Dagboek-aantekeningenVan Sergei de Diaghilev
(1890) (Bij het graf van Poesjkin) To sit there for a moment at sunset on a bench near the tomb, gave me a feeling of calm which lasted throughout the year. I was filled with love and humility in that sacred place. I always picked a few leaves from the trees near the grave and went away thinking "Till next year."
(1890) Placed as it was between the andantino of the Panorama music and the andante it made one long slow number too many. Everyone was aware of this, but no-one, not even Vsevolojsky, dared broach the subject with Tchaikovsky. At the dress rehearsal the Emperor Alexander III, seated next to the composer, began yawning during the entr'acte and said "This is getting rather boring, Tchaikovsky." The result was that this number was immediately suppressed and was not included in the orchestral score.
(1890) She must have been about eighty-five and exactly like her portrait by Repin. She was like some dried-up Madonna surrounded by a swarm of worshippers - particularly the Rimsky Korsakov family. Kissing her hand was like revering a relic of Glinka. In spite of her age she often appeared at symphonic concerts in the Hall of Nobles, especially those of Russian music which were called the Beliaev Concerts after the name of the music publisher. Mme Shestakov usually sat in the so-called Korsakov box which was between the columns on the left of the hall, and she was always accompanied by members of the Korsakov family. She never applauded and seldom opened her mouth...
Near the entrance one used to see, surrounded by his followers, Balakirev, whom we honored as a pupil of Glinka; and in the very middle of the hall the two gigantic Stassov-brothers, like a pair of moss-grown oaks. It was said that Dmitri Stassov had played á quatre mains with Glinka. His brother Vladimir, that passionate critic (and propagandist for Russian music) never stayed in one place for a moment. He ranged about the Hall getting in everyone's way...
Tchaikovsky did not often come to the concerts, but I did occasionally see him and talk to him. This young-looking but completely white-haired angel of a man was the idol of musical St Petersburg at that time. He was one of several composers who conducted their own works at the Beliaev Concerts, and like all of them he did it very badly. He used to get exasperated and his left hand fiddled feverishly with his heavy gold watch-chain. At rehearsals he maintained no discipline and got all mixed up.
(Ontmoeting met Ludmilla Shestakov, de zuster van Glinka)
(feb 1891) Neither Jean de Reszke nor Van Dyck [the first Werther in Massenet's opera] had much of a voice, nor were they always in tune. Still, I must admit that De Reszke was magnificent in 'Romeo et Juliette' and 'Tristan'. Seldom since have I witnessed simpler or more expressive acting or a more stylish manner. Edouard de Reszke had a big, full bass voice and a noble way of singing : women adored him. The De Reszke's were preceded by their reputation as social figures, men who kept racing stables in Warsaw and Paris. We knew that Lady de Grey had started - or rather revived - the opera seasons at Covent Garden for them, and that during these seasons, which were the most brilliant in the world, Jean de Reszke vied with the great Tamagno himself and often supplanted him in the favor of the snob public.
(Jean de Reszke zingt met Melba in het Mariinsky)
(winter 1891) He was not on form and the acoustics of the Mariinsky did not suit his phenomenal voice. On top of this, Napravnik the conductor did not allow him to repeat his famous opening phrase ['Esultate! L'orgoglio musulmano sepollo e in mar] and Tamagno who had come back on stage with this intention was obliged to beat a retreat to the wings. Yet there were people who had traveled all the way from Moscow by express train to hear this phrase, and returned home immediately after hearing it. During this performance there was a comic incident. Since 'Otello'was already in the repertory it had not been thought necessary to rehearse it with Tamagno. When the time came for him to cry "Fuggite" the chorus were so overcome with terror by the sound of his colossal voice that they fled from the stage and had to be driven back on again by the régisseur.
(28 oct 1893) The work had been passionately awaited. At the rehearsal opinions were greatly divided... The concert's success was naturally overwhelming and no-one dreamed that within a week Tchaikovsky would be dead. That evening the composer conducted in his usual nervous way. I heard afterwards that he had overlooked numerous mistakes in the scoring. Napravnik, who conducted the symphony two weeks later, had by that time corrected these errors; and he wept throughout the performance.
(okt 1893) During the week following the first playing of the symphony, 'Novoe Vremya', the daily paper, published, among a lot of other short newa items, the announcement that Tchaikovsky was ill, and that the illness was taking its course. Then suddenly I saw a sentence inserted at the floor of this announcement: "Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky died yesterday". I could not believe my eyes. I felt I had only just left Tchaikovsky, having met him several evenings before at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in the box of K.A. Varlamov [the actor]. Then I remembered that we had spoken of death, and Tchaikovsky had said: "You know, I find it hard to believe that that old bogeyman will come for me one day too!"
In despair I rushed out of the house, and although I realized Tchaikovsky had died of cholera I made straight for Malaya Morskaya, where he lived. The doors were wide open end there was no one to be seen. The place was upside down. In the entrance hall the score of the Sixth Symphony lay open on a table, and I noticed on a sofa the camel-hair skull-cap which Tchaikovsky wore all the time. I heard voices form another room, and on entering I saw Piotr Ilyitch in a black morning coat stretched on a sofa. Rimsky-Korsakov and the singer Nicolai Figner were arranging a table to put him on. We lifted the body of Tchaikovsky, myself holding the feet, and laid it on the table. The three of us were alone in the flat, for after Tchaikovsky's death the whole household had fled. Piotr Ilyitch looked little different from when he was alive, and as young as ever. I went off to buy flowers. For the whole of that first day my wreath was the only one lying at his feet.
A lot of people assembled to hear the prayers for the dead, among them Vsevolojsky, Director of the Imperial Theatres, and Napravnik. Everyone kept his mouth covered with a handkerchief and spat constantly into it, which was what we were advised to do to avoid catching cholera.
An immense crowd flocked to Tchaikovsky's funeral; and although it was broad daylight , the streetlamps were lit all the way along the processional route. The coffin was borne past the Mariinsky Theatre to the Cathedral of Kazan. We expected the Emperor to attend, but only the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovitch came: he was then President of the Imperial Society of Music and of the Academy of Sciences. I followed the hearse together with Rimsky-Korsakov, who said to me, "Here's a man gone in good time. Look at Gounod - he so long outlived his fame that no one noticed his death."
Gounod had died earlier that year.
Various myths soon sprang up around the death of Tchaikovsky. Some said he caught cholera by drinking a glass of tapwater at the restaurant Leiner. Certainly, we used to see Piotr Ilyitch eating there almost every day, but nobody at that time drank unbottled water, and it seemed inconceivable to us that Tchaikovsky should have done so.
Others invented the legend of Tchaikovsky's suicide, alleging that he poisoned himself for love of a certain member of his family [his nephew Vladimir Davidov] to whom he had dedicated one of his principal works [The Pathétique]. These people claimed that if Tchaikovsky had really died of cholera his flat would have been put out of bounds; and that the cholera epidemic was over (he was, in fact, one of the lasts to die of it). I myself place little credence in these stories. I knew all of Tchaikovsky's circle, and was a close friend of the person who was alleged to have caused his death; and I think there is no evidence to support the theory of suicide...
(15 maart 1894) On the evening before this great occasion Massenet took me back to his flat, and as we went in he said in his usual affected manner:
"Now I'm going to show you something Russian."
He led me into a darkened room, where a night-light was burning before a big icon of the Blessed Virgin.
"In everyday's life," he said, "she is the one I revere. On the stage I worship her whom you will see tomorrow."
(Met Dima in Parijs op de avond voor de uitvoering van 'Thais' van Massenet.
(zomer 1899) Soon after I arrived at Sviatogorsk station, I was told that when they were putting Pushkin's tomb in order there had been a slight landslide of the sandy soil and that the coffin had become visible. I rushed to the tomb and found that... I could, in fact, see a corner of the coffin. Putting my arm around it, I kissed it piously. I even tore off a fragment of what seemed once to have been a trimming of gold lace, and this I preserved religiously in my St. Petersburg flat.
(Jaarlijkse visite bij het graf van Pushkin als hij op weg was naar de Filosavov familie in Bogdanovskoye)
(jan 1901) When we substituted for the easels wooden frames covered with canvas [to form false walls] we were told they were dangerous and highly inflammable , and as a result found ourselves involved in endless correspondence, committee meetings, negotiations. Our honorable professors and academicians actually tried to strike terror into the hearts of the public through interviews 'that just happened to get' reported in the newspapers. Others, and some of the most venerable at that, went so far as to state that our adversaries would not even hesitate to set fire to the snow ... When... the exhibition was finally opened, all our art critics found nothing better to do than mock at our 'decadent' venture and declare that 'in boasting Zionglinsky we were forgetting Titian'.
(april 1907) Rimsky-Korsakov was extremely reluctant to go to Paris for these concerts: he kept insisting that he had no desire to appear in a city 'where they abuse our beloved Tchaikovsky'. He often came to see me in the Hôtel de l'Europe in St. Petersburg to discuss this question of whether to go or not, looming up before me in a huge furcoat, his spectacles frosted over, already bursting with indignation, wagging a long admonitory finger in the air and railing against French music.
(april 1907) One day on coming in I found his visiting card inscribed with the words:
"Well, if we must go we must - as the sparrow said when the cat carried him off." And go he did.
(16 mei 1907) My first concert ended with an appalling scandal. [The Prince Galitzky scene] was so extra-ordinary successful that the applause went on and on and there seemed no limit to the number of times the excited public would recall Chaliapine. Nikisch got ready to begin conducting 'Kamarinskaya' which was to conclude the program. Several times he raised his arms, ready to start, but the public, by now quite out of hand, refused to be silenced. Then, mortally offended, he threw down his baton and walked out of the orchestra pit. The audience was taken by surprise. Several people began to make their way out. Upstairs in the gallery the din continued, then, in a sudden hush, we heard a deep bass voice thundering out from the remotest heights of the house, in Russian, the words 'Ka-ma-rinska-ya! I screwed your mother'. Grand Duke Vladimir, who was sitting beside me in the box, got up and said to the Grand Duchess, "Well, I think it's time we went home."
Certain incidents attendant on the first staging of 'Boris' in 1874 are well known; such as that the scenes in Pimen's cell and the revolutionary scene with the Innocent were banned, and that the direction of the Imperial Theatres insisted on Mussorgsky's adding the Polish scenes to the Opera. In the autograph score of Mussorgsky, which has never been recopied and ofcourse never published - the score used in the earliest productions of the Opera, before the editing of Rimsky-Korsakov - the scenes in Pimen's cell is not included: but I found it among Rimsky-Korsakov's papers. Much has been said about Mussorgsky's inspired idea of ending the opera not with the death of Boris, but with the scene of revolution and the Innocent's song, as was published in the first edition of Rimsky's version. But in Mussorgsky's manuscript the opera ends with the death of Boris, and on the last page the composer wrote "End of the opera".
When I came to put on 'Boris' in Paris Rimsky-Korsakov restored certain numbers which had been suppressed from the start, including the famous peal of bells, which was to cause a sensation in Paris. I was terrified at the opera's length and worried about the running order. My friends and I had endless discussions with Rimsky-Korsakov about transposing certain scenes. Among other questions we considered whether we could place the coronation after Pimen's cell, so as to separate the two crowd scenes and end the first act with the Coronation Scene - which was chronologically possible (I asked the advice of the historian N.P.Kondakov about this) and theatrically a great improvement. This first year in Paris I gave neither the Inn-scene nor the scene in Marina's bedroom, so afraid was I of dragging out the opera, which anyway most people said the French would never understand!
I persuaded Rimsky-Korsakov of top of his other alterations to revise the coronation scene, which struck me as too short, and to complete and elaborate some of the carillons. He threw himself excitedly into this work; and the last word I had from him just before his death was a telegram to Paris from Russia asking me "How do my new bits sound?"
I had been hearing 'Boris' for nearly twenty years at the Mariinksy, but it was given as seldom as possible, not even every year, and it was the least popular opera in the repertory.
Latterly, since Chaliapine had begun to sing it, his scenes were the only ones ever greeted by applause.
Tchaikovsky's 'Eugene Onegin' had always been the most popular opera in Russia, and when I was organizing my Paris season the Court urged me to present it before any other. When the Empress heard that I was putting on 'Boris', she asked me "Couldn't you find anything more boring to give them?"
(feb 1908) Wanting to have the costumes for 'Boris' as splendid and authentic as possible, I had sent out a sort of expedition under the painter Bilibine, the well-known expert of old Russia, to search the northern provinces, particularly those of Arkhangelsk and Vologola. Bilibine went from village to village buying up from the peasants a mass of beautiful hand-woven sarafans, head-dresses and embroidery, which had been hoarded in chests for centuries. From the heap of material Bilibine brought back for me, Golovine put together the costumes for the Opera. Grand Duke Vladimir was so impressed with this treasure-trove that he made me exhibit it in the Hermitage Museum. Two famous Moscow firms wove special brocades for us according to Golovine's specifications. There was no end to the care and ingenuity which went into the production. Golovine was always changing and improving his designs. For the Coronation Scene alone he showed me four sketches, one after the other...
The Imperial Theatres gave us every possible help on this occasion. The chorus was lent by the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow. Our singers were the best available, namely Chaliapine, Smirnov, Yujina, Zbrueva and Petrenko. A team of stage mechanics came from Moscow under the leadership of K.F. Valz, the supreme technical wizard of his time. Our conductor was Felix M. Blumenfeld.
We had come to an agreement with the Paris Opera that they should place their theatre at our disposal for the performance of 'Boris' on condition afterwards that the whole production with its sets and dresses should become their property. The intention was to add the Opera to the Paris repertoire and sing it in French. (As the Opera directors subsequently sold the production to the Metropolitan in New York, this never happened; and after my Paris season 'Boris' was given in the United States before being seen again in Europe.)
So we set off for Paris, where a curious and expectant public awaited us. But we ran into incredible difficulties with the hidebound bureaucracy of the Opera officials. We were told on arrival that it was out of the question to mount an opera as complicated as 'Boris' in the short time allowed for; that the theatre's own repertory was more than filling the available rehearsal time; and that there was no possibility of rehearsing the singers on stage or of setting up such elaborate scenery. Whatever I asked for I received the same answer: "Unheard of! Impossible!"
When at last we began to rehearse with the orchestra - and we were allowed only two of three orchestra rehearsals - the stage hands set up such a din on stage that I had to have a twenty-franc gold piece ready in my hand to tip them when Chaliapine or another principal came on to sing. This was the only way to make them stop hammering and go off for a drink. Three days before we were due to open they told us that we could only hang our sets on the day of the first performance - and there were seven sets! I called a meeting of my collaborators.
Everyone was there, including our Russian technicians. The most vociferous speaker was Valz, backed up by his stage mechanics and by the wigmaker Feodor Grigorievitch Zaika, who always reminded me of Hoffmann's Drosselmeyer. They worked themselves into a frenzy, declaring that postponement would mean the ruin of our enterprise. I decided to take the risk and let the show go on.
(18 mei 1908) We were all in a state of fever. I was staying at the Hôtel de Hollande, which no longer exists, in the Rue de la Paix. We all went late to bed. In the early hours I heard a knock at my door.
"Who is it?"
"It is I, Chaliapine. Can I come in?"
"What's the matter, Feodor Ivanovitch?"
"Is there a settee in your room? I can't bear to be alone."
So that giant spent the night in my room, sleeping fitfully, curled up on a tiny sofa.
The Opera staff threw open their doors to us with supercilious smiles, and we were able at last to unpack the thousands of costumes and the countless trunks of properties, to hang and light the seven huge sets and to rehearse for the first time the Coronation Scene and the Revolution Scene with the hundreds of supers necessary. We had to hang the backclothes to the exact inch in an unfamiliar theatre and fit together sections of scenery which none of us had ever yet seen assembled. When it was found that a batten had to be moved, I waved a 100-franc note in the face of the Opera stage-hands.
"Oh well," they said, "If monsieur looks at it that way -"; and they grudgingly did what I asked.
(mei 1908) One serious mistake in hanging our sets could have ruined the whole show. But luck was with us. The production was hung and lit a few moments before the performance began. I hardly had time to change before the curtain went up. By the end of the first scene the public were beginning to enjoy themselves. Pimen's cell, with unseen choirs singing in the wings, caused a sensation, and after the Coronation Scene our triumph began. I hardly saw this scene as I was in the wings supervising the entry of processions of supers.
During the second interval when the stage-hands, thunderstruck by our success, saw me in my tail-coat and white gloves moving on some hedges and placing benches for the Polish Scene, they ran to help me.
I had been refused water for the fountain - all available water, apparently, being reserved exclusively for the firemen. I believe this rule still applies at the Opera. But the lack of water for the fountain did not diminish the success of the Polish Scene; nor did it prevent French ladies, infatuated with Smirnov, from beginning to trill "O povtori, povtori, Marina", pronouncing their guttural "r's". The impression made on the public by Chaliapine's Mad Scene was really overwhelming, and the audience went wild. Even the Russian Court came to realize that this Opera of Mussorgsky's was something more than a joke, and one heard people sobbing "Oh God, take pity on this poor sinner, Boris!"
In the scene of Revolution which I presented in deep snow, the episode of the Innocent, the passing of the imposter Dmitri, standing upright in his sledge, and the grand ensembles of the chorus, who brandished pitch-forks as they sang, impressed the public most favorable. The only set-back in the whole performance was the length of the last intermission, caused by the insistence of Valz, the technical director, on hanging some huge and enormously heavy chandeliers in the set representing the Great Hall of the Kremlin. At this point the audience grew restive and began to stamp. But the scene of Boris' death, when the ascetic monks came on with tall candles and when Boris spoke his last words to his children, was a knock-out. The future of Russian opera in the west was assured. That night, after the Opera, Chaliapine strode beside me along the 'grands boulevards', saying over and over again, "We've done something tonight. I don't know what, but we've really done something!"
(mei 1908) To show how dubious our whole undertaking had been considered in Russia I must admit that even the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovitch, who was so fond of me, had not dared to come to Paris for our first performance. It was only when he was bombarded with telegrams announcing the triumph of 'Boris' that he and the Grand Duchess made up their minds to take the Nord-express as it were straight to the theatre. The Grand Duke was genuinely happy and proud that this project which he had been almost the only one to encourage, which he had thrown himself into heart and soul, and which he had helped me to bring off, should have met with so outstanding a success. He was amazed at the high standard of our performance; and at a party he gave at his hotel, the Continental, for the whole company and stage staff he told them in the course of a little speech.
"It isn't thanks to me or Diaghilev that 'Boris' is such a success - it's all your doing. We only planned it; you made it come through."
The chorus misunderstood these words and thought the Grand Duke was dissatisfied with me.
Before he went back to St. Petersburg the Grand Duke asked me "Is it true that you are down 20.000 roubles? Tell me the truth and I'll ask the Emperor to make it up."
I told him it was not true. He smiled at me and said: "Perhaps you'd rather notify me in writing?"
I insisted that there was not a word of truth in the story. Getting up and coming over to me, he raised his arm, made the sign of the cross and said: "May this blessing preserve you from all evil intrigues!"
Then he embraced me.
(mei 1908) One day, going in to see the Grand Duke, I bumped into Carré, the Director of the Opéra Comique, who was just leaving him. The Grand Duke told me that Carré had come to complain about me. This was the reason.
For years Carré had been meaning to stage Rimsky's 'Snegurotchka', but put it off year after year. In March 1908, he wrote to me that he still did not know whether he could put on the opera, or if he could, when.
Hearing that I was producing 'Boris' at the Opéra, he at once made up his mind to produce 'Snegurotchka' at the Opéra Comique. He summoned the composer Tcherepnine to take charge of rehearsals and approached Princess Tenishev for help with the costumes. In fact shortly after the 'premiere' of 'Boris', Carré gave Snegurotchka with Mme Carré in the principal role.
(mei 1908) For a number of reasons which it would be tedious to enumerate the opera was not successful. On the day that I met him at the Grand Duke's Carré, having completely forgotten ever having written me the letter mentioned above, had come to complain that my production of 'Boris' had damaged his chances of success with 'Snegurotchka' and that, as I had known of his intention to produce another Russian Opera at the same time, I had acted in bad faith. The Grand Duke was very annoyed about the whole affair, which seemed to reflect on him, and ordered me to sort the business out.
Without delay I went to see Briand, then Minister of Education, asking him to act as arbiter in this dispute between Carré and myself. He appeared surprised, but gave his consent. A few days later the arbitration took place. Carré began a vehement denunciation of me, and Briand was obviously won over to his side. Then, to cut the whole thing short, I produced my main evidence, Carré's letter. Carré was extremely embarrassed. Briand asked me to leave them alone together. Next day the Grand Duke received a letter of explanation from Briand with Carré's apologies; and that was the end of the business.
(juni 1908) He remained to the end of his days that good-natured mixture of schoolboy and schoolmaster which had always made us both laugh at him and love him. There was the story of him and the young Stravinsky. One day his pupil Stravinsky brought him a new composition to criticize. After reading through it Rimsky burst out.
"This is disgusting, Sir. No Sir, it is not permissible to write such nonsense until one is sixty." He was in a bad mood all day; then, at dinner, he exclaimed to his wife "What a herd of nonentities my pupils are! There's not one of them capable of producing a piece of rubbish such as Igor brought me this morning!"
It was in the country, on a stifling night of impending storm, that he breathed his last. Alas! What a ballet he might have written me! Stravinsky attended his funeral. Seeing him in tears, Rimsky-Karsekov's widow went up to him and said: "Don't cry, Igor. We still have Glazunov."
That was typical of her.
(juni 1911) Our reception was icy, and neither Karsavina's variations, nor even those of Nijinsky received the slightest applause. It was only after the dance of the buffoons that the strangest of sounds came to us : the public was gently clapping its kid-gloved hands.
Tchaikovsky will never be understood in the west.
I presented him too soon and in the wrong way.
(nov 1921) Our opening was ruined, and incalculable sums of money were to be lost. The productions of this ballet nearly put an end to my theatrical career in the West. This catastrophe taught me a lesson. I realized that I was receiving an occult warning - indeed our lives are full of such signs - that it was not my business to revive the glories of a bygone past.
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