Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya

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Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya (1845-1919), in an 1878 portrait by Ivan Kramskoy

Russian operatic contralto (b. 1/13 October 1845 at Kashin, near Tver; d. 4 February 1919 in Petrograd), born Yelizaveta Andreyevna Lavrovskaya (Елизавета Андреевна Лавровская); sometimes known after her marriage as Princess (or Countess) Yelizaveta Andreyevna Tserteleva (Елизавета Андреевна Цертелева).

After studying at the Elizavetsky Institute in Moscow, she graduated from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1867, She sang with the Imperial Opera Company in Saint Petersburg from 1868 to 1872 and 1879 to 1880, and with the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow from 1890 to 1891. During the 1870s she studied with Pauline Viardot-Garcia in Paris, and also toured widely in Western Europe.

This is how the writer Ivan Turgenev, who was then living in Paris with the Viardot family, described Lavrovskaya in a letter of 1873:

Lavrovskaya is here and has already had 20 lessons with Madame Viardot. I see her every now and then; she is a very sweet, simple, and modest woman. I do not, though, share your enthusiasm on her account. Her voice is agreeable, but already somewhat damaged and not entirely reliable; there is a poetic, unconscious element in her, that is true, but as for the artistic or theatrical element which a singer needs, however you wish to call it, that is weakly developed in her, and she does not have a distinctive physiognomy of her own. Please don't call me a cynic, but she is far too good a woman to be able to become a great artiste. For it is the admixture of darkness (des Trüben) which gives colour to light, whereas she is exceedingly bright and pure" [1].

She was also a professor at the Moscow Conservatory from 1888 until her death in 1919, and by marriage to Prince Pyotr Nikolayevich Tsertelev, an official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, she became Princess Tserteleva, but retained the surname Lavrovskaya for her musical career.

In May 1877, she suggested the subject for Tchaikovsky's opera Yevgeny Onegin, and at a private performance of the latter (sung and played from the piano score) which took place in the house of Yuliya Abaza in Saint Petersburg on 6/18 March 1879 (eleven days before the opera's stage première in Moscow), Lavrovskaya sung the part of Olga. Tatyana was sung by Aleksandra Panayeva (who was the initiator of this performance), Onegin by Ippolit Pryanishnikov, and the Nurse by the hostess. The piano accompaniment was provided by Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich [2].

Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya was also one of the two soloists at the première of Tchaikovsky's coronation cantata Moscow in 1883.

Tchaikovsky's Works Dedicated to Lavrovskaya

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

4 letters from Tchaikovsky to Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya have survived, dating from 1874 to 1889:

4 undated letters from Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya to Tchaikovsky are preserved in the Klin House-Museum Archive.

Notes and References

  1. Letter from Ivan Turgenev to Sofya Kavelina, 21 December 1872/2 January 1873, sent from Paris, in: И. С. Тургенев: Полное собрание сочинений и писем. Том 10: Письма 1872–1874 (Leningrad, 1965), p. 49. These observations of Turgenev's give away something of his opinion of Pauline Viardot, whose character certainly had some of those 'dark' streaks which he considered to be indispensable for a great artist!
  2. See also the memoirs of Aleksandra Panayeva, which are included in: Воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском (1980), p.120–138 (122), as well as Tchaikovsky's Letter 1058 to Nadezhda von Meck, 5/17 January 1879.