V1819. SERGEI LEMESHEV, w.Nebolsin, Kondrashin, Orlov, Zhukov, Melik-Pashaev & Sakharov Cond.: Arias from Rigoletto, La Traviata, Werther, Roméo, Faust, Lakmé, Dubrovsky, Tsar's Bride, Aleko, Raphael, The Mermaid, Askold's Grave, May Night, Sadko, Eugen Onégin & Halka; SERGEI LEMESHEV & IRINA MASLENNIKOVA: Roméo - Love Duet. (Russia) Aquarius AQVR 285, recorded 1946-64, several titles from 1940-46 films.
“In Russia, Sergei Yakovlevich Lemeshev (1902-1977) is — along with Feodor Chaliapin — perhaps the most beloved opera singer in recent history. He was born into a very poor peasant family, in a small village, during the years of the Bolshevik revolution and the Civil war, and Lemeshev was required to become a cadet in the Red Army Cavalry School. It was, however, actually the Revolution that helped him make his dream of an operatic career come true, since the Bolsheviks gave the poorest peasants and proletarians a preferential right to free education. Sergei was assigned to study at the Moscow Conservatory where, after surviving a rigorous competition, he was accepted. (This determined his political views, for as he said many times, ‘the Soviets gave me everything’.) In 1931, he became a leading tenor of the Bolshoi, where he sang for the next 34 years, winning great acclaim. His audience grew, along with his fame, and he soon gained a veritable army of fans, called ‘lemeshevists’. His vocal and artistic qualities, evident to every listener, are beauty of timbre, musicality, effortlessness of vocal production, expressiveness, and very clear diction - qualities perhaps most commonly found in bel canto singers. An interesting comment on Lemeshev’s singing was made by the Bolshoi tenor Anatoly Orfenov: ‘He developed a mixed voice of incomparable beauty, which made it possible for him to take the highest notes with such beautiful richness that even specialists could not explain how it was done technically….His high C’s … sounded virile and full…His manner of lowering his larynx a bit on high notes allowed him to perform the parts which we ordinary lyric tenors did not sing’.”
- Natalie, "younglemeshevist"
“Everything about [Sergei Lemeshev] was artistic....On the stage, until the end of his career, he was a youth, beloved and vulnerable. Even at seventy he still drove his admirers into ecstasies every time he sang Lensky at the Bolshoi.”
- Galina Vishnevskaya, GALINA, p.324
“The Bolshoi's singer and Kozlovsky's partner in several operas, Irina Maslennikova, said: ‘At the beginning of my career at the Bolshoi I sang first in RIGOLETTO and then in THE BARBER OF SEVILLE. As a singer I was absolutely unknown to anyone. My first partners were such celebrities as Ivan Kozlovsky and Marc Reizen. Who was I? Just a beginner. But how they cared for me! At rehearsals they treated me like an accomplished singer making no difference between me and themselves'.”
- N. Victorova, AN INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE IN THE MOSCOW KREMLIN, 2000
“The Russian label Aquarius, which has been doing magnificent restoration work on the old Melodiya catalogue (available at Norbeck, Peters & Ford, online), just made available five releases built around one of the twentieth century’s greatest tenors, Sergei Lemeshev (1902-1977). It is difficult to imagine the pleasures given to Moscow operagoers in the Stalin years (except, of course, for having to live in the Stalin years) and immediately afterward. The two ‘house’ tenors at the Bolshoi were Lemeshev and his contemporary Ivan Kozlovsky (1900-1993), and moreover the house baritone was the great Pavel Lisitsian (1911-2004). The differences between Lemeshev and Kozlovsky were significant, although both were exquisite lyric tenors who would have been stars in any of the world’s leading opera houses. Kozlovsky’s voice was a bit more tightly focused (some find it thin); he also was more of a risk-taker. He sang, indeed, with a freedom virtually unmatched in his era - far more typical of what we find in the recordings of Fernando de Lucia from the beginning of the century. But do not take this to mean that Lemeshev was boring or unimaginative. His voice had a more ‘juice’ in the sound, more natural warmth. He also had a more prominent vibrato (though it is never obtrusive). If you forced me to find a single adjective to describe his singing, it would probably be ‘poetic’. That is the word John Steane settled on in THE GRAND TRADITION, though at the time that book was written, Western collectors did not have access to much of Lemeshev’s (nor Kozlovsky’s) work. Kozlovsky was surely the more theatrical, dramatically intense singer. Lemeshev’s art, while not ignoring the dramatic, was more strongly focused on the vocal. This cornucopia of Lemeshev releases helps to balance a situation in the CD format that had favored Kozlovsky.
Going through all of these recordings is both a joy and perhaps a lesson in singing and artistry. Just when you think you have Lemeshev figured out (he’s poetic, intimate even, but probably not exciting), he lets loose with an emotional outburst that rivals those of dramatic Italian tenors. There is a huge range of repertoire here - both songs and operatic scenes – and Lemeshev sounds comfortable in all of it. His use of the voix mixte, blending the middle and upper registers in a way that minimizes the differences between them, allows him to produce a remarkably even and flowing legato. As I listened, I kept being surprised by this turn of phrase, that imaginative bit of dynamic shading, this dramatic emphasis, that particularly beautiful tone. The pleasures just kept coming.
Everywhere on these discs Lemeshev’s voice announces itself immediately as a voice of importance, one that demands your attention. You will find yourself holding your breath in awe at many moments of great beauty. The monaural transfers are overall very fine; the conductors are often impressive, while the orchestral playing is at worst adequate. The piano accompaniments are generally adequate, too, although there are a few exceptions in the positive direction. This group of releases adds immeasurably to our knowledge of the great tradition of Russian operatic singing in the first half of the twentieth century and illuminates one of the world’s finest tenors.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE