Maria MaksakovaMoscu, 1951 (Audio - Recital)
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Maria Petrovna Maksakova, Senior (1902-1974) was a renown Soviet opera singer (mezzo-soprano), a leading soloist in the Bolshoi Theater (1923-1953), who enjoyed great success in the 1920s and 1930s, in the times often referred to as the Golden Age of the Soviet opera. Maria Maksakova, the three times laureate of the Stalin's Prize (1946, 1949, 1951), was assignated the People's Artist of the USSR in 1971. She is the mother of actress Lyudmila Maksakova and the grand-mother of Maria Maksakova, Jr.
Maria was born in the city of Astrakhan, one of six children of Pyotr Sidorov, an executive manager of the Volga Shipping company and a wealthy man.
This large family's well-being has come to an end with his death and Maria joined a local church choir at the age of 10, just to help her 27-year old mother making a living.
There her gift has been quickly noticed. "I educated myself. Inscribed scales upon my room's wall and was singing them days on end. In a two months time I was treated as a 'scholar' by peers and soon got much respect from the seniors as a full-blown choirist who could read music freely", she remembered. In a year's time Maria became a lead in the alto section of the choir where she sung until 1917.
It was here that her most prominent qualities of the vocal technique (flawless intoning, unique way of carrying a note) started to take shape. After the Revolution, in the late 1917, Maria Sidorova joined the Astrakhan musical college to study the piano; having no instrument at her home, she had to stay at the school literally day and night, practicing. In the early 1918 she started studying vocal, first as a contralto. being one of the best in the class, she's been often sent on obligatory 'tours', to sing for the Red Army soldiers and sailors. "I've had success and was extremely proud of it", she later wrote. One of her new teachers, Smolenskaya (herself a dramatic soprano) a member of the Astrakhan Opera troupe, started to train Maria as soprano, the switch the latter greatly enjoyed. "With her I studied for a year. Then the Astrakhan theater has been moved to Tsarytsin and I decided to join its troupe, so as to go on studying with my pedagogue", the singer later recalled.
In the summer of 1919 Maria made her theater debut as Olga in Evgeny Onegin (an unlikely choice, considering the line of her later works). In the autumn the famous baritone Max Maksakov has come to the theater as a new director (and soloist) and gave her several new roles (in Faust and Rigoletto among others). Much admiring the girl's gift, the maestro was still critical of her techniques, so she went to Petrograd for further studying. There she met famous Glazunov, has been consulted by another professor who recognized a lyrical soprano in her and opted for a return, to ask Maksakov for private lessons. The two became close, he proposed, and in 1920 they married, forming a sparkling duet on stage. In 1923 Maria Maksakova came to Moscow, debuted (as Amneris, in Aida, substituting the famous Obukhova, who fell ill) on the Bolshoi stage and was instantly invited to join the star-studded troupe.
Max and Maria Maksakovs moved to Moscow and settled on Dmitrovka street, in a communal flat. According to daughter Lyudmila, "
The singer liked working hard. "Maksakova has been driven by all-consuming desire to become a real artist and she was not to be stopped. Once getting a new role, she started working upon it zealously and methodically, step by stepped, and never ceased until she saw the everything - vocal aspect, image development stage presence, - was being brought to a technically perfect form which could be charged with enormous intellectual and emotional content", colleague Natalia Schpiller recalled.
Two of the theater's stars provided more of the strong influence. "Watching the art of Nezhdanova and Sobinov... I was beginning to realize for the first time that even a great master, in order to elevate their character to a peak of expressiveness have to expose their inner exaltation in the most stark, transparent ways; that hidden riches of an artist's inner world should come hand in hand with economy in outward movement", she wrote in autobiography. Strict self-discipline and high level of responsibility were the two qualities Nezhdanova made a point to insist on the utter importance of, in conversations with her younger colleague.
In 1925 Maksakova was moved to Leningrad's Mariinsky Theatre where she sang parts in Orpheus, Khovanschina (Marfa) and Red Petrograd by Gladkovsky and Prussak (Comrade Dasha), among many others. In 1927 she returned to Bolshoi, where she continued to work as a leading soloist until her retirement 1953. In those years she sung virtually all the leading female parts in the theater's classic repertoire, including Carmen, Marina Mnishek, Aksinya (in The Quiet Don) and Charlotte (in Werther). In Gluck's Orfeo Maksakova featured as both a soloist and a co-director. All the while she regularly embarked upon extensive tours, travelling all over the country with a vast repertoire which included famous arias, Soviet composers’ material and her own original interpretations of classic songs and romances by Tchaikovsky, Schubert, etc. Maksakova was one of the first Soviet artists who have been allowed in the mid-1930s to perform abroad, giving successful concerts in Turkey and Poland, later Sweden and (after the war) East Germany.
In 1936 Max Maksakov died. Half a year later Maria married Yakov Davtyan, but this marriage did not last long. Her husband, then a Soviet ambassador in Poland, has been taken away one night never to be seen or heard of again. Despite insinuations concerning Joseph Stalin's 'special attention' towards the famous singer (the Soviet dictator, who treated Bolshoi as a 'court troupe', allegedly referred to Maksakova as "my Carmen") she spent the late 1930s waiting for the arrest. In 1940 Maksakova gave birth to daughter Lyudmila. She never revealed the identity of her father, not even to her daughter. Lyudmila Maksakova remembered: "Many years later a MAT actor I've been at the Marocco Film festival revealed to me the name of my father - Aleksander Volkov, singer with Bolshoi. 'Your father did not want to live in the USSR, he crossed the frontline and soon was in the USA where he opened an opera and drama school', this man told me. Now I understood the fear of my mother - not for herself, for me, her one and only daughter".
As the war was coming to and end, things took change for the better. In 1944 Maksakova won the 1st Prize at the Russian Folk song competition held by the Arts Committee of the USSR. In 1946 she was awarded her first Stalin Prize "for outstanding achievents in opera and the performing arts". Two more were to come, in 1949 and 1951.
In 1953 Maksakova retired or, rather, was informed of her retirement which came as an unpleasant surprise for a singer who kept herself in superb shape, both physically and artistically. Rumours had it, some people at the Bolshoi found it safe to settle old scores now that Stalin, her much-feared patron, was now dead; specifically, the name of Vera Davydova, another famous Soviet soprano, has been mentioned. Lyudmila Maksakova dismissed such rumours, remembering the times when Davydova, settled in a neighbouring dacha, often helped her mother out in difficult times. Davydova herself left warm reminiscences of her great rival. "Maria Petrovna paid great attention to the way she looked.
She was beautiful and had excellent figure. Yet she kept herself perfectly fit, with strict diet and regular gymnastic exercises... Our relations were pure and friendly, each respected and valued what the other was doing on stage", Davydova maintained.
After retirement from the Bolshoi, Maksakova joined Nikolay Osipov's Russian Folk orchestra as a soloist.
With and without it, she continued performing and touring. In 1956 the Bolshoi invited Maksakova back, but her return was a one-off: she peformed as Carmen only, just to say farewell to her fans. Later Maksakova taught vocals at the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts (where she for many years held the position of a docent), was the head of the Folk vocal school in Moscow, published articles and essays. She was the driving force behind the opening of the Conservatory in her native Astrakhan. Among her proteges was Tamara Milashkina, later an acclaimed singer on her own right.
Only in 1971 she's been assignated the People's Artist of the USSR.
Maria Petrovna Maksakova died in Moscow on August 11, 1974.