (1931), often called "the master of episode." Indeed, Durov is irreplaceable in his supporting roles, such as the antihero-provocator Klaus in the TV series "Seventeen Moments of Spring," the stingy waiter in Vasily Shukshin's Kalina Krasnaya (1974), and Captain de Trevilles in the Russian version of the Three Musketeers (1978). More recently, lie has starred in Tango Over the Abyss (1997) and An Orphan from Kazan (1998). Durovis also an experienced teacher of acting, counting among his pupils the talented actress Elena Morozova (one of Russian Life's 100 Young Russians to Watch, profiled in our Mardi/April 2001 issue).
24 Today is the centenary of writer Alexander Fadeev (1901-1956). A talented author who lived a tragic life, he often had to sacrifice his writing time to numerous administrative duties (from 1946-54 Fadeev held the influential post of General Secretary of the Union of Soviet Writers, a body under the direct control of the Communist Party). Vet his first novel, Razgrom (Debacle), published in 1926, and The Young Guard (1945) were for many years required reading in schools, The latter novel was dedicated to heroes of the Russian underground who fought behind enemy lines in WWII. The book became even more popular when film director Sergei Gerasimov produced a movie based on the book. However, Fadeev made some factual errors in the novel and some real life characters were wronged in the work, so Fadeev had a new version published in 1951. Toward the end of his life, Fadeev was totally absorbed by his work at the Writers Union, and never finished his last novel, dedicated to Soviet metallurgy workers. It is known , however, that Fadeev helped many writers who needed support. His dissatisfaction with his own art and guilt over his involvement in repression of other writers led to deep depression aggravated by drinking. In 1956, when Nikita Khruschev unveiled the crimes perpetrated in the name of Stalin's personality cult, Fadeev felt a personal responsibilty and shot himself, leaving a suicide note which was published only in 1990.
Today is also the 55th anniversary of one of Russia's best contemporary actors, Leonid Filatov (1946). Previously known only to devout fans of the Taganka Theater, in 1980 the handsome Filatov achieved national fame after starring in Alexander Mitta's blockbuster film The Crew (1980), in which he played a long-haul pilot. This success put Filatov in great demand from other directors, and he employed his charismatic talent for charm, wit and psychological drama in subsequent films such as Grachi (1983), in which he played the boss of a crime gang. In 1985 he starred in Success (1985), as an ambitious young theater director who cynically squeezes from provincial actors all their talent, only to abandon them after his first success. In Eldar Ryazanov's comedy Forgotten Melody for a Flute (1987), he masterfully portrayed a member of the Soviet nomenklatura who was adapting slowly to the era of perestroika. In Karen Shakhnazarov's grotesque and apocalyptic satire City Zero (1988), Filatov showed up the absurdities of the Soviet system of management. A talented parodist, Filatov has also written numerous poems, song lyrics and humorous plays in verse. In the 1990s, after suffering from a major kidney dysfunction, Filatov had to stop acting and began focusing on writing. With the help of numerous friends, he authored a widely appreciated TV program "So That They Remember," dedicated to once-popular yet now forgotten actors of Soviet and Russian cinema.…