Fyodor Ivanovich Shalyapin, born on Feb. 13 (Feb 1, O.S.), 1873, died Apr. 12, 1938, because of his powerful and flexible voice, together with his mesmerizing stage presence and his superb acting ability, he is considered one of the greatest performers in the history of opera, and he is credited with establishing the tradition of naturalistic acting in opera. The son of a peasant, he had no formal education and little musical training. As a schoolboy Shalyapin already worked as a clerk. This job was becoming more and more burdensome for young Fyodor dreaming of theatre.
In 1890 he joined a chorus in Ufa city. A lucky chance made him a soloist: once he had to replace a sick actor in the opera Galka by Monyushko. This debut put forward the 17 year-old Fyodor and soon he was given some small opera parts to perform, for example Fernando in "Troubadour". Tours with his troupe brought Shalyapin to the town of Tiflis where he finally managed to pay serious attention to training his voice, thanks to singer Usatov who was able to discern and polish the gift of his pupil. He spent a year in Tiflis performing bass parts at an opera theatre.
In spring 1892 after long wanderings with various troupes around Russia and Caucasus Shalyapin returned to Kazan. With the help of one of his old friends he arrange his first solo concert. The success was overwhelming. It opened the gate for Shalyapin?s artistic career. After giving numerous concerts in Kazan, Ufa and other cities he moved to St-Petersburg.
In St.- Petersburg he made his debut in the Mariinsky Theatre in 1895. He successfully performed the parts of Mephistophelis in Faust and Ruslan in Ruslan and Lyudmila. However it was not before the meeting with Savva Mamontov that Shalyapin?s gift was estimate at its true worth. Mamontov, the big patron of art, was impressed by the outstanding talent of Shalyapin and invited him to his private opera in Moscow. Since that time (1896) starts the brilliant opera career of Shalyapin. His talent fully revealed itself in Prince Igor by Borodin, Pskovityanka by Rimsky-Korsakov, Mermaid by Dargomyzhsky, Life for the Tzar by Glinka and in many other operas.
He gained acclaim of the European audience in Milan where he performed the major part in Mephistopheles by Boito on stage of La Scala.
Shalyapin was both a great singer and a drama actor. His voice of unique flexibility, timbre, richness and beauty enabled him to express freely any shades of emotions. In his opera parts Shalyapin managed to convey the whole range of feelings ? from heartfelt tenderness to tragic pathos and smashing sarcasm.
Shalyapin surpassed all his opera forerunners with his great gift and the true-to-life playing. He gave a number of images, characters and scenes incomparable to any others. He seems unrivaled in his diversity and penetration to quite new aspects of the character and the soul, neither noticed nor performed ever before him? ? wrote Shalyapin?s contemporary critic V.Stasov.
Shalyapin became famous not only for his unique voice but also for his non-conformist conduct. Before the revolution he would sing the rebel folk song Dubinushka/Hey,uhnem! in Moscow restaurants and when the communists seized the power he would not hide his discontent with the Soviet Establishment. It was only his talent that saved him.
His mansion on Novinsky Boulevard was always full of guests. During World War I Shalyapin opened there a hospital and sang for soldiers. In 1019 he founded a ?small studio? in his house later retitled into ?Shalyapin?s studio?.
However the Soviet authorities soon got hold of Shalyapin?s mansion ? it was nationalized and occupied with numerous ?neighbors?. Shalyapin himself took shelter in the attic. To avoid further ?cares? intrusion of the Soviet state he left the country for Europe and settled in Paris where he spent his last years.