OP1825. IVAN THE TERRIBLE (The Maid of Pskov) (Rimsky-Korsakov), recorded 1947, w.Sakarov Cond. Bolshoi Theatre Ensemble; Alexander Pirogov, Elisabeta Shumilova, Georgi Nelepp, Alexander Peregudov, etc. (Russia) 2-Aquarius AQVR 333. - 4607123630822
“In the four decades after the departure of Feodor Chaliapin in 1919, two Russian basses dominated the stage at Moscow's mighty Bolshoi: Mark Reizen, tall and elegant, whose magnificent instrument had a Slavic edge somewhat softer than most, had but one rival. Alexander Pirogov, commanding and powerful, owned a voice blacker in timbre, less smooth, but arresting in its impact and guided by theatrical instincts of overwhelming authority. Although stories abound of their dislike for each other, their presence assured the theater's primacy in having bass singers perfectly suited to the many great bass roles that give Russian opera its special tang.
Pirogov…was engaged by the Zimin Free Opera in Moscow where, in two years time (1922 - 1924), he learned his craft and gained familiarity with several leading roles. In 1924, Pirogov was invited to join the Bolshoi. Soon he was heard as Gremin, Ivan Susanin, the Old Miller, Russlan, and Ivan the Terrible from the Russian repertory, in addition to such leading characters in Western opera as Don Basilio and Méphistophélès. The last named he reportedly learned in just two weeks. In 1929, Pirogov was honored by being assigned the title role in BORIS GODUNOV; thereafter he was known as an unsurpassed interpreter of this mightiest of all Russian protagonists.
Establishing a reputation for hard work and meticulous attention to detail, Pirogov continued to sharpen and refine his interpretations. He arrived at the theater early, applying his makeup and stepping into costume long before he was summoned to the stage. Although many stories suggest an imperious presence in his personal affairs, others paint another portrait, revealing a friendly and outgoing approach toward his colleagues. Although he retired from the Bolshoi in 1954, Pirogov was the choice for Boris when the opera was filmed in 1955. He had already been awarded the Stalin Prize for his performance of the role and accompanied the film to Venice for the international film festival held there. Although the film was not a prizewinner, the Italian film academy struck a special medal to honor the singer.
After 1954, Pirogov spent most of his time in his native city, traveling to Moscow only for occasional appearances on-stage and in concert. When the Bolshoi was invited to La Scala in 1964, Pirogov was selected to sing Boris. However, after fishing in his beloved Oka River on a particularly hot day in late June, he returned home and retired for a nap. Awakening with chest pains in the middle of the night, he sent his son for a doctor, but by the time the physician arrived, the bass was already dead. Thus, Pirogov was denied the possibility of one final triumph.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“The Bolshoi had a remarkable dramatic tenor, Georgi Mikhailovich Nelepp, an artist of impeccable taste, with a beautiful, youthfully resonant voice. I have yet to hear a better Hermann in THE QUEEN OF SPADES. When I first joined the Bolshoi, we worked on FIDELIO together; that time ranks among the best memories of my career.”
- Galina Vishnevskaya, GALINA, pp.185-86
“Elena Shumilova’s creative career is inextricably linked with the history of the Bolshoi Theatre during the middle of the last century. One of Elena Shumilova’s most outstanding roles at the Bolshoi Theatre was in the role of Olga in Rimsky-Korsakov’s THE MAID OF PSKOV. The image of Olga, as performed by Elena Shumilova, has since entered the treasury of the performing arts thanks to the magnificent recording of THE MAID OF PSKOV, made by the All-Union Radio foundation in 1947. It was Shumilova’s first major radio performance. It is noteworthy to mention that when two years later, in 1949, a radio recording of large extended scenes from THE MAID OF PSKOV was made, Elena Shumilova was again invited to sing Olga’s part with Mark Reizen taking on the role of Ivan."
- Mike Weston