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Mamontov's Private Opera

The Search for Modernism in Russian Theater

Olga Haldey

Publication Year: 2010

The Moscow Private Opera, founded, sponsored, and directed by Savva Mamontov (1841--1918), was one of Russia's most important theatrical institutions at the dawn of the age of modernism. It presented the Moscow premieres of Lohengrin, La Bohème, and Khovanshchina, among others; launched the career of Feodor Chaliapin; gave Sergei Rachmaninov his first conducting job; employed Vasily Polenov, Victor Vasnetsov, Valentin Serov, Konstantin Korovin, and Mikhail Vrubel as set designers; and served as a model for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Part commercial enterprise, part experimental studio, Mamontov's company revolutionized opera directing and design, and trained a generation of opera singers. Drawing on a wealth of unpublished primary sources and evidence from art and theater history, Olga Haldey paints a fascinating portrait of a railway tycoon turned artiste and his pioneering opera company.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Russian Music Studies

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pp. ix

This book is the culmination of a long road of scholarly pursuit that started almost a dozen years ago—ever since Savva Mamontov had materialized in my head, quite unexpectedly, one memorable October afternoon. I would like to note a few individuals who helped me along on that journey. ...

Note on Transliteration and Translation

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pp. xi-xii

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. 1-14

Russian musical modernism has long been seen as an oxymoron in musicological discourse, and perhaps understandably so. After all, the adventurous idiosyncrasies of late Scriabin filled barely half a decade; the iconoclastic genius of Stravinsky, albeit fueled by his heritage, flourished far away from his native soil under the fashionable spotlights of Paris; and the youthful futurism ...

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1 The Silver Age and the Legacy of the 1860s

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pp. 15-34

From the early days of the Moscow Private Opera through the present day, Mamontov’s supporters and his detractors, his contemporaries and modern scholars have all identified one characteristic of his company that made it unique. The artistic policies, internal structure, and daily operations of Mamontov’s enterprise were to a large extent driven by ...

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2 Serving the Beautiful

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pp. 35-67

Growing up in his father’s house, Savva Mamontov was exposed to the Slavophile ideology on a daily basis. His youthful diaries reveal that he was well versed in their politics, and clearly admired Kokorev and Pogodin.1 Savva was evidently an avid reader; copies of Vremya, Moskvityanin, and Russkaya Beseda (another Slavophile publication), as well as books ...

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3 Echoes of Abramtsevo

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pp. 68-87

The best-known aspect of Savva Mamontov’s colorful career is undoubtedly his role as a Maecenas.1 The tradition of sharing a part of one’s wealth with one’s countrymen while exalting one’s own name through charity work or art patronage had deep roots in Russia’s business circles, to which the Mamontov family belonged.2 In the late ...

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4 Visual Impressions

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pp. 88-129

In retrospect, Mamontov’s decision to commission easel painters to design his operatic productions seems natural: he had access to Russia’s premier artistic forces and would certainly want to benefit from it. In reality, the idea was unprecedented, at least in the Russia of Mamontov’s time. There, easel and design were viewed as two professions no less ...

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5 Opera as Drama

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pp. 130-170

As we have seen, Savva Mamontov’s name virtually never graced the Moscow Private Opera’s playbills. As founder and patron of the company, he was certainly never on its payroll; indeed, he had no official job description within “Mrs. Winter’s private operatic enterprise.”1 In the memoir literature, we see many references to Mamontov as “the ...

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6 From Meiningen to Mey

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pp. 171-207

It is clear, I hope, from the discussion above that Mamontov’s enterprise was run in many ways like a drama theater, with acting and stage directing concerns being equal to and occasionally superseding purely musical, vocal considerations. Despite the fact that acting was Mamontov’s passion, and directing his favorite pastime, one cannot explain such a ...

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7 Politics, Repertory, and the Market

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pp. 208-260

Throughout this book, we have discussed Mamontov’s aesthetic principles and their application to his innovative approach to the operatic genre, as staged drama realized through visual spectacle. Mamontov had a well-deserved reputation as a fountain of creative ideas, ranging from the reasonable and practical all the way to the wild, unachievable, ...

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8 Faces of the Enterprise

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pp. 261-290

Throughout this book, it has become evident that Mamontov’s Private Opera embodied a bewildering array of contradictions. Ideologically, realist trends, modernist innovations, radical nationalism, and operatic tradition battled each other in the minds of the troupe, its leaders, and its audiences. In each production, an elusive balance of visual spectacle, ...

Appendix A. Brief Chronology of Savva Mamontov’s Life and Career

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pp. 291-294

Appendix B. Selected Premieres and Revivals at the Moscow Private Opera

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pp. 295-296


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pp. 297-337

Works Cited

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pp. 339-344


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pp. 345-354

E-ISBN-13: 9780253004345
E-ISBN-10: 0253004349
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253354686

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 45 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Russian Music Studies