In this prologue to Boris Godunov, I have selected Lev Sibiryakov to sing the monk Pimen. It is an extraordinary performance, especially when you take into account the it was recording acoustically between 1907 and 1913. Sibiryakov was a great, great bass, equal in many ways to Chaliapin.
Sibiryakov studied in Milan and made some guest appearances in Italy before returning to Russia, where he made his début in 1895. Singing first in the provinces, he established himself as a leading bass at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, where his roles included Wotan, made remarkable by his ability to penetrate any orchestral forte without forcing, becoming an element of the orchestral sound. He sang Don Basilio in Barbiere (in Russian) with the Boston Opera Company in 1910 and Marcel in Les Huguenots at Covent Garden in 1911. Back in Russia, he continued for some years, leaving for Western Europe after the Revolution. In 1932 he sang in Aida and La favorite at Monte Carlo and made a final appearance in the title role of Boris Godunov at Brussels in 1938. At 6’ 6” tall and with a voice of proportionate volume, he was often compared with Chaliapin.
Russians have provided magnificent signers to the world. Although the years behind the Iron Curtain made it very difficult for the West to hear them, there are recordings of outstanding Russian singers in their prime before the Curtain fell. This posting is going to be be about one such singer – Lev Sibiryakov. Sibiryakov was born in St. Petersburg in 1869, and died in Antwerp in 1942. He was a Russian Jew, and he was a bass, a real Russian bass. When you listen to him, you’ll see what I mean. There were several Russian Jewish basses of his caliber: Ivan Perov, Alexander Kipnis, and Mark Reizen to name a few. When I wrote that Sibiryakov died in Antwerp, that was a cipher. He was deported to one of the concentration camps and died there.
We are going to hear Pimen’s aria from Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. I apologize in advance. I usually try to give the Russian cyrillic, the transliteration into the Latin alphabet, and finally, the English. In this case, I had no luck finding anything except sheet music in Russian, and since I don’t have a Russian keyboard (and I don’t understand Russian!), the transliteration and the English will have to do.