Ivan Vsevolozhsky

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Ivan Vsevolozhsky (1835-1909)

Russian diplomat, theatre director, and designer (b. 2/14 April 1835; d. 10/23 November 1909 in Saint Petersburg), born Prince Ivan Aleksandrovich Vsevolozhsky (Иван Александрович Всеволожский).

After graduating from Saint Petersburg University, Vsevolozhsky worked in the Asian Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for some years before being sent on diplomatic postings to The Hague and Paris. In 1881, he was appointed Director of Imperial Theatres for Moscow, with responsibility for the city's two main venues (the Bolshoi and Maly Theatres). This was a post which suited perfectly Vsevolozhsky's abilities and interests, as he had always been an enthusiast of the theatre, opera, and ballet. He was also an amateur playwright with at least two plays to his name.

Vsevolozhsky was convinced that the Imperial theatres should not just be run as a commercial enterprise or cater solely to the court, but that they should serve a wider educational purpose in Russian society. Thus, in 1882 he wrote a report to the Minister of the Court, emphasizing that the theatre provided "a means by which the illusions of the stage allow the viewer to experience in a few hours those lifetime experiences for which one would ordinarily have to sacrifice one's childhood. In a word, the theatre is a universal school for people of all ages, callings, and incomes". His ambitious reform proposals were accepted by Alexander III, and so he was able to increase the salaries and royalties paid to artists, have a new rehearsal hall built for the ballet school, and initiate the publication of the Yearbook of the Imperial Theatres (Ежегодник императорских театров) in 1892.

Tchaikovsky and Vsevolozhsky

Although in music Vsevolozhsky's preferences were clearly with Italian opera and he generally disliked the younger generation of Russian composers, the crucial exception was Tchaikovsky, whom he thought very highly of. Already in 1885 he had suggested to the composer the idea of writing an opera The Captain's Daughter based on Pushkin's historical novel, but Tchaikovsky had proved reluctant to tackle this subject. Around 1885 Vsevolozhsky also first floated the idea of an opera based on Pushkin's The Queen of Spades, though not yet involving Tchaikovsky.

In 1886, Vsevolozhsky was appointed Director of Imperial Theatres for Saint Petersburg — a post he would occupy until 1899. There he was in charge of the Mariinsky, Aleksandrinsky, and Mikhaylovsky Theatres, and it was under his supervision that the Imperial Ballet and Opera moved from their previous location in the Bolshoi Kamennyi (Great Stone) Theatre to the Mariinsky in 1886. In that year he also tried to persuade Tchaikovsky to write a ballet Undina, but nothing came of this project either.

In 1888, however, Vsevolozhsky commissioned a new ballet from Tchaikovsky — The Sleeping Beauty — for which he provided a detailed scenario, as well as suggestions as to how the epoch of Louis XIV was to be reproduced in the music and on the stage. This time the composer was enthusiastic about the subject and readily set to work on the assignment. Vsevolozhsky arranged the initial meeting between Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa, and throughout their fruitful collaboration on this first joint project he acted as an intermediary between them. A fine draughtsman, Vsevolozhsky also produced sketches of the costumes for the ballet's fairy-tale figures and supervised the work of the set designers, always striving for historical authenticity. The successful première of The Sleeping Beauty at the Mariinsky Theatre on 3/15 January 1890 vindicated his creative vision, and Yelena Fedosova has rightly emphasized that Vsevolozhsky anticipated by two decades the idea commonly attributed to Sergey Diaghilev (1872–1929) of "uniting composer, ballet master, and visual artist in the creation of a work". Tchaikovsky acknowledged Vsevolozhsky's vital contribution and support by dedicating The Sleeping Beauty to him.

Vsevolozhsky was also responsible for commissioning The Nutcracker in 1890 (for which he also provided the libretto and designed the costumes), as well as the opera Iolanta. After Tchaikovsky's death he continued the model successfully established with The Sleeping Beauty by bringing together Petipa and Aleksandr Glazunov to work on Raymonda, which was premièred in 1890. All in all, during his directorship of the Imperial Theatres (1881–99) Vsevolozhsky designed the costumes for some 25 ballets and operas.

In 1899, he was appointed Director of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, and he held this post until his death.

Tchaikovsky's Works Dedicated to Ivan Vsevolozhsky

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

30 letters from Tchaikovsky to Ivan Vsevolozshky have survived, dating from 1883 to 1892, of which those highlighted in bold are available in English translations on this website:

21 letters from Vsevolozhsky to the composer, dating from 1883 to 1892, are preserved in the Klin House-Museum Archive.

External Links

Bibliography

  • Yelena Fedosova, 'The Grandee of the Russian Ballet' (in the programme booklet for the Kirov Opera and Ballet Season at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, June–July 2000)
  • Olga Manulkina, 'Visions of the Past: The Sleeping Beauty on the Threshold of Neoclassicism' (in the programme booklet for the Kirov Opera and Ballet Season at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, June–July 2000)