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Slavic Basses – Alexander Kipnis, Mark Reizen, and Boris Christoff

By March 1, 2018March 23rd, 2023No Comments

I know that I still owe you a description of male voice categories (Fach for men), and I will get to that.  In the meantime, I am presenting the lowest male voice category, the bass.  The Slavic basses are special.  They produce sounds like no other people that I know of.  We are going to hear Alexander Kipnis, Mark Reizen, and Boris Christoff, who was actually a Bulgarian, not a Ukranian.  I am going to place information about each of the singers at the end of this post.  In this case, I think that the music is more important.  Once again, notice how free the voices are.  There is no gravelly sound like some of the sounds that we have been exposed to recently.  There is nothing to impede the breath and the tone.

O Isis und Osiris, schenket
Der Weisheit Geist dem neuen Paar!
Die ihr der Wand’rer Schritte lenket,
Stärkt mit Geduld sie in Gefahr.

Lasst sie der Prüfung Früchte sehen;
Doch sollten sie zu Grabe gehen,
So lohnt der Tugend kühnen Lauf,
Nehmt sie in euren Wohnsitz auf

Mozart, Die Zauberflöte –  English translation of O Isis und Osiris

The English for this can be found here

Leb wohl, du kühnes herrliches Kind

Du meines Herzens heiligster Stolz!
Leb’ wohl, leb’ wohl, leb’ wohl!
Muss ich dich meiden, und darf nicht
minnig mein Gruss dich mehr grüssen
sollst du nun nicht mehr neben mir reiten
noch Meth beim Mahl mir reichen,
muss ich verlieren dich, die ich liebe,
du lachende Lust meines Auges—
ein bräutliches Feuer soll dir nun brennen,
wie nie einer Braut es gebrannt!
Flammende Gluth umglühe den Fels;
mit zehrenden Schrecken Scheuch’ es den
Zagen; der Feige fliehe Brünnhilde’s Fels!
Denn Einer nur freie die Braut,
der freier als ich, der Gott!
Der Augen leuchtendes Paar,
das oft ich lächelnd gekos’t,
wenn Kampfeslust ein Kuss dir lohnte.
wenn kindisch lallend der Helden Lob
von holden Lippen dir floss;
dieser Augen strahlendes Paar,
das oft im Sturm mir gegläntzt
wenn Hoffnungssehnen das
Herz mir sengte, nach Weltenwonne
mein Wunsch verlangte,
aus wild webendem Bangen:
zum letzten Mal letz’ ich mich heut’
mit des Lebewohles letztem Kuss!
Dem glücklicher’n Manne glänze
sein Stern: dem unseligen Ew’gen
muss es scheidend sich schliessen.
Denn so kehrt der Gott sich dir ab,
so küsst er die Gottheit von dir
Loge, hör’! Lausche hieher!
wie zuerst ich dich fand
als feurige Gluth,
wie dann einst du mir schwandest,
als schweifende Lohe;
wie ich dich band, bann’ ich dich heut’!
Herauf, wabernde Lohe
umlod’re mir feurig den Fels!
Loge! Loge! hieher!
Wer meines Speeres Spitze furchtet,
durchschreite das Feuer nie!

Wotan’s Farewell to Brunhilde

Thou holiest pride of my heart,
Farewell, farewell, farewell!
If now I must leave thee and
nevermore greet thee,
if never again mayst ride beside me,
nor bear me a cup of mead at banquet,
if I must abandon the child I love,
thou laughing delight of my eyes—
such a bridal fire for thee shall be kindled
as ne’er yet burned for a bride!
Threatening flames shall flare round the fell;
Let withering terrors daunt the
craven! Let cowards fly from Brünnhilde’s rock!
For one alone shall win the bride,
one freer than I, the god!
The brightly glittering eyes
that, smiling, oft I caressed,
when valor won them a kiss as reward,
when childish lispings of heroes’ praise
from thy sweet lips flowed forth;
these gleaming, radiant eyes
that oft in storms on me shone
when hopeless yearning
my heart had wasted, when world’s delight
all my wishes wakened
through wild sadness—
For the last time, lured by their light,
my lips will give them love’s farewell!
On a more blessed mortal those eyes
will open; but for me, Immortal,
they close forever.
For thus I, the god, turn from thee;
thus I kiss thy godhead away!
Loge, hear! attend!
When first I found you,
a flickering flame,
you fled from me
in a devious blaze.
I caught you then; I release you now!
Appear, and wind thee
in flames around the fell!
Loge! Loge! attend!
He who my spear point’s sharpness feareth,
ne’er cross the flaming fire!

I am going to give you two versions of Reizen singing Prince Gremin’s aria from Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky.  I don’t know the date of the first recording, but he was clearly in his prime.  I have tried my best to give you the Russian, a transliteration in the Latin alphabet, and finally an English translation.  I am sure sure if all three line up because I don’t speak or read Russian, but you will get the idea.

The second aria is also Prince Gremin’s aria from the same opera, except that Reizen is singing it on stage when he was 90.  We live in an age when singers are finished at 55.  There are many reasons for this, but in the past, finishing at 55 was considered a young retirement.

Russian transliterated

lyubvi fse vosrastї pokornї
yiyo parїvї blagotfornї
i yunoshe v rastsvyete lyet
yedva uvidevshemu svyet
i zakaljonnomu sud’boj
bajtsu s sjedoyu golovoj

Onegin,ja skryvat’ nje stanu
bjezumno ja ljublju Tat’janu
taskliva zhisn’ maja Tekla
ana javilas’ i zazhgla
kak solntsa luch sredi njenast’ja
mne zhizn’ i molodost’,
da, molodost’, i schast’je

Sredi lukavїkh, malodushnїkh
shalnїkh balovannїkh ditje
zladjejiv i smjeshnїkh, I skushnїkh
tupїkh privjaschvїkh sudje
sredi kokjetok bogomol’nїkh
sredi khalop’jev dobrovol’nїkh
sredi fsjidnjevnїkh modnїkh stsen
uchtivїkh, laskovikh izmen;
sredi khalodnїkh prigavorov
zhestokoserdai sujetї
sredi dasadnai pustotї
raschotov, dum I razgavorov ana blistajet, kag Zvezda
va mrake nochi v njebe chistom
i mne javlajitssja fsegda
i mne javlajitssja fsegda
v sijanjї angela,
v sijanji angela luchistom

lyubvi fse vosrastї pokornї…


All ages surrender to love.
Its impulses are beneficial to both a youth in his prime
having hardly seen the world,
and the grey-headed warrior,
hardened by experience!
Onegin, I will not disguise
That I madly love Titiana
My life was dreary,
She appeared and brightened
Like sunlight in a stormy sky,
Bringing me life and youth,
Yes, youth and happiness!

Among these sly, cowardly,
Foolish, spoiled children;

scoundrels, the absurd, and dull;
the dumb, the judgmental
among devout coquettes,
among voluntary slaves,
among daily scenes of fashion,
courteous, tender infidelities
Among cold verdicts
Of cruel-hearted vanity,
Among annoying emptiness of thought and conversation
She shines, like a star in dark of night,
in the clear sky
And to me always appears
A radiant angel,
A radiant angel, full of shine!

All ages surrender to love…

Boris Christoff:
Rather than give you operatic arias, I’m going to give you art songs: two by Rachmaninoff. I can’t give you the English for these, so I will provide a link to a translation.

Yesterday we met, Rachmaninoff, Op. 26, No. 13
Yesterday we met

Morning, Rachmaninoff, Op.4, No. 2

Morning, English translation


Alexander Kipnis (February 13, 1891 – May 14, 1978) was a Ukrainian-born operatic bass. Having initially established his artistic reputation in Europe, Kipnis became an American citizen in 1931, following his marriage to an American. He appeared often at the Chicago Opera before making his belated début at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1940.

Early life

Aleksandr Kipnis was born in Zhytomyr, the capital of the Volhynian Governorate, in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine). His impoverished family of seven lived in a Jewish ghetto. After his father died, when he was aged 12, he helped support the family as a carpenter’s apprentice and by singing soprano in local synagogues and in Bessarabia (now Moldova) until his voice changed. As a teenager he took part in a Yiddish theatrical group, until he entered the Warsaw Conservatory at age 19. On the recommendation of the choirmaster, he traveled to Berlin and studied voice with Ernst Grenzebach who was also a teacher of Lauritz Melchior, Meta Seinemeyer, and Max Lorenz.

When the First World War started, Kipnis was interned as an alien in a German holding camp. While singing to himself he was overheard by an army captain whose brother was general manager of the Wiesbaden Opera. Kipnis was released from custody and he was engaged by the Hamburg Opera. He made his operatic debut in 1915, singing three Johann Strauss songs as a “guest” in the party scene of the operetta Die Fledermaus. In 1917, he moved to the Wiesbaden Opera, having gained invaluable stage experience. He sang in more than 300 performances at Wiesbaden until 1922, when he joined the Berlin Staatsoper

International career

The following year Kipnis visited the United States with a touring Wagnerian company. For nine seasons, between 1923 and 1932, he was on the roster of the Chicago Civic Opera. In 1927, at the Bayreuth Festival, he appeared as Gurnemanz in Wagner’s Parsifal under Karl Muck and recorded the Good Friday Music under Siegfried Wagner. He also appeared at the Salzburg Festival.

Kipnis was under contract with the Berlin Opera until 1935, when he was able to break his contract and flee Nazi Germany. He appeared for three seasons as a guest performer with the Vienna State Opera in 1936–1938. Just after the Anschluss, he left Europe and settled permanently in the United States. By the time he was finally signed by the Metropolitan in 1940 he had appeared in most of the world’s major opera houses.

Kipnis was regarded throughout the inter-war years as being one of the greatest basses in the world. He was praised for the beauty of his smooth and mellow voice and the excellence of his musicianship.

Kipnis showed signs of vocal deterioration during the 1940s, and he retired from the Met in 1946. He made his last concert appearance in 1951. Since his debut in 1915, he had sung at least 108 roles, often in more than one language, and his performances in opera and oratorio numbered more than 1,600. He died in Westport, Connecticut in 1978, aged 87.

Mark Reizen

Mark Osipovich Reizen, also Reisen or Reyzen (Russian: Марк Осипович Рейзен, July 3,1895 – November 25, 1992), PAU (People’s Artist of the USSR), was a leading Soviet opera singer with a beautiful and expansive bass voice.

Life and career

Reizen was born into a Jewish family of mine workers in 1895 at Zaitsevo village in Ekaterinoslav province (now Horlivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine). He had four brothers and a sister, and all were trained in music, playing mandolin, guitar, balalaika and accordion. He served as a soldier in the First World War. He studied engineering at the Kharkiv Politechnic, and also voice at the Kharkiv Conservatory. He debuted at the Kharkiv Opera in 1921 as Pimen in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and in 1925 moved to the Mariinsky Theatre in Leningrad. Reizen toured Europe performing in Paris, Berlin, Monte Carlo and London.

He joined the Bolshoi Theatre in 1930, remaining there as a principal bass until his retirement in 1954. Among his roles were: Ivan Susanin and Ruslan in the two Glinka operas, Don Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini, Mephistopheles in Faust by Gounod, Prince Gremin in Evgeny Onegin by Tchaikovsky, Salieri in Mozart and Salieri and the Viking guest in Sadko by Rimsky-Korsakov, the old gypsy in Aleko by Rachmaninov, Wotan in Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungs, and Konchak in Prince Igor by Borodin. He became a particularly memorable interpreter of Boris and Dosifey in the two greatest operas of Mussorgsky (Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina).

Reizen was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1941, 1949 and 1951.

In 1967 he began teaching and became a professor at Moscow’s Gnessin Institute. He gave an important recital for his 80th birthday, and for his 90th sang Prince Gremin (in Evgeny Onegin) at the Bolshoi in Moscow in July 1985. On both occasions, his voice sounded remarkably preserved.

Reizen died of a stroke in 1992 in Moscow at the age of 97. He is considered to be the greatest Russian bass since the days of Lev Sibiriakov (1869–1942) and Fyodor Chaliapin (1873–1938), and the possessor of one of the very finest voices of its type anywhere in the world for the past 100 years. A number of his recordings are still available on CD, attesting to his greatness. Film clips of him in action also exist.

Boris Christoff

Boris Christoff (Bulgarian: Борис Кирилов Христов, May 18,1914 – June 28, 1993) was a Bulgarian opera singer, widely considered one of the greatest basses of the 20th century.


Born in Plovdiv, Christoff demonstrated early his singing talent and sang as a boy at the choir of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia. In the late 1930s he graduated in law and started a career as a magistrate. He continued singing in his spare time in the Gusla Chorus in Sofia, achieving an enormous success as the chorus soloist in 1940. Thanks to a government grant, Christoff left in May 1942 for Italy where he was tutored for two years in the core Italian bass repertoire by the great baritone of an earlier generation, Riccardo Stracciari.

Performance career

After several guest appearances and recitals in Austria in 1944 and 1945, Christoff returned to Italy in December 1945. He made his operatic debut as Colline in La Bohème at Reggio Calabria on March 12,1946. In following years, Christoff appeared in a number of roles at Milan’s La Scala, Venice’s La Fenice, the Rome Opera, Covent Garden in London, the opera theatres in Naples, Barcelona, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, etc.

In the 1970s Christoff on-stage performances were not frequent.  He brought his career to an end with a final concert at the Accademia di Bulgaria in Rome on June 22, 1986. He died in Rome in 1993 and his body was returned to Bulgaria, where he was given a state funeral and buried in Sofia’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.