The Importance of the Archives of the Belgrade Musicological Institute in Historical Research into Slavonic Musical Theatre
Nadezda Mosusova (Belgrade)
Theatersammlungen und Öffentlichkeit / Les Collections Théâtrales et le Public / Theatre Collections and the Public
17. Internationaler SIBMAS-Kongreß / 17ème Congrès International de la SIBMAS / 17th International SIBMAS Congress, 1.-9. September 1988, Mannheim
Bericht / Actes / Documentation. Red.: Liselotte Homering. Mannheim : Städtisches Reiß-Museum, 1990. pp. 160-163
Slavonic musical theatre does not exist as an institution. However, the idea of a Pan-Slavic musical theatre that would include works by Slavic authors performed by Slavic artists was born after the First World War in an imaginative mind on Yugoslavian soil.
The concept of a joint Slavic musical stage came to the composer Petar Konjović (1883 -1970), a gifted and enterprising Serbian musician. This thought was not an accident. Konjović studied at the Prague conservatory in the beginning of our century, and, as many intellectuals of that time, was of a Pan-Slavic orientation. As a composer he turned to the musical scene, writing operas. As a musicologist and writer he was engaged in Slavonic music and theatre, furthermore he was a man with considerable experience of theatrical management, leading, at various times during the inter-war period, the theatres of Novi Sad and Osijek, the Croatian National Theatre and the Zagreb Opera, in particular. After the Second World War Petar Konjović was elected to the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences where he was to found the Institute of Musicology (1947).
Konjović's theatrical notions were inspired by the common identity spirit of the music and culture of the Slavic nations. This spirit existed in spite of the different paths followed in the development of the Slavs and their music: some of them appeared with their art music during the Renaissance, Baroque and classical periods, while others began their musical activity, apart from folk and church music, during the romantic period.
Among Slavonic people were some in the South of Europe who were under Turkish domination for a long time, i.e. the majority of Serbs and Bulgarians. Therefore they were trying in the course of this and the last century to compensate for lost ground. In their efforts they were helped by Czech musicians who started to settle in the South Slavonic lands from the 19th century onwards, as well as by Russian emigré artists who came to Yugoslavia in large numbers after the First World War. Among the Czechs there were composers, conductors and instrumentalists. As for the Russians, they were mainly opera singers, ballet dancers and choreographers, directors and stage designers. Czechs and Russians also helped the advanced Southern Slavs to develop their own musical culture. So, in the newly established Yugoslavian state (19l8) musical life started at full stem.
Where it had existed, the musical stage was revived, as in Zagreb, Croatia, or in Ljubljana, Slovenia, which both belonged to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy until the formation of Yugoslavia. Therefore, the Zagreb Opera House, the most renowned in our country, had a tradition which was mostly or exclusively foreign. Soon after the new state had been established, the Opera of the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb presented at the end of 1918 Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky, as a Yugoslavian premiere. It was followed by Janácek's Jenufa in 1920, and by Rimsky-Korsakov's Snow-Maiden in 1921.
The newly appointed director Petar Konjović thought it appropriate to maintain the Slavonic character of the repertoire, keeping up the standards previously achieved. During his directorship (1921-1926), artistic aspirations were put into an even broader Slavic basis with a strong program reflecting the development of national musical culture. There it was also necessary to compensate for what had been missed. For this purpose, Konjović was also involved in the organisation of two congresses of Slavonic theatres, in 1923, one in Belgrade, another in Sofia, but this initiative did not last.
In fact, under the influence of the new Slavic and domestic works (by Janácek, Stravinsky and native Baranović, for example), Konjović was struck by the idea of an institutionalized Slavic music theatre with its centre in Zagreb. The impetus for such a concept was also provided by the performers of Zagreb Opera which Konjović used to call a phenomenon. Indeed, at that time, few opera houses in Europe could be compared with it: who else had the singers who could perform on the world's great stages (Maya de Strozzi, Zinka Kunc)? Who else the ballet dancers and choreographers who had come directly from Diaghilev's Russian Seasons (the Frohman family)? And high ranking conductors like Emil/Milan Sachs from Prague, or the young native, Kresimir Baranović, who spent several years in the 1920's with the Anna Pavlova company.
Although Konjović's Pan-Slavonic dream was not fulfilled, the repertoire which he created at the Zagreb Opera, as well as that of his predecessors and successors, survives as a historical fact of the golden twenties of the Croatian National Theatre.
Belgrade, which had almost no opera and ballet until the First World War, was successfully keeping pace with Zagreb, thanks not only to Russian artists, but also, like in Zagreb, to very interesting local figures who dominated inter-war musical and cultural life in the Yugoslavian capital. The most prominent among them was the Serbian composer Stevan Hristić (1885-1958), conductor, director of the Belgrade Opera and founder of the Belgrade Philharmonic (1923), promoting Slavonic and domestic repertoire as Konjović was doing in Zagreb. It was important that both in Zagreb and Belgrade, as well as in Ljubljana, native creative forces provided new music for Yugoslavian stage, beginning thus the era of modern opera and ballet in Yugoslavia.
Of all the collections which are important for research into the history of musical theatre in Yugoslavia, the richest can be found in the Croatian theatre archives, especially in the archives of the Zagreb Opera. The Belgrade Theatre Museum, the such central institution in Serbia, made a great effort to complement its collections as well as possible because the Belgrade Opera, i.e. National Theatre, was destroyed in both World Wars.
There are also institutions not bound to theatre, which preserve interesting and important collections, mostly of scores, concerning history of opera and ballet. Research into the music preserved by the archives of the Belgrade Musicological Institute of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, provides a historical survey of Serbian and Yugoslavian musical theatre together with an insight into the broader Slavic context.1 The archive of the Musicological Institute does not ofcourse house collections of costumes and stage sets, but it does have a small but important collection of posters and photographs. The majority of them came to the Institute through legacies of which most important are those of composers Konjović and Hristić, providing the widest insight into the musical theatre of Slavic nations. The intensive exchange of singers, ballet dancers and choreographers between Slavic countries is also substantiated by the correspondence and photographs from legacies of these composers. Collections of photos include the snapshots of productions of Petar Konjović's opera Koshtana (finished in 1928), in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia in the 1930's and 1940's, as well as of 1930's and 1950's productions of Stevan Hristić's ballet The Legend of Oh rid (whose definitive version was shown in 1947), in Yugoslavia (over 300 performances), Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Soviet Union.
The collections of the Musicological Institute, particularly the legacy of Stevan Hristić, also indicate that there was direct cooperation of the Belgrade Opera with other institutions of Slavic origin in the West. This cooperation was initiated by expatriate Russians, and was supported by the managements of the opera and ballet companies in Zagreb and Belgrade, in particular. Such work was maintained with the Opéra Russe which, in a way, represented the continuation of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, and his productions of Russian operas. After the death of the great impresario, the Opéra Russe, precisely Opéra Russe Privé or Opéra Russe à Paris performed Russian operas and ballets in Paris, Barcelona and London in the late 1920's and early 1930's. Managed by Maria Kusnetsova Benoit-Massenet and count Alexei Ceretelli, it rallied the most famous names among artists, stage directors and designers mostly of Russian descent: Fyodor Shalyapin, Nicolai Yevreinov, Konstantin Korovin with Bronislava Nijinska, Fyodor/Theodore Vassilieff, Vera Nemtchinova and her husband Anatol Obukhov, to mention just few of the principal dancers from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, who were by now in the Opéra Russe à Paris.
The significance of the Opéra Russe with its ballet company is also confirmed by the personalities depicted in some posters and a photo album owned by a participant in these performances - the Russian singer and member of the Belgrade Opera, Ksenija Rogovskaya, wife of Stevan Hristić. This album, being at first sight a kind of by-product of Hristić's legacy, is leading us to research into the Western Russian opera, into the operatic and ballet stage of Opéra Russe à Paris, of which little is known and which was most likely dissolved in the mid-1930's, both for financial reasons and the coming Second World War.2 The operas performed in 1929 and 1930 were Russlan and Ljudmilaby Glinka, Prince Igor by Borodin and Tale of the Invisible City Kitel and the Maid Fevronia by Rimsky-Korsakov. Also the ballet Petrushka was performed in 1930 and 1931 in Paris and Pulcinella in London in 193l.3
The photo album of Ksenija Rogovskaya can be used as a possible starting point for research (the primary sources should be the archives in France and Spain) into the phenomenon of this unrealized Slavic opera in Paris, "Slavic" instead of "Russe", because it is not unlikely that the Russian singers and dancers from Belgrade would also later produce Yugoslavian works on this stage, reinforced by local Yugoslavian artists (Belgrade Opera also attained high standards with native singers and dancers in the 1930's). The proof for this is the fact that the Gran Teatro del Liceo, where the Opéra Russe was active, was supported as early as 1927 by a group of Belgrade's native and naturalized ballet artists brought to Barcelona by its balletmaster Theodore Vassilieff after he had produced Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky in the Yugoslavian capital.4
Surveying the legacy of Petar Konjović we also discovered the catalogues of one of the branches of the Moscow Art Theatre - the Berlin cabaret-theatre L'oiseau bleu, well-known in Moscow before the revolution under the name Theatre Yuzhny, after its founder, the actor Yasha Yuzhny. L'oiseau bleu which performed in 1934 in the Zagreb National Theatre during Konjović's directorship (1933-1935), also attracted some outstanding names of the Russian theatre and fine-art avant-garde in Berlin. Two booklets in colour on The Bluebird, which have been preserved, also help to bring the great achievements of these top class Slavic artists out of oblivion.5 The fact that such topics are beginning to interest contemporary theatre researchers very much can also be seen from an extensive Soviet study on the futurist cabaret Stray Dog in Petrograd.6
In an attempt to ensure fullest consideration in the modern trends of theatre research, a group of experts from the Belgrade Musicological Institute, supported by the Institute itself and within the framework of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, have embarked on a project entitled The Contemporaty Serbian Musical Stage, being fully convinced that large-scale research is required. This project has led to increased cooperation between the Academy with the Institute and those other institutions from which it receives information, including similar bodies in Yugoslavia, in other Slavic countries and also in Vienna and Budapest, where Slavic and South Slavic artists and composers dealing with the stage, worked in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The researchers are also convinced that it was exchange of ideas, musicians and artists between different Slavic cultural centres, which contributed to the common elements of Slavonic musical theatre as a field in itself, and that it was the common spirit of Slavonic culture which inspired the Slavonic people in the past to unify their creativity on attractive and exciting artistic projects.
Footnotes1The list of manuscripts and printed editions concerning musical theatre in Yugoslavia preserved in the Institute's archives has been compiled by Melita Milin. (back)
2Some data about Opéra Russe (maybe also rooted in Nice and Monte Carlo or Buenos Aires) are found in: Schouvaloff; A. and V. Borovaky: Stravinsky on Stage. London, 1982, and in: Bowit, J.E.: Russian Stage Design. Scenic Innovation, 1900-1930. From the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Nikita D. Lobanov-Rostovsky. (Exhibition organized by the Mississippi Museum of Art.) Jackson, Mississippi, 1982. (back)
3 Schouvaloff, A. and V. Borovsky: Stravinsky on Stage, 1982. Pp.60, 105; see also: Bowlt, J.F.: Russian Stage Design, 1982, for Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov p.105, for Rimsky's Tsar Saltan p.106, Invisible Kitej, pp.107, 174, 176, Schéhérazade p.110, for Glinka's Russlan p.110. (back)
4The details about this enterprise are to be found in the archives of Belgrade Theatre Museum, another possible starting point for research into the matters of Opéra Russe. (back)
5The booklets from Konjović's legacy (ed. in French, one dated déc. 1921 - déc. 1922) are possibly some rare printed material left on L'oiseau bleu; see Russian Stage Design, p.304, under Der Blaue Vogel. (back)
6Parnis, A.E. and R. D. Timenchik: Programmy brodyachei sobaki, The Programs of the Stray Dog. Cultural Monuments, New Discoveries, Annual 1983. Printed (in Russian) by the Academy of Sciences SSSR. Leningrad, 1985. Pp.160-257. (back)
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