Bolshoi Star Baritonist Pavel Lisitsian Dies at 93

After a lengthy illness baritonist Pavel Lisitsian–who once lead the Bolshoi Opera for over twenty-five years–died at the age of 93 at his summer home in Russia.

Lisitsian was born into an Armenian working-class family and seemed destined to work in a factory. His vocal talents became so evident–however–that he began to take singing lessons–and eventually entered the Leningrad conservatory in 1932–while still working as an electric welder.

Graduating from the conservatory–Pavel–like many other budding singers–signed with Leningrad’s experimentalist Maly Opera Theater. After a brief stint there–he moved on to join an opera company in the Armenian capital Yerevan and–in 1940–he was admitted to the venerable Bolshoi Opera.

"He was full of kindness and optimism–and had the ability to see the bright aspects of life. . . Nature endowed him with a velvet baritone tinged with subtle overtones conveying joy–tears–pain and happiness?" says Daughter Karina Lisitsian.

Less than a year later–German troops crossed the Soviet border–and Lisitsian immediately volunteered to join a team of musicians performing at the frontlines and in military hospitals in Moscow.

"We gave 72 concerts in just 26 days performing three to four times a day–sometimes right under enemy fire," he later recalled.

He played a total of about 500 concerts during the war.

"I sang many Russian–Armenian and Georgian folk songs," he had said. "There were people of many nationalities fighting at the frontlines and they really enjoyed them."

After the war there was no stopping Lisitsian’s fast growing fame. He sang at every single premiere the Bolshoi–including one of his all-time bests–the part of Germon in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata.

"Dad wasn’t one of those typical vocalists who used to take a two-days rest before a performance–speaking to no one so as not to strain their voice. I remember how on the eve of the premiere of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Sadko,’ dad spent the whole afternoon in his vegetable garden–digging the earth–and planting. He then ladled a pot of icy water out of a well–drank it–and went off to the premiere," recalls his daughter.

In 1966 Lisitsian quit the Bolshoi to make way for the young new talents eager to take center stage.

Lisitsian became one of the first Soviet soloist to perform at the La Scala–Metropolitan-Opera and New York’s Carnegie Hall. For nearly a quarter of a century he conducted master-classes in Germany and he also ran a vocal studio at the Moscow Philharmonic Society. Lisitsian’s pedagogical career was–perhaps–more versatile than even his concert activity.

He consulted young singers absolutely free of charge–only to gain energy and vitality from the lessons.

"I want my students to be more than just good singers," he said. "I want them to be educated–intelligent–and capable of fulfilling their ideas on stage. Opera singing is too complicated a profession to be taken lightly."

Many of his student became laureates of international competitions.

Lisitsian spent his long life filled with love for art and Dagmara Dolukhanova–his wife of over six decades. Three of his four children became singers and his family joined him to form the "Lisitsian Quartet."

A superb interpreter of Armenian (folk) songs–he became one of the most popular singers of the Soviet Union and was recognized by the government as the "People’s Artist of the USSR."


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