Odessa National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet
- The First Odessa City Theatre
- Other Life of the Odessa Theatre. A New Building
- Plan of auditorium
One can recognize quite a few peculiar traits of many beautiful cities in Odessa, however Odessa is unique.
This city founded on the Black Sea shore in 1794 is not a replication but a blend, a melting pot of cultures, customs, traditions, beliefs and bloods. Upon its builders’ will, Odessa had embodied all urban construction experience accumulated by the beginning of the 19th century. People compared Odessa to Paris in 1810 and they considered it to be one of the wealthiest and the most beautiful cities of Europe just thirty years afterwards.
A young port city had a theatre that ranged among the best European ones in the beginning of the 19th century. The city’s mayor, an outstanding statesman Duke de RICHELIEU, initiated construction of the first theatre in Odessa. The people living in Odessa today call him “duke” for short up to now, and do it with great love and warmth. Being preoccupied with military, commercial, construction and other thoughts Duke de Richelieu did not forget that Odessa was a blend of cultures and languages and understood that music was the best means to connect people with different interests and traditions. The best voices of Europe sang in the theatre at Richelieu time. They sang in that very theatre that was built with Duke and set in PUSHKIN’s poetry forever (Eugene Onegin):
But dusk, dark blue, is darkening, gleaming,
The Opera awaits, we race,
There ever-charming-us, Rossini,
All Europe’s darling, Orpheus plays!
He pays no heed to direst critics;
Always the same, yet new, and witty,
He pours forth sounds: and how they boil!
And how they flow and burn and hiss!
Passion’d as young lovers who kiss
In bliss, in happiness of love,
Like champagne, ever bubbling, rolling,
In streams and sprays of droplets golden
But folks, is it perhaps a crime,
With do-re-mi comparing wine?
The building for the first Odessa City Theatre was constructed upon the design project of an Italian architect Francesco FRAPPOLLI with some changes made by a French architect Thomas de THOMON, who designed many buildings in St Petersburg, the capital of Russian Empire. The grand opening night took place on the 10th of February 1810. A snow-white building was facing the port and resembled an ancient Greek temple. The auditorium numbered 800 seats (at that time Odessa had 12.5 thousand people). Three tiers had 44 seats behind which there was some semicircular space where about 700 people could enjoy the performance standing as in Italian old theatres.
The memoirs read, “The auditorium had three tiers with seventeen boxes, the balcony was right under the ceiling. The ceiling, though, was so low that the visitors almost touched it with their heads. There was no chandelier at that time as it was put up later. The auditorium was lit with lard or wax candles put into the candleholders. Each candleholder had 5 candles in it and was fixed on the external wall of the boxes. The stage was lit with big oil lamps. The balcony did not have any lightening so the stage lights seemed too bright for our eyes. The theatre had its specific smell of burning candles and perfumes”.
An opera in one act “New Family“ by Sergey VYAZMITINOV and a vaudeville “Mourning or Consoled Widow” by Jacob KNYAZHIN were on stage on the day when the City Theater was first opened. They were staged by the Porphyry Fortunatov’s Drama Company staged the shows; Prophyry FORTUNATOV was a Russian actor and entrepreneur. On signing the contract with the Russian Prince A. Shakhovsky’s Drama Company in 1811 regular shows started in the theatre. Prince Alexander SHAKHOVSKY was a playwright, a member of the Russian Literature Academy and a literary society “Conversations between Fans”. The repertoire had tragedies, vaudevilles and comic operas.
However, 11 years later Russian companies stopped performing in the City Theatre and Italian opera commenced its dominance. Some Italian entrepreneurs, such as Giuseppe MONTOVANNI, Josef ZAMBONNI and Guillermo BUANAVOLIO and others, obtained monopoly on productions in the City Theatre.
The word ‘opera’ appeared in the name of the theatre later, in the 20th century as at first the theater was called simply the City Theatre. Its stage saw performances of the famous opera singers, Imperial and Royal theatrical companies. Drama and comedies also frequented the stage. The playbills were full of famous actors and playwrights’ names. Ballet divertissements in operas and ballet performances entered the theatre repertoire a bit later.
The opera repertoire of the first City Theatre included works by Gioachino ROSSINI, Vincenzo BELLINI, Domenico CIMAROSA, Gaetano DONIZETTI, and Giuseppe VERDI. The Odessa audience applauded to Ekaterina AMATI, Arrigo and Angelica CATALANI, Giuseppe MARINI, Ekaterina PATTI-BARILLA, Josefina and Teresina BRAMBILLA, Ponti del ARMI, Alde BIANCA.
Alexander Pushkin admitted that Italian opera in Odessa “restored his soul”.
In 1873, 64 years later, The City Theatre was completely destroyed by the fire.
“The picture of the flames striving out and playing outside was really grandiose. The columns were rolling over the square as if chasing the people who had come to watch the fire”, Alexander DERIBAS wrote in his book “Old Odessa”. Only ashes were left on the place where the City Theatre used to be.
A year later the Odessa Municipality announced a competition among the architects to create a design for the new temple of arts that would be equipped with the latest innovative machinery and would become equal to the best European samples. As a result two Viennese architects Ferdinand FELNER and Herman HELMER, who had already created the theatre buildings in Vienna, Budapest and other European cities, took up the construction.
The Felner and Herman’s design was not detailed and the architects did not come to Odessa during the construction period. The best local architects, in particular Felix GONSIOROVSKY, Alexander BERNARDAZZI and Yuri DMITRENKO, had to revise and amend the design project.
It had been almost eleven years between the fire and the first stone that was put into the foundation of the building. The construction was performed by the contractors and the local constructing materials were used. 1,5 mln rubles was the enormous sum spent on the labor and materials. It was natural that such expenses would not be welcome by everyone and some critical articles with ideas of better application of funds frequented in the newspapers. Nevertheless the contractors did not breech the agreement terms and the works were completed on the 15th of September, 1887. It was the date stipulated in the contractual agreement. It was the first building in Novorossiya equipped by electricity and steam heating.
“The Odessa Theatre is the best in the world!”, Ferdinand Felner exclaimed when he came to Odessa to participate in the ceremonies dedicated to the completion of the works. Ferdinand Felner handed in a symbolic golden key to the Odessa Theatre to Gregory MARAZLI, the Odessa Mayor. That symbolic key was placed into the metal box and fixed at the foot of the big mirror installed on the stairs of the French entrance facing Pas-le-Royal Park.
The opening ceremony took place on the 1st of October, 1887. The orchestra led by the Odessa composer Gregory LISHIN performed a solemn cantata after which the drama company under I. CHEREPENNIKOV, the first entrepreneur of the renewed theatre, presented a scene from Alexander PUSHKIN’s drama Boris Godunov and Act 3 from Alexander GRIBOYEDOV’s comedy Grief of Wits.
Up to 1919 the theatre existed as a private entertainment enterprise run by entrepreneurs. I. N. GREKOV, an actor of Imperial Theatres, became the head of the enterprise in 1891. In a year, he decided to include the Russian opera into the repertoire and the enterprise started working over Demon by Anton RUBINSTEIN and The Queen of Spades by Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY. P. Tchaikovsky visited Odessa and gave certain recommendations to the lead performers and to the conductor N. B. EMMANUEL.
Theatre was and still is an illustration of how successful is the blend of art and wealth. Several styles are combined in the design of the facade and the interiors of the theater. Here you can find elements of the Italian Renaissance and the Vienna Baroque, classical baroque and rococo, but the stylistic components are in absolute harmony and create a coherent composition.
The main facade of the theater has a semi-oval shape with two side wings from which the luxury stairs take their rise. The front part of the building is divided by columns and pilasters, balconies. A narrow two-tier portal is located in the center.
The front side of the theater is made in the style of Viennese baroque. Exteriorly the building consists of three storeys. Semi-recessed balconies of the first ones are decorated with the columns of the Tuscan order only. These storeys form a single whole and look fundamentally, giving the construction a static view. The third storey looks lighter and laced, with careful study of details. The gravity of lower storeys is balanced with the numerous arched semi-recessed balconies, columns and pilasters of the Ionic order. A sophisticated portico and a domed roof give the additional effects in the architectural appearance of the theater. As a result the construction seems floating above the ground.
Over the facade stands a group of sculptures depicting the patroness of theatrical art - the muse Melpomene in a chariot yoked by four furious panthers (allegory: a power of art is able to subdue a bestial savagery).
The portico is crowned with two sculptures that symbolize the music and dance, on the left – Orpheus is playing the cithara for the centaur, on the right - the muse of dance Terpsichore is teaching a girl. On the fronton of the portico several dates are written with roman numerals: the first line MDCCCLXXXIV-MDCCCLXXXVII are the years of start and finish of building of the theatre (1884 - 1887). The second line contains the phrase «ardebat anno», indicating a fire in 1925. Then comes the date MCMLXVII (1967) and the word «restitutum» («restored") as a reminder of the restoration work in the theater.
The central entrance is decorated with stucco molding of emboding comedy and tragedy. The episode from the tragedy “Hippolytus” by Euripides is on the left, the episode from the comedy ”The Birds" by Aristophanes is on the right. There are 16 figures of putties (cupids) on the balustrade of the building, each putti is unique and does not copy the others.
In the round niches on the top floor around the building gable there are the busts of great Russian authors - Alexander Pushkin, Alexander Griboyedov, Nikolay Gogol and Mikhail Glinka. They represent poetry, drama, comedy and music - in the name of them the Theater was built. The sculpture masters F. Netaly, F. Friedl, L. Stritskius and F. Ethel put their souls to create them.
The auditorium of the Odessa Opera House is decorated in the style of the late French rococo, decorated with stucco ornamentation with the finest gold. Sink with the curls of different shapes is the main idea of the ornament. The tracery ornament is never repeated. There is the abundance of marble, velvet, shining crystal, sparkling mirrors and gilding.
The auditorium is surrounded with the luxury promenade galleries.The modeling of the tiers, side lobbies and along the stairs are performed with special grace.
The plafond is divided into four segments - medallions, originally painted by Franz Leffler (after the fire in 1925 they were renovated by Michael Zandin). The scenes from Shakespeare's "Hamlet", "Midsummer Night's Dream," "Winter's Tale" and "The twelfth Night, or What You Will" are depicted on them. In the center there is a large chandelier, amazing by the abundance and grace of openwork details. The first stage curtain was also painted by Leffler and depicted a scene from the play "Ruslan and Lyudmila".
The building consists of a lobby, horseshoe-shaped auditorium with galleries (for 1635 seats) and a rectangular stage (the whole area is 500 sq. m., the backstage is 200 sq. m.) with a utility space. The designing of the auditorium is radial, so the aisles are radiated from the center in different directions. The stairs leading to the exit from the theater also have tiers. The building is overlapped with the system of zinked metal trusses.