CANNED FOOD AND MILK
Actor and writer Veniamin Smekhov once compared art genres with various products. Architecture, in his opinion, is canned food – not the most important thing for life, but if it has already been rolled up in a jar, it will be possible to consume it after a considerable time – like the pyramid of Cheops.
But the theater, as he believes, is rather milk – useful, needed, necessary for growth, but the benefit will only come from the freshest – if you overexpose it a little, it spoils and disappears. The only thing that will remain is to believe the stories about how delicious it was then …
This is very similar to the truth. We can only take his word for the fact that the Roman mime Alityr could arrange a meeting with the emperor Nero by his acquaintance with Josephus Flavius, that Molière’s adoptive Michel Baron delighted even his demanding stepfather with his play, that Edmund Kean took the audience of two continents by storm and inspired Dumas and Gorin to berime him.
Cinema can help modern actors to preserve their performances, but its possibilities are not endless – remember Vera Kholodnaya! Now we assess her performance condescendingly at best, but once upon a time crowds crowded on her films and people were crying right in the hall …
The more interesting for us are the artists and actresses who have earned such vivid reviews of their contemporaries that we still admire the emotions that they aroused in the audience, and we believe the reviews we read, since it would have been impossible to invent such a thing.
An actress of this level is also known to the Ukrainian scene. True, hardly anyone will understand that it is she, if they hear the surname that she bore from birth. But this is a noble family of the coat of arms of Korczak, known since the 17th century as the last name of the Little Russian Nobility.
Her grandfather Konstantin Georgievich was a hero of the Napoleonic wars, a lieutenant of the Butyrka infantry regiment, and her father, Konstantin Konstantinovich, was a judge. Neighbors knew well her mother Maria Vasilievna, a famous herbalist, whose skills helped many sick people.
This girl was born under serfdom, which was abolished when she was only seven years old. So she still caught the strange quirks of this time already unfamiliar to us – in particular, her father’s serf choir, which was considered the best in almost the entire Chernigov province.
Usually, the owners of such choirs entrusted the serf conductor with the lead, and they themselves only enjoyed the singing. But her father, a passionate musician who himself has an excellent baritone, chose to lead his choir personally – he was not only a music consumer, but also a creator.
Little Maria, the fifth child in the family, also sang in this choir since childhood (or the seventh – the memoirists disagree on this). Her fellow villagers recalled: “The voice of this … young creature, a true angel, penetrated into the very soul, aroused universal admiration and awe”.
A girl from a decent, albeit impoverished family needed to be given a good education. Little Masha was assigned at the age of ten to a private boarding house Osovskaya in Chernigov. The level of teaching there was very high, the program was rather complicated.
She studied with pleasure and quite seriously, but even then she began to get involved in theater – at first, of course, amateur. Her first role was the role of an orphan girl from the fairy tale “Koschei’s Daughter”. It was entrusted to Maria by Leonid Glebov, the poet who created the Ukrainian fable in the same way as Aesop – the Hellenic, La Fontaine – the French, and Krylov – the Russian, the head of the boarding school’s drama club.
After this debut, she performed with constant success in amateur performances both in Nizhyn and in Chernigov. Her stage success was facilitated by her wonderful singing voice – an expressive mezzo-soprano. Then many roles included vocal parts.
Perhaps it was her stage success that drew the attention of the artillery officer Nikolai Khlystov to her. He began to pay addresses to a talented girl, simultaneously promising that he would not interfere with her stage hobbies. She allowed herself to be persuaded and at the age of 17 she married him.
FAMILY OR CREATIVITY?
It is impossible to marry a familiar person, even if the girl knows her future husband much longer than Maria knew Nikolai Khlystov. The morning after the wedding, she discovers that she is married to a completely different person, not the one she married.
There is no dispute, he can be no worse or even better – but different! Everything that was said before the wedding that marriage would not interfere with her passion for the stage immediately disappeared somewhere. Now her husband persistently reminds her that her main purpose is to be a wife and a mother.
If she manages to play something on stage, then perhaps in amateur performances. And just after one of these performances, she invited colleagues, amateur actors, to visit her, and there, as if casually, she screwed up that she would like to study dramatic art, but her husband is against …
Everyone immediately began to beg her husband to meet his wife halfway, and he agreed. But with one condition – that she should not perform on the Russian, but on the Ukrainian stage, if this, of course, is allowed (then it was forbidden). He even gave a stamped receipt – they say, then okay …
Especially actively asked about this husband’s colleague, the hero of the Russian-Turkish war, Lieutenant Tobilevich. If someone did not immediately remember this name, I will remind others: playwright Karpenko-Kary, actors Sadovsky and Saksagansky, soprano Sadovskaya-Barilotti … So, keep in mind: these are pseudonyms, in fact, all these luminaries of the Ukrainian scene are Tobilevichs, three brothers and one sister.
CHANGE OF PARTICIPATION
If you think that Nikolai Tobilevich, aka Sadovsky, so fervently interceded for Maria only out of concern for the fate of the Ukrainian theater, you are mistaken. The personal interest of this handsome man, the favorite of many women, was clearly already then. But the most important thing is the result …
Soon her husband was transferred to Sveaborg, and Maria got the opportunity to take vocal lessons in Helsinki with Professor Grzhimala. Unfortunately, she was not destined to become an opera star – she suffered from diphtheria, the timbre of her voice deteriorated, and was no longer suitable for the opera stage.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian theater in the Russian Empire was suddenly allowed (albeit with considerable restrictions – without translations from other languages, without plays about the intelligentsia and the history of Ukraine – later, in 1897, Maria will condemn these restrictions in a report at the First All-Russian Congress of Stage Figures in Moscow). But in principle, the Ukrainian theater turned out to be possible.
Maria received a letter from Sadovsky with an offer to join the troupe of the Ukrainian theater under the leadership of such luminaries as Kropyvnytskyi and Staritsky (probably also about something personal …). She agreed immediately – which meant a complete change of fate, including a divorce.
Maria’s family took this news as a tragedy. Relatives could not do anything with her desire to become an actress, but demanded that she not dare to act under their family name Adasovskikh. She was forced to obey and took the pseudonym Zankovetska by the name of her native village Zanki. And her father simply cursed her …
She received a church divorce from her husband only five years after her stage debut, but on extremely difficult conditions. She was forced to take all the blame for the divorce on herself and, according to the then church laws, she lost the right to remarry. So she lived with Sadovsky unmarried.
She could not have children – Khlystov managed to rudely push her when she was pregnant because of a family quarrel, she fell and lost not only a child, but also the opportunity to have children. Her marriage to Sadovsky was held together only by mutual love and loyalty. Sadovsky had problems with loyalty …
Nevertheless, in 1882 she brilliantly made her debut in Elisavetgrad, in Kotlyarevsky’s play “Natalka Poltavka”, and Kropyvnitsky, who was delighted with her performance, presented her with his ring with the words: “I betrothed you, Marusia, with the stage, now I have a person for whom I can write dramas “.
A typical acting touring life began, during which Zankovetska quickly gained the status of a star of the first magnitude. By the way, it was in the newspaper of my native Odessa, after her tour, that her acting talent was first described in print: “Mrs. Zankovetska is a paramount star, the first Ukrainian actress without any flaws”.
Incidentally, it was in Odessa, in 1893, in the last year of Tchaikovsky’s life, that she managed to meet with him. After watching “The Queen of Spades”, when he conducted himself, Ukrainian actors presented him with a wreath with the inscription: “Mortals to the immortal”. A little later, after seeing Zankovetska in the theater, Tchaikovsky handed her a wreath with the inscription: “Immortal – from a mortal”.
The interest in her performances went beyond the purely spectator. Famous doctors Sklifosovsky and Bogomolets took students to her performances, as to a “psychological workshop”. And the photo artist Fedetsky asked her to pose for illustrations to Darwin’s book The Manifestation of Emotions in People and Animals – to show different states of mind …
As soon as she was not admired! For example, Odessa fans have invented an original way to thank the artist for her excellent performance. They wrote poems to her, printed them in the form of postcards, and after the performance, to stormy applause and shouts of welcome, scattered them around the hall.
The tour of 1886-1888 brought both the troupe and Zankovetska personally fame, which is sometimes called world fame. On tour in St. Petersburg in 1886, “Serf maiden” was staged 22 times in a row at full halls. As a result, Tsar Alexander III himself became interested in the troupe.
Her friend recalled that the performance was a great success and the artists were invited to the royal box. But the very form of the invitation, with the warning that the artists should only answer questions, the demand to appear immediately in makeup and in costumes – all this influenced her so unpleasantly that, deep down, she decided not to answer a single question.
Sadovsky was responsible for it, and later, describing this scene in his memoirs, he attributed Maria Konstantinovna’s silence to excessive embarrassment. But in reality, she simply felt humiliated and was indignant at such a royal “caress”.
Later, Alexander III personally gave her an offer to go to work in the Imperial Theater, while she was offered a huge salary for her work at that time – 4,000 rubles a year. It was not accepted to refuse the tsar, and she acted as during the audience – kept silent …
And when later the famous playwright and journalist Suvorin, in the presence of the public, invited her to go to the Russian theater, she answered him: “Our Ukraine is too poor to leave it. I love it, my Ukraine, its theater too much to accept your offer”.
She continued her work in the theater, each time preparing for the performances more thoroughly, as comprehensively as possible. The costumes were sewn to her according to her own sketches and fully corresponded to a certain role, without carrying anything artificial. For example, the actress sought out details for the costume of the gypsy Aza – silver coins, earrings, bracelets from the gypsies.
When Maria played Olena in Kropyvnitskyi’s play “Hlytai or The Spider”, who goes mad in the course of the action, she consulted with the psychologist Kovalevsky and even went to the hospital for the mentally ill with him to see how the insane move, they say, behave.
The difficult time did not spare her either. On October 17, 1905, when Russia received a constitution, she was in her native Nizhyn, where the very next day pogroms began – first of the Jews, and then of the intelligentsia. But the actress boldly went out to meet the thugs, and they did not dare to touch her.
She was even more impressed by the constant betrayal of her unmarried husband – after such news, she even tried to throw herself out of the window. Maria could no longer play in the same troupe with him – there were enough other proposals, but in her personal life this wonderful woman remained alone forever.
THE HARDEST TIMES
She has appeared in many troupes as a touring star. After the February Revolution, her troupe began touring Ukraine, giving performances at the lowest prices so that everyone could attend. The route included Kremenchug, Cherkassy, Poltava, Romny and other cities.
During the tour, she had to interrupt the tour – her mother was dying in Nizhyn. On the day of the funeral, the actress herself caught a cold and became seriously ill with croupous pneumonia. Since then, her health has not fully recovered, she began to develop tuberculosis.
After the revolution, she headed the People’s Theater, created in Nizhyn, and then, together with Saksagansky, created the People’s Theater in Kiev (now it is the National Ukrainian Drama Theater named after Maria Zankovetska in Lvov). There were other projects …
She was universally respected. In June 1918, Hetman Skoropadsky approved the statute adopted by the Council of Ministers on the appointment of her life state pension. Interestingly, the Soviet authorities who replaced the hetman treated her with honor and respect.
In 1922, she performed on stage for the last time, at a gala evening dedicated to the 40th anniversary of her creative activity. She was the first in Ukraine to be awarded the title of People’s Artist of the Ukrainian SSR. She was greeted not only by officials and colleagues, but also by her fellow countrymen.
They said in their greeting: “It was not easy for you to get permission from the tsarist authorities to show real Ukrainian art in St. Petersburg. And then the leading critic, and the leading figures of criticism and literature bowed their heads to your genius and admitted in the press that your talent shines brighter than the talent of the world famous Sarah Bernhardt”. Let’s not argue …
She spent the last 16 years of her life in Kiev, at the house of her niece Natalia, the wife of entrepreneur Fedor Volik, whom she considered her friend. Her apartment in Kiev became a kind of creative club, where friends, colleagues, students and acquaintances often gathered.
Like all her life, young actors and actresses were drawn to her. She helped them as much as she could, fed them with pleasure, for which she cooked excellent borscht with her own hands, dressed and sometimes even collected a dowry. Her old age, thank God, was more or less calm.
She did not accept Sadovsky, who returned from immigration, refused to communicate – for a long time she could not forget the betrayal. It was only when he died in 1933 that she asked the funeral procession to pass by her house, go to the window to forgive him everything, and handed the incense to his coffin.
A year later, in 1934, she also left this world at the venerable age of 80. She was buried in Kiev at the Baikovo cemetery – like Sadovsky, but not next to him. And then time passed, but her fame did not fade away. Something remains after the actors – their touch to human souls …
WHAT’S THEN …
She is remembered carefully and with respect. Even just listing the cities that have Zankovetska Street is enough to understand this – Dnipro, Kiev, Kovel, Kolomyia, Lvov, Kropyvnytskyi, Nizhyn, Lutsk, Odessa, Uzhgorod, Chernivtsi, Chernigov, Uman. In Poltava, there is Zankovetska lane.
Not only the National Ukrainian Music and Drama Theater in Lviv bears her name, but also the Nizhyn College of Culture and Arts. A jubilee stamp, a commemorative coin of the National Bank is dedicated to her, monuments to her are in Kiev, Nizhyn and the village of Zanki. And this will clearly continue.
In 2021, she became one of 36 Ukrainian women, whose face and silhouette became the prototype of the Ukrainian series of Barbie dolls. However, is it worth listing the honors given to her? Over time, there will be more …
The main thing in this is not the “bright patch on the rags of the singer”, but the fact that a talent of such a scale, as it should be, sooner or later gains its well-deserved recognition and worthy memory. Even the talent of the actress, immortalized in the absence of video only by memoirs …
All photos in publications are from open sources