Vsevolod Meyerhold

Meyerhold, Vsevolod

Russian and Soviet theatre director, actor and theatrical producer (1874-1940). Typed letter signed ("V. Meyerhold"). Leningrad. 4to (285 x 204 mm). 3½ pages on 4 ff. In Russian, two phrases in German added.
1.500 € (87120/BN57545)

To Ivan Fyodorovich Kodatsky, chairman of the executive committee of the Leningrad Regional Council. Meyerhold declares his close kinship to Leningrad (St Petersburg) and asks permission to establish a permanent base there. Writing to Kodatsky, Meyerhold delivers a long and obsequious request to have assigned to him on a permanent basis the Leningrad apartment where he and his wife Zinaida Reich have been staying during his preparations for a recent production of "Queen of Spades" with the Maly Opera Theatre ("Malegot"): his justification is that this would enable him to prepare for a second production with Malegot, of Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" under conductor Samuil Samosud, to mark the centenary of Pushkin's death in 1937.

- The letter is remarkable above all as an example of Meyerhold's strenuous efforts to accommodate himself to the official discourse of Stalinist Russia in order to achieve his artistic vision: he speaks of his intended residence in Leningrad as a "fiery dream [...] Perhaps the dream was evoked by Leningrad's atmosphere, where in 1917 I joined the ranks for VKP(b) [i.e. the Bolshevik Party]? [...] and at the old Imperial theatres where, persecuted by the reactionary segment of the company I [...] achieved the production of an ingenious creation of young Lermontov (Masquerade). Perhaps my dream is caused by the fact that Leningrad is my second home: the first is Penza, where I was born, green and studious, and the second - Petersburg (Leningrad), where I started to search for innovations in the field of directing, which had brought me in October 1917 such a weight of knowledge as to help me to become useful to our proletariat in its pursuit of becoming genuinely a cultural part of humanity". His purpose in asking for the permanent allocation of the apartment is in part a response by the senior Party official Boris Pozern to help attract young directors to Leningrad, as well as for theatrical work. "I am asking you to turn a temporary mooring which had been assigned to me into a permanent mooring, where I would periodically drop the anchor of my ship, equipped with a director's intentions, and would consider myself obligated to serve Leningrad as well, giving a Leningrad viewer what, after experiencing Queen of Spades and GOSTIM's [the Meyerhold Theatre's] plays, they would like to have from me. That is why I am inspired by the dream, to do infinitely more for the theatre than I have done previously. I want to belong not only to Moscow but also to Leningrad". - Meyerhold's period at the Imperial theatres in Leningrad in 1907 to 1917 was formative for his innovative directing style. He refers in the present letter specifically to his production of Lermontov's "Masquerade" which was in dress rehearsal at the Alexandrinsky Theatre on 25 February 1917 - the very day on which the February Revolution broke out; the evening has been described as "the last act of the tragedy of the old regime". In spite of Meyerhold's efforts to pander to the Stalinist regime, as in the present letter, the current was turning against him, and the following two years saw increasing official criticism of his productions and style. In 1938 the Meyerhold Theatre was closed down, and in June 1939 Meyerhold himself was arrested, tortured and (on 2 February 1940) executed. His wife, the actress Zinaida Reich, was brutally murdered days after his arrest, undoubtedly by state agents..

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