the name is transliterated from the Russian there are
alternative spellings: nowadays the tendency is to use
Feodor (or Fyodor) Chaliapin: however I have stuck with the
spelling used on the HMV 78s. Chaliapine was the foremost
Russian bass of his era. He was born near Kazan in 1873, and
was at first self-taught. After singing with provincial
companies he studied at Tbilisi, subsequently singing in St.
Petersburg in 1894 and joining the Russian Imperial Troupe
in 1895. Appearances with them and in Paris, New York and
London established his fame. After the First World War he
was not allowed by the Soviet Government to leave Russia
until 1921, after which he settled in England and continued
to make appearances in the world's leading opera houses
until his death in Paris in 1938.
Much more than any other singer of the time he had
considerable abilities as an actor (though not a subtle one:
Ravel complained of his 'sinister laughs and cavernous
shudders' in 1913): the characterizations of all his roles
were sharply differentiated and almost burst out of his
recordings (and the photographs)
- Pimen, Boris, Vaarlam (Boris Godounov), Galitsky,
Konchak (Prince Igor), Don Quixote (Massenet), and
both Boito's and Gounod's Mefistopheles: indeed in
Faust he brought a whole extra sardonic layer to
Gounod's rather shallow pantomime Devil.
His voice was powerful and flexible - indeed he could
sing baritone roles - and his presence on stage
overpowering. He was also a master of makeup, as the page of
photographs I have assembled
OF PRINCE GALITSKY (Prince Igor) (Borodin)
HMV DA891, recorded 1927
He sang all three major roles in Prince Igor
(Igor, Konchak, Galitsky): this recording demonstrates the
strength of his characterization as the dissolute Prince,
left in charge in Igor's absence and wasting no time in
indulging in licentious behaviour.
SONG OF THE FLEA (Moussorgsky)
HMV DB932, recorded 1926
I have cheated slightly here, as this isn't an operatic
aria: but Chaliapine's recording of Moussorgsky's satirical
song is one of his best performances. As it is more
enjoyable if you understand the words I have provided a
Both recordings have been digitally noise reduced (see note on the introduction page).
Apart from his operatic career, Chaliapine appeared in
two films: a silent made in 1915, Pskovityanka, and
G.W.Pabst's 1933 Don Quichotte in which Chaliapine
played the Don in both the French and English versions. (In
the English version Sancho Panza was played by the veteran
music-hall comic George Robey: the songs in both versions
were by Ibert).
If you would like to download
these recordings you can do so from this page.
There are more recordings of Chaliapine on my page here.
Records have embarked on a project to issue all of
Chaliapine's records on CD.
(who are distributed by Harmonia
Mundi) have issued a CD (89965) of excerpts from live
performances of Mefistofele, Faust, Boris
Godounov, and Mozart and Salieri at Covent Garden
and the Royal Albert Hall in 1928 & 1927: though
inevitably less polished than the studio recordings these
provide a fascinating record of his power on stage.
Other CDs are Conifer MCHD226 and EMI
With the exception of the Preiser I have not heard these
transfers and list them here simply for information. I can't
guarantee they are still available.