Category Archives: History

PARIS’S ‘HOUSE OF MOLIÈRE’ WISHES HAPPY 400TH BIRTHDAY TO FRENCH THEATRE LEGEND ·

(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/10;  Gift for improvisation … painting of Molière reading from Tartuffe at the home of Ninon de L’Enclos. Photograph: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy.)

The Comédie-Française is celebrating the 17th-century dramatist by recreating Tartuffe, the play that outraged the Catholic church and almost ended his career

French theatre is gearing up to pay tribute to one of its founding fathers: Molière, the 17th-century playwright whose biting comedies still form many French schoolchildren’s introduction to drama. On 15 January, 400 years after his baptism (the exact date of his birth is unknown), the venerable Comédie-Française company will open this anniversary year with the play that came perilously close to sinking Molière’s career: Tartuffe.

While the first version of the play got the approval of Louis XIV himself in 1664, its satire of Catholic zealots drew the ire of the Catholic church. At the time, accusations of impiety could send a playwright to the stake, and Tartuffe was swiftly forbidden. Yet Molière persisted, switching gears and rewriting the play to suggest that his target wasn’t religion or true believers – but rather the hypocrisy of those who feign virtue. (The word “tartuffe” came to describe such characters in life, too.)

It worked. By 1669, a new, longer version of the play – in five rather than three acts – was allowed and met with acclaim, and researchers now see Molière’s political and social acumen as a key factor in his rise to classic status, even before his death. “Molière was brilliant at this: he had this sense of opportunity, a gift for improvisation,” says Georges Forestier, a Molière specialist and professor emeritus at Sorbonne Université in Paris.

And this month, thanks to Forestier and his colleague Isabelle Grellet, the Comédie-Française’s audience will be able to experience the original Tartuffe again – or at least a text as close to it as possible. While the 1664 play didn’t survive, the duo used a method that Forestier calls “theatrical genetics” to recreate it. It relies on sources the era’s playwrights drew heavily on, such as commedia dell’arte scenarios and existing short stories, to piece together a play’s original plot.

The result is a tighter, more streamlined Tartuffe, focused on the eponymous antihero – a religious beggar who is welcomed into a well-to-do family – and his hosts, Orgon and his wife Elmire. Some characters, such as the young beau Valère, have disappeared entirely along with the second and fifth acts, identified as later additions.

The prominent Belgian director Ivo van Hove will direct what is set to be a curious event – a “new” Molière play at the House of Molière, as the Comédie-Française has long been known. The opening night will be relayed live in cinemas in seven countries, and marks the start of a yearlong celebration for the French company, which was born of the fusion of Molière’s troupe and another, in 1680: its entire 2022 lineup will be dedicated to Molière.

Van Hove originally considered tackling Tartuffe years ago, after staging Molière’s The Misanthrope and The Miser in other countries, but he was discouraged by the standard five-act version. “It’s so artificially made up, due to the pressure from the church,” he says between rehearsals. “I never liked it, and I didn’t know how to solve it.”

Forestier and Grellet’s three-act version convinced him. “It’s what he intended it to be,” Van Hove says of this old-new Tartuffe, presented under its original title (Tartuffe or the Hypocrite, changed in 1669 to The Impostor). The director has added a prologue and epilogue to set the scene, and sees the play as a “social drama”.

Ever the pragmatist, Molière knew when to back down – and when to take risks, too

“This Tartuffe is invited into their home, and then the whole family, every individual, starts to change,” he says. Forestier stresses, however, that while Van Hove sees Tartuffe’s relationship with Elmire, the lady of the house, as a love story, the text doesn’t necessarily support this idea.

Ever the pragmatist, Molière knew when to back down – and when to take risks, too. As Tartuffe and the ensuing controversy demonstrate, he was the first comic playwright in France to leave stock comedy characters behind and tap into zeitgeisty themes, including the education of women, freedom within marriage, fanaticism and fashion. And while conservatives disapproved, he found an eager audience in Louis XIV and his court. “When his career takes off, the king is in his 20s,” says Marine Souchier, a postdoctoral researcher who studied the playwright’s career trajectory. “Molière speaks to a pretty young crowd at court and among the bourgeoisie, and is rather progressive for this era.”

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FRITZ LANG (BBC RADIO, IN OUR TIME) ·

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Released On: 30 Dec 2021

Available for over a year

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Austrian-born film director Fritz Lang (1890-1976), who was one of the most celebrated film-makers of the 20th century. He worked first in Weimar Germany, creating a range of films including the startling and subversive Mabuse the Gambler and the iconic but ruinously expensive Metropolis before arguably his masterpiece, M, with both the police and the underworld hunting for a child killer in Berlin, his first film with sound. The rise of the Nazis prompted Lang’s move to Hollywood where he developed some of his Weimar themes in memorable and disturbing films such as Fury and The Big Heat.

With Stella Bruzzi Professor of Film and Dean of Arts and Humanities at University College London

Joe McElhaney Professor of Film Studies at Hunter College, City University of New York

And Iris Luppa Senior Lecturer in Film Studies in the Division of Film and Media at London South Bank University Producer: Simon Tillotson 

 

THREE SHORT COMEDIES BY SEÁN O’CASEY: SCATHING, WILDLY ENTERTAINING COMMENTARIES ON THE NEW IRISH STATE ·

Rory Nolan and Marty Rea in Druid’s Three Short Comedies by Seán O’Casey. Photo by Ste Murray.

(Ciara L. Murphy’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 12/20.)

Under Garry Hynes’ direction, Druid bring a wide and eccentric range of characters to life

THREE SHORT COMEDIES BY SEÁN O’CASEY

National Opera House, Wexford
★★★★☆

Druid theatre company has brought three of Seán O’Casey’s short comedies to life in a multifaceted and high-energy production. A Pound on Demand (1939), Bedtime Story (1951) and The End of the Beginning (1937) deliver light relief amid the pandemic gloom of this Christmas season.

Seldom seen on the Irish stage, these one-act comedies are a departure from the early-20th-century politics for which O’Casey’s plays are better known. Instead these succinct performances focus on the everyday comings and goings of a wide array of characters (in the most Irish sense of the word).

These performances offer observations on authoritarianism, religious conservatism and the folly of “keeping up appearances” while delivering scathing (and wildly entertaining) commentaries on the various failures and vagaries of the (relatively new) independent Irish State. Fans of O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy will recognise his signature dark humour and sharp social criticism amid the farcical elements of this production.

Francis O’Connor’s effective and inventive set design offers a recognisable image of 20th-century realism

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‘IN OUR TIME’(BBC RADIO 4): ‘THE DECADENT MOVEMENT’ (LISTEN NOW) ·

‘THE DECADENT MOVEMENT’

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In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the British phase of a movement that spread across Europe in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. Influenced by Charles Baudelaire and by Walter Pater, these Decadents rejected the mainstream Victorian view that art needed a moral purpose, and valued instead the intense sensations art provoked, celebrating art for art’s sake. Oscar Wilde was at its heart, Aubrey Beardsley adorned it with his illustrations and they, with others, provoked moral panic with their supposed degeneracy. After burning brightly, the movement soon lost its energy in Britain yet it has proved influential.

The illustration above, by Beardsley, is from the cover of the first edition of The Yellow Book in April 1894.

With

Neil Sammells
Professor of English and Irish Literature and Deputy Vice Chancellor at Bath Spa University

Kate Hext
Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Exeter

And

Alex Murray
Senior Lecturer in English at Queen’s University, Belfast

Producer: Simon Tillotson

CUBA HARASSES, DETAINS ACTIVISTS ON EVE OF PLANNED PROTEST ·

People hang Cuban flags over the windows of Yunior Garcia Aguilera’s home in an attempt to stop him from communicating with the outside, in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Ramon Epinosa)

(Mary Beth Sheridan’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 11/15; via the Drudge Report.)

Security forces surrounded the homes of Cuban activists on Sunday, the day before a planned march that will test the strength of the protest movement that erupted last summer when Cubans poured into the streets to demand more political freedoms on the communist-ruled island.

The best-known organizer of Monday’s protest, 39-year-old playwright Yunior García Aguilera, had announced he would march alone through Havana at 3 p.m. on Sunday, carrying a white rose in solidarity with Cubans who had been prevented from participating the following day. But hours before he set out, plainclothes police swarmed his block and besieged his building. He tried to signal to journalists from his apartment, displaying a white sheet in support of the protests, and a rose. People dropped giant Cuban flags over the side of the building to cover the windows.

“We all know we can be detained within a few hours,” García Aguilera said in a Facebook Live post on Sunday morning, appearing nervous but calm. “I will face this with dignity. I believe this country will change.”

He called on people around the nation to clap at 3 p.m. to show their “thirst for freedom,” but there did not appear to be a widespread response. “I won’t renounce my ideas,” he told The Washington Post later Sunday. He said, however, he was penned in by hundreds of security forces outside his home. “The lives of my family members are in danger,” he said.

Cuban authorities had hoped to celebrate the island’s grand reopening to tourists on Monday, following a coronavirus shutdown of nearly 20 months that has crippled an already weak economy. Instead, the day has become symbolic of the confrontation between the government and pro-democracy activists.

Thousands of Cubans, fed up with food shortages, a battered health system and electricity blackouts, spontaneously joined demonstrations last July. They were the biggest protests in six decades.

Activists planned a nationwide “Civic March for Change” on Monday. But with the advance warning, the government has moved aggressively to derail another massive protest. It denied the organizers a permit, claiming they were tied to “subversive organizations” financed by the U.S. government.

n recent days, García Aguilera said, his phone lines and Internet connection were cut. Authorities summoned independent Cuban journalists and activists for questioning and warned they could face charges of public disorder.

On Sunday, the crackdown intensified. Several government critics, including Washington Post opinion contributor Abraham Jiménez Enoa, said that security forces were preventing them from leaving their homes. The Facebook forum Archipiélago, run by García Aguilera and other activists, reported that its moderator, Daniela Rojo, had vanished. Security forces detained another leader of the site, Carlos Ernesto Diaz Gonzalez, in the city of Cienfuegos, according to Archipiélago. The government suspended the credentials of several Havana-based reporters working for EFE, the Spanish news agency.

Journalists who drove to García Aguilera’s apartment building on Sunday morning were driven away by pro-government demonstrators, the playwright said. Several hours later, he appeared at his window, brandishing a white rose, according to reporters at the scene. At one point, he flashed a sign reading: “My house is blocked.” That’s when people on the roof unfurled giant Cuban flags that cascaded down the side of the three-story building, cutting him off from view.

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ANNE CARSON’S OBSESSION WITH HERAKLES ·

 

(Casey Cep’s article appeared in the New Yorker,11/1; Illustration by Lilli Carré’.)

In “H of H Playbook,” the poet considers war, guilt, and the mythological strongman.

“H of H Playbook” imagines a demigod who wears overalls and steals a Corvette.

No woman could get away with it. Murdering her children is all she would ever be known for—ask Medea. Yet Herakles, often called by his Roman name, Hercules, is known for everything else: slaying the man-eating birds of the Stymphalian marsh, the multiheaded Lernaean Hydra, and the Nemean lion, with its Kevlar-strength fur; capturing the wild Erymanthian boar, the golden-antlered deer of Artemis, and the Minotaur’s father; stealing the girdle of Hippolyta, the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides, the flesh-eating mares of Diomedes, and the red cattle of the giant Geryon; mucking the Augean stables in a single day; and kidnapping the three-headed dog Cerberus from Hades.

Those dozen labors have inspired countless playwrights, poets, and philosophers throughout the centuries, not to mention Walt Disney Pictures. In the cartoon version of the tale, from 1997, Hercules’ hardscrabble climb from the lowly farms outside Thebes where he was raised to his rightful place atop Mt. Olympus beside Zeus—who, in the myth, fathered Herakles with a mortal, Alcmene, the wife of a Theban general, Amphitryon—seems like a mashup of “Survivor” and “American Idol.” “Person of the week in every Greek opinion poll,” Disney’s Motown-style muses sing, capturing the contemporary image of the mythical figure. Neither the children’s film nor any of the other pop-culture depictions of Herakles mentions what he was famous for among the ancient Greeks: murdering his wife, Megara, a Theban princess, and their sons.

Almost everyone believed that the gods made Herakles kill his family, but exactly when he did so was the subject of some disagreement. Many people thought that his labors were punishment for his crimes, feats of strength by which the fallen hero could propitiate the gods; others claimed the labors preceded the massacre, suggesting that violence always begets violence. That’s how Euripides told the story in “Herakles,” which was first performed some twenty-four hundred years ago and which has recently been reimagined by the poet Anne Carson, in “H of H Playbook.”

Like Herakles, Carson gets away with everything in this strange and surprisingly timely book. A cross between a dramaturge’s dream journal and a madman’s diary, it features Carson’s transformed version of the Euripides play, rendered in handwritten lines and blocky paragraphs of pasted word-processor text, alongside original illustrations: marked-up maps, smears of blood-red paint, haunting sketches of human figures and tortured faces, pencil and eraser stains that resemble heaps of ash, plus the occasional glacier and lion. A facsimile of Carson’s own personal playbook, “H of H” is a performance of thought, one that speaks not only to the heroic past but to the tragic present.

Only a few dozen of the Greek tragedies remain, among them works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. These plays were the rock concerts of their era, staged not by candlelight inside small rooms but in grand theatres in the bright light of day before some ten thousand people. For a play like “Herakles,” a large chorus would sing and dance in a circular orchestra space near the audience, at the edge of the stage. Meanwhile, on the stage itself, a troupe of three actors performed all the roles: the hero, his wife, his father, his friend, and the usurper of his throne.

Without playbills, the audience relied on dialogue to know who was who, and discerned the plot partly through conventions of staging and posture. Take the opening lines of “Herakles,” which Carson first translated fifteen years ago, publishing it along with three other plays by Euripides in a volume called “Grief Lessons.” The lines are spoken by a man sitting beside an altar, surrounded by a younger woman and her children: “Who does not know the man who shared his marriage bed / with Zeus?” Even if an audience member was too far away to catch every word of that question, the actor’s low-to-the-stage position would convey his humble situation, and the next bit makes clear that it is the cuckold Amphitryon speaking: “son of Alkaios, / grandson of Perseus, / father of Herakles, / me!”

Amphitryon’s sixty lines of woe are followed by another twenty-five or so from his daughter-in-law, Megara. Herakles has left them alone, vulnerable to the whims of the new king of Thebes, Lykos, who has sentenced the hero’s family to death. They have taken refuge at the altar of Zeus, not because he is Herakles’ father but because any mortal at the altar is to be spared harm, though Lykos announces that he is willing to burn the altar down if that’s what it takes to kill them. Herakles is off laboring; as best as anyone knows, he’s still down in the underworld playing dogcatcher with Cerberus. And so these lines establish the play’s first cliffhanger: Will he return in time to rescue his family?

But Euripides is interested not so much in heroic acts as in the origins and limits of heroism. Herakles soon arrives, reassuring his family that he will save them, and when Lykos comes to kill them Herakles kills Lykos instead. As always in Greek tragedy, the violence takes place offstage; the audience learns of the murder from the distant cries of the King, and from the celebratory song of the chorus: “The once great tyrant / turns his life toward death!” Then Iris, a messenger of the gods, and Lyssa, the goddess of madness, appear, supposedly at the behest of Hera, Zeus’ wife, who is still sore at her husband over the affair that produced Herakles. Together, Iris and Lyssa drive Herakles mad, prompting him to kill the family he has just protected. Those murders take place offstage, too, in a confusion of violence that the chorus can hardly describe. (Carson calls it a “berserker furor.”) When Amphitryon orders his son to look at the bodies, Herakles says, “I’ve become the murderer of my own beloveds.” Then, setting up the play’s second cliffhanger, he adds, “Shall I not be their avenger too?”

A family rescued only to be ruined, a hero resurrected only to threaten suicide: “Herakles” hinges on such reversals of fate. The rest of the play considers whether a man who sentences himself to death can be saved, and, if so, by whom. Ultimately, it is his friend Theseus, whom Herakles has recently rescued from Hades, who comes to his aid. Seeing “the ground covered in corpses” and learning, from Amphitryon, that Herakles is responsible, he concludes, “This agony comes from Hera.” Like Herakles, Theseus has both divine and mortal parentage, and he argues that just as the gods transgress against one another, so, too, do they transgress against humanity—but just as the gods are allowed to live despite those transgressions, so should demigods and humans be allowed to live even if they sin.

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WEST SIDE STORY AT 60: THE DAZZLINGLY MODERN MUSICAL THAT’LL BE HARD TO BEAT ·

(Guy Lodge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/18; Photo:  West Side Story: never had bodies in motion been used to shape and dictate a film’s own rhythm quite like this. Photograph: United Artists/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock.)

With Steven Spielberg’s remake almost out, the 1961 original still feels thrillingly contemporary, a tough act to follow

It’s the opening credits that do it right away. Following three eerie whistles over a black screen, West Side Story explodes into a full screen of poster-paint colour – shifting from orange to red to magenta to royal blue – as Leonard Bernstein’s four-minute overture brassily clatters into action. Over the colour, a stark design flourish: seemingly random brigades of parallel vertical black lines, only coalescing at the overture’s end into the tip of Manhattan, viewed from the air, cuing a vertiginous bird’s-eye montage of New York City in motion. That chipper yet chillingly disembodied whistle returns; by the time we finally see a human face, six coolly riveting minutes has passed.

 

This whole title sequence – from the graphics to the aerial photography – was visualised by Saul Bass, the distinctive graphic designer then favoured by such aggressive stylists as Alfred Hitchcock and Otto Preminger. It still seems, perhaps even more than anything that follows in West Side Story, sleekly and breath-catchingly modern: a coup of expensive minimalism at the outset of a splashy Hollywood production. That was no accident: in 1961, United Artists set out for the film to be something bracing and new in the movie musical, an industry staple that was looking increasingly out of step with a youth culture turning toward rock’n’roll.

The previous two years had been rough ones for the genre. In 1958, South Pacific may have topped the annual box office while Gigi swept the Oscars, but since then, the only Hollywood song-and-dance films to prove even mild hits had been minor comedies, Disney cartoons or Elvis Presley vehicles. Hopes were high for West Side Story to put the gloss back on to the prestige musical – the 1957 Broadway musical had been a hit with critics and audiences alike – but the studio knew the usual style of overstuffed Technicolor spectacle wouldn’t cut it. The film had to be as propulsively dance-oriented as the stage show, yet expansive and kinetic as cinema. It had to honour the classically romantic roots of its source – this was a riff on Romeo and Juliet, after all – while Saying Something Significant about modern youth and urban society. It had to be family-friendly yet appealing to tearaway teens; it had to court Oscar voters and high-culture critics alike.

It was, in effect, strategised and focus-grouped to within an inch of its life, down to the unusual compromise made on the directorial front. Genius choreographer Jerome Robbins, whose work had been so integral to the stage show’s success, was hired to direct the musical sequences, despite having zero film experience. Industry journeyman Robert Wise was enlisted for the straight dramatic scenes, not despite his lack of musical experience but because of that: best known for stolid black-and-white dramas on stern subjects (he had recently been Oscar-nominated for the grim death-row biopic I Want to Live!), he was intended to bring some grownup gravitas to the exercise. Not that the producers were above naked populism when casting the leads: whether or not there’s any truth to the enduring rumour that Elvis Presley was approached to be the film’s Tony, teen-idol potential took precedence over musical ability: 23-year-olds Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer didn’t sing a note in the film, but couldn’t have lip-synched more prettily.

All of which makes West Side Story sound like a desperately over-calculated, even cynical exercise. Yet as it plays out, from that Saul Bass aesthetic masterstroke onwards, the film remains a blinder: somehow checking off each of those aforementioned, contradictory boxes, it’s formally electric, musically alive and emotionally pummelling, even as its dubbed leads trade in borrowed feeling. West Side Story isn’t unflawed, in ways the show wasn’t either: its overwriting of Shakespeare to lend proceedings at least half a happy ending, with Maria alive and distraught, can’t quite touch the frenzied melodrama of Romeo and Juliet’s dual-death fiasco, and there’s no getting round the fact that its sweet, doe-eyed leads are given a lesson in musical magnetism every time their older counterparts Rita Moreno and George Chakiris are allowed to burn up the frame. (That West Side Story won 10 Oscars, including two for Moreno and Chakiris, while Wood and Beymer weren’t nominated was a harsh way to stress the point.)

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10 ICONIC FEMALE CHARACTERS IN RUSSIAN LITERATURE YOU NEED TO KNOW ·

(Valeria Paikova’s article appeared in Russia Beyond, 9/3.)

Actress Tatiana Drubich as Anna Karenina

Actress Tatiana Drubich as Anna Karenina

Sergei Soloviev/Solivs, 2008

These unconventional heroines stand out from the crowd, inspiring millions of readers with their sexuality, ingenuity and determination.

 

1. Liza of ‘Poor Liza’

‘Poor Liza’ made a revolution in classic Russian literature when it saw the light of day in the early 1790s.

Oil painting reproduction of 'Poor Lisa' by Orest Kiprensky.

Nikolai Karamzin broke new ground when he elevated a young girl’s journey of “moral decay” into a heartbreaking love story. The writer exposed a powerful weapon in his arsenal – tragedy – and spiced up his ‘Poor Liza’ with a devastatingly sad ending. Karamzin’s title character has become synonymous with unrequited love, deep sorrow and social injustice.

A wealthy nobleman falls in love with a 17-year-old peasant girl and seduces her. This marks the beginning of an end of their doomed misalliance. Tender and timid, Liza blindly trusts Erast, but the young lady-killer soon betrays her. He gambles away his estate and marries an old rich widow to rescue the situation. In contrast, Lisa, who is unable to survive the loss of her lover, walks into the pond and drowns herself. “… Remember your poor Liza, who loves you more than herself!”

2. Tatyana Larina of ‘Eugene Onegin’

Tatyana Larina of Alexander Pushkin’s ‘Eugene Onegin’ is definitely one of the most captivating female characters in Russian literature. 

 

Illustration of Tatiana Larina by Elena Samokich-Soudkovskaïa.

Tatyana is an open-hearted provincial young girl full of high expectations and willing to sacrifice herself. She falls in love with the self-centered Onegin. As is often the case, it’s a one-way street. 

I write to you… when that is said

What more is left for me to say?

Now you are free (I know too well)

To heap contempt upon my head.

Onegin rejects her love, under the pretext that he doesn’t want to have a family. Life goes on and Tatyana marries another man. That’s when Eugene falls in love with her. It’s too late, though. Tatyana is no longer blindly in love with him and prefers to stay faithful to her husband and moral principles. By the end of the novel, she transforms from a naïve provincial dreamer into a full-fledged lady, the embodiment of grace, intelligence and aristocratic dignity. 

3. Lyubov Ranevskaya from ‘The Cherry Orchard’

 

‘The Cherry Orchard’s Ranevskaya is the head of the high-society family on the brink of bankruptcy.

Renata Litvinova as Lyubov Ranevskaya in 'The Cherry Orchard' staged at the Moscow Art Theater.

Flat broke, Lyubov Andreevna is ruined by her prodigality. She is about to lose her estate and, most importantly, her favorite cherry orchard. Ranevskaya’s head-in-the-sand policy with respect to her lose-lose situation is worrisome. She continues to splash out, although she literally can’t afford it. “Oh, my sins… I have always spent money like water…” Madame Ranevskaya is ready to share her last penny with those in need. And that’s what she really is, a big spender with a huge heart. She is the epitome of procrastination, levity and naivety. The (typically Russian) woman lives in her distant rosy past and hopes that things will somehow resolve themselves. And, even though Chekhov described ‘The Cherry Orchard’ as a comedy, alas, this time around they won’t.

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8 SCENIC COUNTRY HOUSES OF FAMOUS RUSSIAN WRITERS (PHOTOS) ·

(Alexandra Guzeva’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 8/11; Photo:  Spasskoye-Lutovinovo/Legion Media.)

Russians love to spend time in nature’s lap and escape from the stuffy city to their dachas and country homes. Writers, of course, are no exception. The fresh country air has inspired many literary masterpieces. These dachas are now museums.

1. Boris Pasternak’s dacha at Peredelkino, Moscow Region

Peredelkino, outside Moscow, is essentially a writers’ village, set up, it is said, at the initiative of Maxim Gorky, having told Stalin about his experience of out-of-town residences abroad. Many writers settled here in Soviet times: Korney Chukovsky, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Bulat Okudzhava and others.

But its most famous inhabitant was Boris Pasternak, who settled in this wooden house in 1939. Here he wrote poetry, translated literature and worked on his masterpiece, the novel Doctor Zhivago. In this same house, in 1958, the writer learned that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; in 1960 he died here after two years of harassment following the award (which he was forced to decline) and publication of the novel abroad.

Read more: ‘Didn’t read Pasternak, but condemn him’: What’s behind the Soviet phrase

2. Anton Chekhov’s dachas in Moscow Region and Crimea

During his relatively short life, Chekhov managed to live in several cities. As for dachas, he had at least three of them.

Melikhovo estate in the Moscow Region

Chekhov lived at Melikhovo near Moscow for just seven years, yet there he penned more than 40 works, including the short story Ward No. 6 and the plays The Seagull and Uncle Vanya. In addition, as a practicing physician, the writer opened an outpatient clinic on his estate and treated the local peasants for free. Read more about Melikhovo here.

The White Dacha in Yalta, Crimea

In 1898, Chekhov bought a house in Crimea near Yalta. By this time, he was suffering from tuberculosis and needed the healing air. At the “White Dacha” (as Chekhov called it), he wrote the plays Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, as well as the “most Crimean” story in all of Russian literature, Lady with Lapdog.

Chekhov's house in Gurzuf

There in Crimea, in the resort town of Gurzuf, he had another, secret dacha, which he bought in 1899 to hide from the crowds of fans who came looking for him.

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HOW A FAMILY TRANSFORMED THE LOOK OF EUROPEAN THEATER ·

(Joseph Cermatori’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/11; via Pam Green; Illustration: Rotating the perspective to depict massive, magnificent interiors, the Bibiena family transformed stage design in the 17th and 18th centuries.Credit…Morgan Library & Museum.)  

The Bibienas, the focus of an exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum, dominated Baroque theatrical design.

Many of us have not seen the inside of a theater in well over a year. But as performance spaces around the country are on the verge of reopening, the Morgan Library & Museum is offering a quietly astonishing reminder of what we’ve been missing.

Open through Sept. 12 at the Morgan, “Architecture, Theater and Fantasy” is a small but exquisite show of drawings by the Bibiena family, which transformed theatrical design in the 17th and 18th centuries. Organized around a promised gift to the museum of 25 Bibiena works by Jules Fisher, the Tony Award-winning Broadway lighting designer, the exhibit is the first in the United States of the family’s drawings in over 30 years.

From Lisbon to St. Petersburg, Russia, the Bibienas dominated every major court theater in Baroque Europe. Their innovations in perspective opened new dramatic possibilities, and their lavish projects cost vast sums, with single spectacles running budgets of up to $10 million in today’s dollars. Writing to Alexander Pope of an opera performed outdoors in Vienna to consecrate the Austrian crown prince’s birth in 1716, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu described a massive stage constructed over a canal. Gilded flotillas sailed beneath it — a spectacle, she wrote, “so large that it is hard to carry the eye to the end of it.”

That production’s designer, Ferdinando Galli Bibiena (1657-1743), had arrived in Vienna in 1711 as the official scenographer for the Hapsburg court of Charles VII. His father, the Tuscan painter Giovanni Maria Galli (1618-65), came from a village in Arezzo called Bibbiena, and adapted its name as his own. Young Ferdinando started out in Bologna as a master of quadratura, or illusionistic ceiling painting. But his theatrical talents took his career in other directions in the 1680s.

Until that time, European scenery primarily utilized single-point perspective. This optical technique, perfected in 15th-century Italian visual art, arranged scenic images around a central vanishing point, creating the semblance of an infinitely receding space. (A Bibiena drawing already in the Morgan’s collection makes the regress dizzyingly, almost terrifyingly, steep.)

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