Ivan Vasilyevich Ershov

Ivan Vasilyevich Ershov was born on November 20, 1867 in the region of Novocherkassk. My childhood was difficult, recalled Ershov. I was the excess mouth to feed in the family. My mother worked as staff in a family of poor landowners. I intended to become a railroad machinist.

Ershov learned his trade at the railroad school in Elets, and frequently appeared in amateur concerts. His outstanding abilities were undoubted. He was heard there by professor Pansh of the St. Petersburg conservatory. He talked to Rubinstein about the talented youth. On recommendation of the great pianist, the machinist became a student in the class of Stanislav Ivanovich Gabel. The years of study were difficult: an income of 15 rubles per month and allowance of free dinner.

In 1893, Ershov finished the St. Petersburg conservatory. The same year, he made his debut as Faust at the Mariinskij, having already sung in Fidelio, Il matrimonio segreto, Aida, Die Zauberflöte, and Così fan tutte at the conservatory.

The young singer did not produce an advantageous impression, writes A. A. Gozenpud. He would be advised to leave for to Italy for further studies.

After four months of training with maestro Rossi, Ershov made his debut in Reggio Emilia. Some sources say it was in Carmen, but this is very doubtful. Rodolfo Celletti in Voce di tenore states it was in Pagliacci, first at the Comunale in Reggio Emilia and then the Alfieri in Torino. The chronology of the Reggio Emilia opera house, as well, does not list Carmen but Pagliacci.

Rumors about Ershov's foreign appearances reached Nápravník and Vsevolozhskij (the director of the Mariinskij), and they proposed a new debut to Ershov. It is characteristic that this occurred after he gained a reputation abroad. After returning to Russia, Ershov decided to sing in Kharkiv for the 1894/5 season. His debut at the Mariinskij took place in April 1895 as Faust.

That performance was remarkable, because in the role of Mephistopheles appeared another debutant – Fjodor Shaljapin. Subsequently, as it is well-known, Shaljapin sang in almost all the largest opera houses, while the entire creative life of Ershov was practically limited to the Mariinskij.

First, Ershov sang many different tenor roles, but in the course of time it became clear that his vocation was to sing heroic roles. Specifically, Ershov was a singer-actor. Faust and Roméo in no way related to the individuality of Ershov. Success was brought to Ershov by the roles of Tannhäuser and Orest (in Oresteja by Taneev).

His appearances in the roles of Tristan (1899, the first performance in Russia) and Siegfried (1902) became the major events of musical life in Russia. Ershov was also the first interpreter of Siegmund (1900). Among other roles were Sobinin, Vakula (first interpreter, 1895) and Kuterma (1907). He sang also Truffaldino in the Russian first performance of L'amour des trois oranges (1926). His last apppearance was in 1929 as Otello at the Mariinskij. In the 1920s, Ershov started to teach singing. He was one of the founders of the operatic studio at the Leningrad conservatory.

The critic Kondratyev noted: Ershov made a good impression as Orest, and in the scene of the furies, he produced a sensation.

Another creative victory for Ershov was his appearance as Samson. Kondratyev wrote: Ershov carried out Samson wonderfully. He had a new success as Sobinin, after singing the usually cut aria "Bratsi v metel" with its difficult tessitura, rising to C and Des several times.

In his diary, Kondratyev wrote: This aria is written for an uncommonly high register, which leads into horrific results even during rehearsals. I feared for Ershov, but he succeeded with honor. The public's deafening applause caused it to be repeated. The second time was riper, calmer and still better.

If we look at the list of the operatic roles by Ershov, then, as for any great artist, the variety is remarkable – from Mozart, Weber, Beethoven and Bellini to Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss and Prokofyev. Ershov also made outstanding achievements in the operas of Glinka, Chajkovskij, Dargomyzhskij, Rubinstein, Verdi and Bizet.

However, Ershov's career had two climaxes. First, the splendid performance of Wagner roles; Ershov was equally convincing in Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Walküre, Rheingold, Tristan und Isolde, and Götterdämmerung. The entire essence of Wagner's works is filled with the vastness of action, emphasized Ershov. This composer's music is extremely theatrical, but it requires exceptional endurance and artistic capabilities. Everything must be elevated – look, voice, gesture. The singer must know how to play without words in the scenes where there is no singing but only a continuous flow of music. It is necessary to match the music of orchestra with the level of stage motion. In Wagner, the music, if we speak figuratively, is riveted to the actor-singer. To split off this attachment, means to break the unity of stage rhythms and musical rhythms.

Cosima Wagner, the widow of the composer, wrote to Ershov on September 15, 1901: Many friends of your skills and many artists, among them Litvinne, told me about your performance of Wagner's works. I turn to you with a question, will you not come to Bayreuth in order to have a talk with me about the German performance of those works? I do not believe that I shall some day have the possibility to come to Russia, that's why I turn to you with this request. I hope that your occupations will allow you to come.

Ershov commented in 1933: The entire structure of the old Mariinskij was hostile to Wagner. Wagner's music was met with hostility. Poorly staged, they allowed Lohengrin and Tannhäser – those romantic, heroic operas – to be staged in Italian style. It was said time and again that Wagner music spoils the voices of singers, and deafens the spectator by the thunder of orchestra.. The second salient climax of the singer's mastery was the oeuvre of Rimskij-Korsakov, particularly the role of Kuterma in the "Legend of the invisible city of Kitezh and the maiden Fevronia", executed in 1907. Rimskij-Korsakov had already admired him previously as Berendej and Tucha.

The stage director of that memorable premiere, V. P. Shkafer, said: The artist deeply felt the element of great suffering and grief. The mad scene, the moments with the Tatars in the forest, the scene with Fevronia – all his creative achievements were so great that Ershov's portrayal of Kuterma was worthy not only of praise, but of the highest regard for the talent of the artist: so rich, so colorful, so artistically skilled revealed he the subtlest emotions of the hero. The role of Kuterma was created by him in minute details, with sculptural completeness – and all that under the conditions of maximum exposure.

Andrej Nikolaevich Rimskij-Korsakov wrote to Ershov on behalf of the family of the composer: Your interpretation of the role is so deep and individual. You imbue it with your life, your human soul, therefore I am right to say that there cannot be a second Kuterma, because there cannot be a second Ivan Vasilyevich Ershov.

Up to 1917, and in the post-revolutionary years, Ershov was proposed advantageous contracts abroad. However, his entire life was tied to the Mariinskij, where his creative journey had begun.

A real patriot, Ivan Ershov, after retiring, unceasingly thought about the future of the musical theater. With enthusiasm, he educated young people in his operatic studio in Leningrad. With pride and modesty, he summarized his creative way in these words: As an actor or musical teacher, I feel a free citizen first of all, who works as best he can for the good of the socialist society.

Ershov died on November 21, 1943.


Sofja Akimova-ErshovaErshov tombIgor Ershov
Ershov was married to Sofja Akimova-Ershova (March 27, 1887 Tbilisi – January 16, 1972 Saint Petersburg). Both are buried at the Aleksandr Nevskij Monastery, Saint Petersburg. Their son Igor Ivanovich Ershov (1916–1985) was a painter and graphic designer.

Ivan Ershov was an artist of exceptional talent and rare originality. Trying to determine the features of his talent, contemporaries called Ershov the "Shaljapin of tenors". Unlike many contemporaries, Shaljapin, Sobinov, Smirnov, Alchevskyj and others, who successfully toured abroad, Ershov went only at the dawn of his performing activities (1894) to Italy. From 1895, he connected his life with the Mariinskij Theater. He was not attracted by the glory gained by touring. It was extremely rare even in Russia that he sang outside St. Petersburg: in Moscow or Kiev, not in a typical touring repertoire, but in roles such as Sadko and Kuterma. Ershov's refusal to go on tour affected his popularity negatively as compared to others, who were often inferior to him in talent. In this regard, Ershov resembled Stravinsky. Like him, Ershov hated publicity, all the media frenzy that accompanied the presentation of other contemporaries. He rarely gave interviews, and then only on creative issues.

When he sang at the Bolshoj in 1916, Derzhanovskij wrote: Ershov is barely known in Moscow. Moreover, his fame, strangely enough, is a local St. Petersburg fame at first glance, and his field of activity is almost limited to the Mariinskij.

.. Ershov, the critic continued, dismissed a number of attractive overseas engagements, including America, and he also refused to perform at Bayreuth and Munich, where he was invited by Cosima Wagner and Felix Mottl.

Ershov again stayed at home, avoiding the luster of European glory, and worked unselfishly, caring little about himself, but spared himself no effort for the case of Russian opera. "Selfless work" is an accurate definition of Ershov's artistic career, of his service to Russian art. Unlike other comrades on the stage, who won fame and glory repeating the same role from one year to another, Ershov continually enlarged his repertoire.

The originality of his artistic individuality was not immediately understood by his contemporaries, including the heads of the theaters. In Kharkiv, he sang lots of Roméo, Vladimir, Prince, Raoul, and Arturo. At the Mariinskij, he sang for some time Faust, Roméo, Lenskij and Vladimir Dubrovskij. The first reviews described him as a lyric tenor. Meanwhile, the powerful features of his ample voice do not meet the conception of a lyric tenor. And naturally, Ershov's reputation manifested itself in his early years not in roles like Lenskij or Faust, but in roles such as Orest in Oresteja by Taneev, Sobinin, Samson and Jean de Leyde. Those roles were prototypically heroic, and full of romantic drama. But heroism was only one, even though the brightest of the mighty talents of Ershov. Already in his first season (1895), Ershov revealed that he felt himself free of any down-to-earth trait. For example, in Noch pered Rozhdestvom/Christmas eve by Rimskij-Korsakov, he created a poetic and humorous image of Vakula, a clearly Russian image, entirely in the spirit of Gogol. Portraying the sinister and grotesque sides of a character was an essential aspect of Ershov's talent.

Ershov loved Russia passionately, wholeheartedly, its art and literature. Few artists had such a deep and natural feeling for the Russian language. Working on a role, Ershov paid great attention to the text. His concern was not so much about the convenient placement of vowels and consonants, but about the correspondence between words and music.

With the roles of Siegmund and Siegfried, Ershov was not satisfied with the translations, and subjected them, with the help of S. Sviridenko, to a radical revision, so as to achieve a maximum congruence with the German original. He felt special satisfaction, when he could, in Russian opera, rely on an outstanding poetic text, for example in "Sadko" and "The Legend of the invisible city of Kitezh and the maiden Fevronia", or later in "Kamennyj gost" and "Tsarskaja nevesta". A word – claimed Ershov – serves as a link between people, reflects the history of the people, the word bears the stamp of the era. But the word is not a dead monument to the past, but a living, ever-renewed body, hence the old words acquire a different meaning in a different era. An artist must penetrate the very essence, the "flesh" of the words to understand and appreciate their meaning.

In the field of conveying the sense of the words through music, Ershov had no rivals in the Russian operatic world, except for Shaljapin. Ershov ruled over all the secrets of expressive and truthful speech with a boundless wealth of timbres to color the sound. Ershov was not afraid, if a role required so, to sacrifice the beauty of singing to expressiveness, however without resorting to naturalistic effects.

Naturally Ershov, starting to work on a role, studied the era in which the action takes place, but this was the preliminary stage. The main source of his imagination was the music. In the music, Ershov found the answer to the questions: what is the inner world of the hero, what is his true character, which determines his motives? His facial expressions and gestures were inseparably connected to his singing, they were born from the music. Ershov was a talented painter and sculptor, and he remained so on stage. Every movement of his hands, every turn of the head and body were sculptural, an expression of the change of rhythms, moods, and colors of the composition. Thus he created an image so convincing that it seemed that the music came from the movements of the singer, and not vice versa.

For Ershov, as a singer and teacher, music was rich in imagery, and each interval, each note and pause had a special inner sense. Every detail of his depiction of Kuterma – the insolent grin of the drunkard, the heartrending scream of terror or the frenzied dance of the madman, accompanied by a piercing whistle – was a part of a greather whole. His facial expressions and gestures during a pause were as expressive as his singing, betraying what he heard in the sound of the orchestra. Memorable, for instance, the deprecatory gesture of Siegmund when rejecting the immortality of Valhalla. And equally unforgettable the movement of his hand grasping the sword to protect his beloved, and then by an extraordinary emotional and musical expression the transition to the solution – to kill sleeping Sieglinde, and then himself. Ershov could be lavishly generous and stingy on stage, but everything was determined by the perfect comprehension of the composer's intent, by ardent creative inspiration and by accurate calculation.

Ivan Ershov singsTannhäuser: Dir töne Lob & Dir, Göttin der Liebe
In RA format

Ivan Ershov singsSiegfried: Schmiede, mein Hammer, in Russian
In RA format

Ivan Ershov singsLes huguenots: Plus blanche que la blanche hermine, in Russian

Ivan Ershov singsLe prophète: Versez , in Russian
In RA format
I wish to thank Richard J Venezia for the recording (Tannhäuser).
The Huguenots recording is remastered from the transcription onss the fantastic website Russian Records.
I wish to thank Vladimir Efimenko for the recording (Prophète).


Fidelio – St. Petersburg, Conservatory, 1891–1893
Il matrimonio segreto – St. Petersburg, Conservatory, 1891–1893
Aida – St. Petersburg, Conservatory, 1891–1893
Die Zauberflöte – St. Petersburg, Conservatory, 1891–1893
Così fan tutte – St. Petersburg, Conservatory, 1891–1893
Faust – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 6 April 1893
Pagliacci (?) – Reggio Emilia, Comunale, 1 January 1894
Carmen (improbable) – Reggio Emilia, Comunale, 1894
Roméo et Juliette – Kharkiv, Opera, 1894/5
I puritani – Kharkiv, Opera, 1894/5
Ernani – Kharkiv, Opera, 1894/5
Samson et Dalila – Kharkiv, Opera, 1894/5
Knjaz Igor – Kharkiv, Opera, 1894/5
Rusalka – Kharkiv, Opera, 1894/5
Les huguenots – Kharkiv, Opera, 1894/5
Pesn torzhestvujushchej ljubvi (composer: Garteveld) – Kharkiv, Opera, 1894/5
Evgenij Onegin – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 31 August 1895
Tannhäuser – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 26 September 1895
Oresteja – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 17 October 1895
Noch pered Rozhdestvom/Christmas eve – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 28 November 1895
Dubrovskij – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 2 April 1896
Rogneda – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 16 April 1896
Zhizn za tsarja – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 1 Ocotber 1896
Mefistofele – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 3 December 1896
Esclarmonde – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 21 February 1897
La damnation de Faust – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 3 March 1897 (concert)
Oprichnik – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 2 September 1897
Le prophète – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 6 October 1897
Pagliacci – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 7 December 1897
Don Giovanni – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 22 January 1898
Feramors – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 15 September 1898
Rogneda – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 22 September 1898
Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 7 December 1898
Judif/Judith – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 14 March 1899
Saratsin/The Saracen (composer: Cui) – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 2 November 1899
Dalibor – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 30 December 1899
Tristan und Isolde – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 28 January 1900
Die Walküre – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 24 November 1900
Sadko – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 6 February 1901
Otello – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 15 November 1901
Der Freischütz – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 27 November 1901
Siegfried – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 4 February 1902
Servilija – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 1 October 1902
Die Götterdämmerung – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 20 January 1903
Mazepa – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 15 April 1903
Pskovitjanka – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 28 October 1903
Ruslan i Ljudmila – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 10 December 1904
Francesca da Rimini – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 5 January 1905
Lohengrin – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 8 September 1905
Snegurochka – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 8 November 1905
Das Rheingold – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 27 December 1905
Neron – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 24 October 1906
Skazanie o nevidimom grade Kitezhe i deve Fevronii – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 7 February 1907
Miranda – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 23 February 1910
Khovanshchina – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 24 October 1912
Skazka o tsare Saltane – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 2 March 1915
Carmen – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 2 February 1916
La muette de Portici – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 17 January 1917
Kaschchej bessmertnyj – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, February 1919
Samson – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 28 March 1923
Tsarskaja nevesta – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 6 December 1923
Les contes d'Hoffmann – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 15 March 1924
Salome – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 26 March 1924
Orlinyj bunt (composer: Pashchenko) – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 7 November 1925
L'amour des trois oranges – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 18 February 1926
Bajka pro lisu, petukha, kota da barana/Renard (Stravinsky) – St. Petersburg, Mariinskij, 4 April 1926
Reference: The Record Collector, December 1997
Reference: Ivan Ershov, Izdatelstvo iskusstvo, Leningrad/Moscow 1966
G & T, St. Petersburg 1903
94y   Huguenots (Meyerbeer): Plus blanche                                                022011
95y   Prophète (Meyerbeer): Pour Berthe/Versez! que tout respire			 022012
96y   Siegfried (Wagner): Schmiede, mein Hammer                                          022034
97y   Songs and dances of death (Musorgskij): Death of Field-Marshal                     022044
98y   O child, beneath thy window (Chajkovskij)                                          022035
99y   Sailors (Villebois) (w. Sharonov)                                                  024000

Columbia, St. Petersburg 1903/1904
35469 Prophète (Meyerbeer): Pour Berthe/Versez! que tout respire			 35469
35470 Otello (Verdi): Ora e per sempre addio                                             35470
35472 Tannhäuser (Wagner): Dir töne Lob/Dir, Göttin der Liebe                            35472
35473 Siegfried (Wagner): Schmiede, mein Hammer                                          35473

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