Chaliapin was born on February 13, 1873 in Kazan. As a youth, he took
any job that was available and was practically self-taught as a singer.
At the age of 17 he started to perform with a small provincial opera group.
In April 1895 Chaliapin debuted in the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg,
and in 1896 he joined Moscow private opera of Savva Mamontov. Chaliapin
performed with great success in Europe and Metropolitan opera in New York.
Chaliapin left Russia in 1922 and settled in Paris. He sang in the opera and gave many solo concerts. He had a remarkably beautiful bass. Chaliapin died in Paris on April 12, 1928.
See: Constantin Korovin. Portrait
of Fedor Chaliapin. Portrait
of Fedor Chaliapin. Portrait
of Fedor Chaliapin.
Boris Kustodiyev. Portrait of Fyodor Chaliapin.
Valentin Serov. Portrait of Fedor Chaliapin.
M.V. Chaliapina, the wife of Feodor Chaliapin
See: Boris Kustodiyev. Portrait of M.V. Chaliapina (Shalyapina), wife of Feodor Chaliapin.
Some anecdotes from Chaliapin’s life:
When Chaliapin was 15 he came to the Kazan opera theatre for auditions into a choir. He did not perform well and the commission picked instead a very tall and thin fellow with an awful accent. Chaliapin remembered his first failure all his life, and hated his competitor for a long time. Many years later Chaliapin got acquainted with the author Maxim Gorki and told him the story of his first failure. On hearing the story Gorki laughed: “That was me! By the way they turned me out very soon, because I was absolutely voiceless.”
The debut of Feodor Chaliapin in the opera was quite original. He was
given the part of a cardinal, without any words. He was to appear on stage
and solemnly cross it with his court following. Before the performance,
Chaliapin instructed the supporting actors (who were usually hired directly
from the street a day or two before the performance) to follow him and
repeat his every movement.
But after his first few steps across the stage Chaliapin tangled in the long cardinal mantle and fell down. His “court” immediately fell down after him. Chaliapin struggled to get up, but in vain, and was forced to crawl across the stage, with his court crawling after him. The public appreciated the gaffe, but the producer, in fury, kicked the future star out.
At the Customs Office
Chaliapin came to perform in the USA. A custom officer was checking
his luggage when somebody in line recognized Chaliapin and said “This is
the famous Chaliapin, he has a golden throat.”
On hearing this, the custom officer demanded to check Chaliapin’s neck.
A rich person invited Chaliapin to sing for his guests.
“It will cost you a thousand dollars,” answered Chaliapin.
The man agreed, “but on one condition – after the performance you will have to leave immediately and not stay among my guests!”
“Oh, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” answered Chaliapin happily, “If I don’t have to socialize with your guests I can sing for $500!
Chaliapin could appreciate real talent. Once at dinner in Chaliapin’s
house the guests talked about the famous singer Mazini. After dinner, Chaliapin’s
son asked his father, “Dad, was Mazini really a good singer?”
“Oh, dear, Mazini was not a singer. It’s me, your father, who is a singer. Mazini was an angel.”
In the beginning of the 30s, after a charity concert, Chaliapin went
to a Russian restaurant in Paris. The orchestra started playing a Russian
song and Chaliapin began to sing along quietly. Suddenly, a man from a
neighboring table remarked indignantly, “Stop singing! Behave yourself!”
A steward whispered something to the man and the latter gasped, realizing who he’d just spoken to. Chaliapin looked confused – it was the first time that someone had asked him to stop singing.
Chaliapin, an autobiography as told to Maxim Gorky; with supplementary correspondence and notes by James Hanley, Fyodor Ivanovich Chaliapin, Maxim Gorky, Nina Froud.
Man and Mask;: Forty years in the life of a singer, by Fyodor Ivanovich Chaliapin. Scholarly Press , 1973.
Chaliapin by VICTOR BOROVSKY. Knopf, 1988.