B1467. GALINA VISHNEVSKAYA. Galina, a Russian Story [Autobiography]. San Diego, Harcourt-Brace-Jovanovich, 1984. 519pp. Index; Discography; List of repertoire; Photos; Illus.; DJ. - 0-15-134250-4
“This is a memoir that covers life of a Russian-born soprano star Galina Vishnevskaya from her birth and early childhood to her breaking of her ties with Russia and leaving to the West. This narration covers plenty of years, plenty of unexpected turns in her biography, and some significant periods of Soviet history (from the 1930s into the Second World War and the Siege of Leningrad and into Stalin's scary era, in which opera singers had their own reasons to be scared, followed by Khruschev and Brezhnev). They all get discussed in her book as well as more and less important figures in music.
Galina Pavolovna Vishnevskaya became the most exciting soprano to emerge in the Soviet Union after World War II. She had a major career on the Bolshoi stage, cruelly cut short due to her political beliefs and those of her husband, Mstislav Rostropovich.
She had a strong and attractive natural voice and was originally taken to be a mezzo-soprano. During World War II, she sang incessantly for the troops while studying privately with Vera Garina in Leningrad. She began singing in operetta in 1944 and was, in general, regarded as a light music specialist. When her true vocal range was discovered, however, she developed a powerful, highly dramatic voice with unique personal coloration and the capability of the most intense expression. She was appointed a soloist for the Leningrad Philharmonic and then joined Moscow's Bolshoi Theater in 1952. Her dramatic voice, strikingly beautiful appearance, and wide range as an actress made her the house's leading star in very short order. On a tour in Czechoslovakia, she was intensely wooed by the young cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, as recounted in her autobiography GALINA: A RUSSIAN STORY.
She sang in all the major dramatic soprano parts of the standard Western repertoire (Butterfly, Tosca, Violetta, Aïda, Leonore, and Liu), in addition to Russian rôles like Tatyana (EUGEN ONEGIN), Kupava (SNEGUROCHKA), Natasha (WAR AND PEACE), Sofiya (SEMYON KOTKO), and Marfa (KHOVANSHCHINA). Many of these were recorded by the Soviet state recording and broadcasting companies. Some of her rôles were preserved on television and in films. She made international débuts (the Met, La Scala, Covent Garden, etc.) between 1961 and 1964. At the same time, English composer Benjamin Britten wrote the soprano part in his WAR REQUIEM specifically for her. Soviet authoritis, however, withheld permission for her to leave the country. She was permitted to go to London a few months later to participate in the classic composer-led performance of the work. Later, Britten wrote a Russian-language Pushkin song cycle, THE POET'S ECHO, for her and her husband in Rostropovich's largely unrecognized capacity as a recital pianist.
Meanwhile, she also showed herself as a great recitalist, particularly in the songs of the Russian masters, including Shostakovich, who wrote his ‘Seven Romances’ for her. In 1966, she appeared on film in the title rôle of Shostakovich's opera KATERINA ISMAILOVA, one of her greatest performances. Shostakovich wrote the soprano part of his Symphony #14 for her, and she sang at its première in 1969. Her recording of it is a gramophone classic.
She and Rostropovich supported the Nobel Prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his struggles with Soviet officialdom, even sheltering him in their summer house. Once again, official pressure against them tightened and ultimately, both musicians found their bookings canceled, and Vishnevskaya was expelled from the Bolshoi. Vishnevskaya lost valuable years of her artistic prime in this dispute before they left the U.S.S.R. in 1974. In 1978, the U.S.S.R. proclaimed them ‘ideological renegades’ and stripped them of Soviet citizenship.
Vishnevskaya had a few years during which she successfully appeared as a guest artist in leading international opera houses. The highlight of her Western career was the recording she made with Rostropovich conducting the original version of LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK, a performance of breathtaking passion and intensity that is a treasure of the recording art.
In one of the last acts of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev restored the couple's citizenship in 1990. They made a triumphal return to Russia, documented in the television film SOLDIERS OF MUSIC. Since then, they have devoted much effort to improving the lot of musical life in their homeland.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com
“From 1960 through 1968 I was the record librarian with the Decca Record Company in London. In addition to hearing Vishnevskaya in concert with her husband Mstislav Rostropovich as pianist, and Alexander Melik-Pashayev and Igor Markevitch conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, I saw her in AÏDA three times at Covent Garden 1962, 1963 and 1964. One memory of Vishnevskaya on stage in AÏDA is that she wore her own costumes, one in particular was a black sheath dress with a red top. A times she would pose dramatically and out from the dress would come a leg, one of the finest on the operatic stage. The most memorable moments though was my being able to attend a number of Decca recording sessions in Kingsway Hall of Britten's WAR REQUIEM. When I attended such sessions it was necessary that I had a reason for being there as some artists could be somewhat suspicious of people they didn't know. The hat I would often wear was to be ‘The Tea Boy’. At that time Vishnevskaya spoke rather fractured English and had a Russian interpreter with her. This gentleman asked me to make tea for Madam Vishnevskaya and that it had to be very strong, black and sweet. This I duly did as requested, and first time added four teaspoons of sugar. On being given the nod on the tea two more spoonfuls of sugar were requested. At subsequent sessions she looked directly at me and said: ‘You make tea’, and I dutifully obeyed. In August 1983 I attended a Rostropovich Festival at the Snape Maltings (Aldeburgh) where he was both playing the cello and conducting the Britten - Pears Orchestra. Vishnevskaya was also there, so I took the opportunity to speak with her. Her English by then was very good. I explained that I had attended the WAR REQUIEM session but there was no reason for her to remember me. She gave me a staring look and said ‘Tea Boy’. It was a magical moment I will never forget. We ended up having a very pleasant chat and I regret not having had a camera with me.”
- Leslie Austin, New Zealand