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Music Hall Theatre (Saint Petersburg)

4 Alexander Park, Saint Petersburg (tel.: +7 812 232-61-65, +7 812 233-02-43, +7 812 232-92-01), Metro station: "Gorkovskaya".


In the last quarter of the 19th century, Saint Petersburg City Guardianship of People's Sobriety was created in Saint Petersburg, at the Ministry of Finance. In order to distract people from drinking, it was decided to organise theatrical performances, affordable for all. This way construction of so-called "people's houses" started in the 1880s; these houses were a kind of culture, entertainment and education clubs for middle-income intellectuals, petty civil servants, university students, soldiers and workers. By the early 20th century, around 20 people's houses had been put in operation in Saint Petersburg.

In 1900–1912, the largest people's house (the People's House, for short) was constructed in Kronverksky Avenue, in Alexander Park in the historical district of Petrograd Side. It consisted of two parts and was built in two stages.

On 12th December 1900, the solemn consecration of the building took place, and the People's House was oficcially named the Emperor Nicolas II Establishment for People's Entertainment. In 1932, this theatre would burn down, and a new building would be constructed on its site. Later, this building would be occupied by the Baltic House Theatre, the Planetarium and part of the Music Hall Theatre (the Music Hall or the Theatre, for short).

In January of 1912, the complex of the People's House was enlarged with a newly constructed block named His Majesty Duke Aleksandr Petrovich of Oldenburg Auditorium. This blocked served as an opera hall of the People's House (the Opera Hall, for short).

It was constructed to a design by the architect Grigory Lyutsedarsky. During the construction, a unique iron frame, which earlier made part of one of the pavilions of the All-Russian Exhibition and was brought from Nizhny Novgorod, was used (the architect Aleksandr Pomerantsev).

The Opera Hall seated 2,800 people and included an amphitheatre that seated 728 people, 76 loges and three upper levels. The enormous stage of the hall was larger than the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre. The Opera Hall became one of the world's grandest theatres. It was opened on 4 January 1912 with the opera A Life for the Tsar by Mikhail Glinka.

In the People's House, there existed three companies: a drama company (which performed in the first theatre), a opera company and a ballet company (which played in the Opera Hall). Extravaganza shows featuring pyrotechnics were often performed. The theatre department was managed by the brilliant stage director A. Alekseyev who specialised in historical plays and extravaganzas. In 1909, Alekseyev was replaced by the stage director S. Ratov who revised the repertoire by including serious contemporary plays.

In 1910–1915, Nikolay Figner served as the managing director of opera productions. Being a famous tenor and once a lead singer at the Mariinsky Theatre, he had left the theatre by that time and completely devoted himself to managing the new theatre. Figner brought Aleksandr Sanin, a graduate from Moscow Art Theatre, into the newly created opera company and employed him as a stage director. At the People's House, Figner and Sanin sought to create an opera theatre based on solid stage directorship. However, their innovative ideas were not supported by officials from the directorate of the Guardianship of People's Sobriety. In 1915, Figner left the opera company of the People's House.

Besides the singers of the People's House, the stage of the Opera hall also saw invited stars such as Leonid Sobinov, Mariya Kuznetsova-Benois, Mattia Battistini and others. For the People's House, the cooperation with the famous opera singer Fyodor Chaliapin, who worked there not only as a lead singer, but also as a stage director, became a separate epoch. After Chaliapin and the entrepreneur A. Aksarin signed a contract, the hall of the People's House became a kind of an official stage for Chaliapin in 1913–1917. At the People's House, Chaliapin performed the part of Phillip II in the opera Don Carlos by Guiseppe Verdi and the part of Don Quixote in the opera Don Quixote by the French composer Jules Massenet, who wrote his masterpiece specially for Chaliapin and who dedicated it to the Russian genius singer. It was at the People's House that Chaliapin performed the part of Yeryomka in the opera The Power of the Fiend by Aleksandr Serov.

After the 1917 February Revolution, the Guardianship of People's Sobriety ceased to exist. The People's House was taken over by the city duma. At that time, the rooms of the People's House became a venue of mass public rallies. The Opera Hall hosted the 1st All-Russian Congress of Peasant Deputies, where on 22 May 1917 the Communist revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin held a speech on the agrarian issue (this fact prompted the government of Russia, then part of the USSR, to proclaim the building of the Music Hall a monument of history and culture of the national importance on 30 August 1960, decree no. 1327). In 1919, Petrograd's (as Saint Peterburg was know at that time) People's House was named after Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the founders of the Communist Party of Germany. In a year, the building was handed over to the People's Commissariat (Ministry) for Education.

In the post-revolutionary 1920s and 1930s, the State People's House housed many various theatres: an opera theatre, a marionette theatre and a musical theatre for children. Here, the People's House also hosted popular-culture performances.

On 5 May 1928, the stage of the People's House saw the debut performance of the singer Klavdiya Shulzhenko. Her success surpassed all expectations. Somewhat later, after Leningrad Music Hall was officially opened (Leningrad being the official name of Saint Petersburg in 1924–1991), Shulzhenko would become its staff performer and performed there very often. She would not only sing, but would also demonstrate her drama talent.

On 5 December 1928, Leningrad Music Hall was opened in the Opera Hall of the People's House with the premiere of The Wonders of the 20th Century, or The Last Carrier (directed by David Gutman).

The first season of the Music Hall was dull. In 1929, the Music Hall moved out of the People's House. From 1929 to early 1934, the Music Hall occupied the rooms of the former Palace Theatre (13 Italyanskaya Street).

Having been created in 1928, the first Leningrad Music Hall thrived and became widely popular thanks to the cooperation between the composer Isaak Dunayevsky and Leonid Utyosov's Thea Jazz band. In 1929, Dunayevsky became the music director and the chief conductor of the Music Hall. The company of the Music Hall developed several popular-music programmes, which featured lead singers Utyosov and Shulzhenko.

The merry shows Deferred Murder (based on the play by V. Voyevodin and Yevgeny Ryss, music by Dmitry Shostakovich, directed by Nikolay Petrov and conducted by Dunayevsky), The Odyssey (based on the play by Nikolay Erdman and V. Mass, directed by N. Smolin and music by Dunayevsky), Jazz at a Turn (music by Dunayevsky), the "jazz comedy" Music Store (music by Erdman and Mass, musical arrangement by Dunayevsky), music and circus performance Heavenly Swallows and others enjoyed great success. A real decoration of the Music Hall was forty "girls", ballet dancers of the ballet master Kasyan Goleyzovsky. However, in 1937 the Music Hall was shut down as a "bearer of bourgeois culture", as it was officially put.

In 1924–1938, the rooms of the former Opera Hall of the People's House was occupied by the Leningrad Theatre of Musical Comedy. In 1938, the Theatre of Musical Comedy was allocated rooms in Rakov Street (later, later renamed Italyanskaya Street). The former People's House also housed the Velykan Cinema, which was opened in 1924 in the Opera Hall, at the initiative of the theatre directorate at the People's Commissariat (Ministry) for Education.

In 1938, the Branch of the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theatre occupied the former Opera Hall of the People's House, in accordance with a decree by the Committee for Culture at the USSR Council of People's Commissars (decree no. 412). The branch was not particularly successful. The Kirov Opera and Ballet Theatre had never managed to actively use that stage.

As a letter from the management of the theatre to the Executive Committee of Leningrad City Council (as of 12 August 1948) said: "In the last year, the management of the Kirov Academy Opera and Ballet Theatre has many times raised an issue of handing over the building of the People's House (the former Branch of the Theatre) to an organisation that posses means for repairing and restoring that building. For the last seven years, the building of the State People's House has been officially considered to be temporarily abandoned, its roof has fallen into extreme decay and the rooms themselves ... have been systematically destructed."

This was how the building of the Branch of the Kirov State Academy Opera and Ballet Theatre was handed over to the Directorate of Cinemafication, in general, and to the Velikan Cinema, in particular (a decision of the Executive Committee of Leningrad City Council, decision no. 49, as of 11 October 1948).

In 1966, the second Leningrad Music Hall was created in Leningrad. It was founded by Ilya Yakovlevich Rakhlin who also became its first head art director. In 1966–1988, the Music Hall was housed by the Leningrad Council Palace of Culture, and the stage of the Palace saw almost all the premieres of the Theatre.

On 12 October 1967, the Music Hall presented its first production, the revue There's Nobody More Beautiful Than You staged by Rakhlin. After its first show, the Music Hall remained a notable phenomenon in the Russian cultural life for many years. Its orchestra was headed by the conductor Stanislav Gorkovenko, and its choreography group was headed by the choreograph Ilya Gaft and the ballet master Igor Belsky. Music for its productions was written by the composers Murad Kazhlayev, Aleksandr Zhurbin, Stanislav Pozhlakov and David Tukhmanov. Soon after the Music Hall was created, a school was founded at the Theatre; many generations of popular-music performers graduated from that school. It is enough to mention that Sergey Zakharov, Filipp Kirkorov, Tatyana Bulanovna and Marina Kapuro. At various times, such famous performers as Muslim Magomayev, Edyta Piecha, Iosif Kabzon, Ben Bentsianov, Albert Asadullin, Slava Polunin, Sergey Rogozhin, Yury Galtsev, Gennady Vetrov, the Secret band and many others performed alongside the company of the Theatre.

From 1967 and until Rakhlin died in 2002, the Music Hall created over 30 wonderful shows such as There's Nobody More Beautiful Than You, Vologda Lacemakers, One Million Newly Married People, Wholeheartedly, Baltic Wind, Always by My Side and New Home. Rakhlin was involved in all these performances as an author of the concept, a scriptwriter and a stage director. During all these years, the Music Hall, in general, and its head, in particular, had an enormous number of admirers.

Journalists always wrote that every performance staged by Rakhlin was a completely original work that involved choreography, vocal and unique acts of the highest level. All that was a unique amalgam of arts, most professionally created and having brilliant imagery combined with superb colours, costumes, set decorations and light. Every production was a vivid, colourful show full of inexhaustible youthfulness and love for life.

Rakhlin called the Music Hall a theatre of all the genres that get united based on plots of musicals. However, the highlight of each show was obviously the "line" of beautiful blondes decorated with ostrich feathers.

Under the management of Rahlin, the Music Hall became famous not only in Russia, but also in the whole world. While on tours in France, Italy, the US, Japan, Greece, Mexico, Australia, Germany and many other countries, the Music Hall deservingly won a universal recognition.

It was a production by the Music Hall that opened the "silver" (25th) season at the famous Olympia in Paris. And it was performers of Music Hall that opened two Russia's most famous popular-music stages, Moscow's Rossya and Leningrad's Oktyabrsky concert halls.

In the late 1970s, the building of the former Velinan Cinema was handed over to the revived Music Hall, but it was finally opened to the public as late as in 1988. Since 1988, the Music Hall has been again housed by the building of the former Opera Hall of the People's House, where its life started in 1928.

Recently, the Music Hall has been actively developing and has become one of Saint Petersburg's best stages. Besides presenting its own productions, the Music Hall frequently hosts a large number of touring collectives including popular-music performers and non-repertory companies from Russia and other countries. Among the guest performers that have appeared on the Music Hall's stage are Lyudmila Gurchenko and Tamara Gverdtsiteli, actors of Moscow's Lenkom Theatre and Vitaly Wulf, traditional Japanese drummers and a Chinese circus. Among the municipal events hosted by the Music Hall are an award ceremony for Olympic athletes, a final of a cinema festival, Vivat, Russian Cinema, the Delphic Games and beauty contests.

The three auditoriums of the Music Hall (1,500, 262 and 60 seats) welcome numerous guests every day.

The authorities of Saint Petersburg decided to turn the Music Hall into a theatre and concert centre of the municipal importance. Thus, created many years ago for everybody the People's House lives on.

Image Gallery (1)

Music Hall Theatre