From Our Russian Correspondent
The daily press had been unanimous in the tribute it has rendered to Fyodor Chaliapin, one of the greatest artists of all times, but these laudatory articles never mentioned the peculiar duality of his character.
I recall Chaliapin's debuts when he first appeared in St. Petersburg in Mamontov's private opera. He was in his early twenties, and his incomparable voice in all the glory of its first freshness and vigour, yet it was not so much his unique voice as his acting which struck the spectators.
Those who were privileged to see him cross the scene in the stiff gold coronation robes of Czar Boris, or hear him as Mephistopheles in Gounod's Faust can never forget the magic of his personality. Such was his genius that even when he took some minor part, it was this part that inevitably became the central pivot of the whole opera.
The Idol of the People Success came early, Chaliapin was the idol of the people, the exuberant gallery public, mostly undergraduates of both sexes. Marxists, as were all the young intelligentzia of those times, credited Chaliapin with revolutionary sympathies.
Perhaps the 1914 season in Covent Garden marked the climax of Chaliapin's artistic career : it was as if the sun of old Russia shed its last bright rays before setting!
Two Distinct Personalities There were two distinct personalities in Chaliapin—the man, child elf the Russian soil with all the peasant's crudeness, shrewdness, acquisitiveness, and lack of control, and the impeccable artist never guilty of a false note or a wrong gesture. Strangely enough, this supreme art was intuitive and not reasoned as may be seen by Chaliapin's own writines.
Chaliapin's remarks upon the parts he played and his impersonation of different characters strike the reader as very jejune, confused, and hearing mainly upon the outward appearance. Thus it was the dress and mannerisms of a Spanish priest Chaliapin met on a train in the Pyrenees which became the prototype of his rascally and terrible Don Basilic).
Chaliapin, the man, undoubtedly possessed an acute sense of a purely superficial observation. but the artist penetrated to the very core of the character he re-created.
it suffices to compare a portrait of Chaliapin with his round, humorous, rather common-place face with those on which he appears as Boris, Ivan the Terrible, Varlaam or Don Quichotte to perceive thnt the difference is not merely a Question of skilful make-up, but of a veritable transformation.