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The Opera Quarterly 21.1 (2005) 133-181
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Solomon Markovich Khromchenko
Bolshoi Tenor and Pedagogue
Translated by Nadia Sikorsky
The following article is the first installment of a series of monographs written by Solomon Markovich Khromchenko (1907–2002) and translated for The Opera Quarterly by his granddaughter Nadia Sikorsky. One of the Bolshoi's leading tenors, Khromchenko was born in the small Ukrainian town of Zlatopol, where he sang in the choir of a local synagogue while still a boy. He studied at the Kiev Conservatory with Mikhail Engel-Kron (1929–1931) and then pursued postgraduate training at the Moscow Conservatory (1932–1935), where he worked with Ksenia Dorliak (mother of soprano Nina Dorliak).
In 1933 he won third prize in the first All-Union Musical Competition (the seventeen-year-old Emil Gilels was the winner in the piano category). The following year, even before completing his studies at the conservatory, he was engaged as a soloist by the Bolshoi Theater. He soon became one of the Bolshoi's leading singers, appearing there more than five hundred times between 1934 and 1957. He performed over twenty leading roles of the Russian lyric tenor repertory, among them Lenksy, the Indian Guest (Sadko), Prince Sinodal (The Demon), and the Simpleton (Boris Godunov), as well as the major parts in such French and Italian operas as Faust, Lakmé, La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and I quattro rusteghi.
A much-loved artist within the Soviet Union, Khromchenko was widely appreciated as a concert performer, and he gave over a thousand concerts for frontline troops during World War II. He was among the very select group of Soviet artists chosen to perform in the presence of Joseph Stalin at the great Victory Celebration given in the Kremlin in May 1945. He was named Merited Artist of the Russian Federation in 1947. After retiring from the Bolshoi in 1957, he remained a highly popular performer in recitals and radio, particularly noted for his performances of Russian romances. [End Page 133]
In 1985, at Mark Reizen's ninetieth-birthday celebration at the Bolshoi, Khromchenko sang for him on behalf of the "younger generation": he was then only seventy-eight! His outstanding technique, sustained by a strict discipline, enabled him to extend his singing career well into his eighties. In his last years he also recorded a number of Jewish songs, many of which he had rescued from obscurity at the Lenin State Library.
Khromchenko was a distinguished pedagogue as well. He began teaching at the Gnessin Institute in 1961, subsequently publishing a book on vocal method. In 1992 he was offered the position of professor at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem, where he taught for eight years and was much appreciated by his students and colleagues. He returned in 2000 to Moscow, where he died in his home on 20 January 2002 at the age of ninety-four. Readers wishing to know more about Khromchenko are directed to a more detailed personal account by his granddaughter, Nadia Sikorsky, which appeared in the December 2004 issue of the Record Collector. Samples of his singing can be heard online at Great Russian Voices (http://www.russia-in-us.com/Music/GRV/).
This first installment includes five separate brief monographs. The first recalls Khromchenko's encounters with Mikhail Mikhailovich Engel-Kron, his first teacher, and his early studies; the second describes his subsequent study with Ksenia Nikolaevna Dorliak. The remainder are his accounts of preparing roles in Sadko, Prince Igor, and The Demon, illustrated with examples drawn from Khromchenko's own scores.
It is with great joy and pride that I offer these translations of my grandfather's writings to the readers of The Opera Quarterly. Two years ago I was convinced that the name of Solomon Khromchenko was totally unknown in the West. Then, soon after his death in 2002, my husband suggested that I check the Internet. To my surprise and delight, I discovered several sites in both Russian and English that either simply mentioned his name...