Saved Against All Odds

Meyerhold’s
“Masquerade” is considered to be the most mysterious of all Russian dramas. Miraculously,
almost all “Masquerade’s” costumes, along with some sets and furniture,
survived the turbulent 20th century and can now be seen on the top floors of the
Alexandrinsky Theater in the Museum of Russian Drama. “Masquerade’s” curtains have
even been displayed on stage for special events. And the production ran for
almost twenty-five years, even after 1940 when Meyerhold was labeled an enemy of the people and imprisoned, and his
name was removed from the theatrical credits. Leonid Vivyen, Alexandrinsky’s Theater director,
and Yuri Yuryev, the leading actor who played Arbenin, managed to keep the show
running. The last version of the play was released under Yuryev’s name, whose status
as People’s Artist of the U.S.S.R. saved the show from censorship.

During a
bombing raid in the beginning of autumn 1941, an incendiary bomb damaged the theater’s
warehouse where the “Masquerade” sets were kept. For many years, it
was thought that the decorations had been destroyed. But this was just the
official version promoted by the Soviet authorities, a convenient explanation
of why the show was no longer performed. In reality, only a few pieces were
destroyed during the fire and the rest were safely preserved. Shortly after the
war, after receiving a report about the condition of the play’s props, Leonid Vivyen
issued his now legendary resolution: “Preserve forever.”

“The
general public believed that “Masquerade’s” legacy was gone forever. Only after
Meyerhold’s rehabilitation in 1955 did the Alexandrinsky Theater announce that
many of the items survived: parts of the stage decorations, curtains, costumes,
and pieces of furniture. In 1974, during the celebration of Meyerhold’s 100th anniversary,
the famous “Masquerade” curtain was solemnly unveiled on the same stage. “People who had been lucky enough to see the
original show wept,” Chepurov said.

New
Life for an Old Masterpiece

For a
century, the myths and ghosts of “Masquerade” have lived in the walls of the Alexandrinsky
Theater. But it was Valery Fokin, director of the theater and the current president
of the Meyerhold center in Moscow, who first came up with the idea of reviving
Meyerhold’s show. Chepurov said that, “It was obvious that Meyerhold’s complex performance
couldn’t be repeated. Fokin wasn’t sure if the mystic images of ‘Masquerade’
could be recreated and make sense in the modern context. So several years ago,
before the 200th anniversary of Lermontov’s birth, Fokin suggested a
reincarnation of the show – a new performance which would suggest Meyerhold’s
images and be in dialogue with that iconic artistic work.”

Fokin’s
show “Remembrance of the Future” will have its premiere in Moscow in September.
It opens with a ghostly scene: Golovin’s
masquerade costumes step out of glass cases and prance about the stage, as if
the theater’s museum is coming to life. It is an image both mystical and
enchanting. The show is accompanied by
audio recordings of Meyerhold’s “Masquerade,” vintage photographs and footage. Careful research of archive documents was undertaken
by Fokin and his team in order to recreate the scenery of the performance, the
light and sound —the whole atmosphere of the period. Yuri Yuryev’s notes on the
Arbenin’s lines helped the actors to recreate the original “music” of
Meyerhold’s dialogues with the right intonation and pauses.

Fokin has created a new
detailed director’s script. New music was developed by composer Alexander
Bakshi, who used the supporting music of the original audio recording written
by the acclaimed musician Alexander Glazunov. Old pictures of “Masquerade”
actors helped ballet-master Igor Kachayev to recreate the play’s choreography. Set
designer Semyon Pastukh used Golovin’s images and sketches as the basis for his
new designs.

Fokin’s
“Remembrance of the Future” is a dialogue between Meyerhold and Lermontov, between
the past and the future. “Fokin suggests that we turn to the past to foresee
the times ahead. Lermontov felt pain for the
distortion of human ideals, by the masquerade of illusory passions, when real
human faces are hidden behind cold masks. He felt that a world with no truth
and sincerity could not continue to exist,” says Chepurov. “This became a
prophetic metaphor for Meyerhold’s play — a masquerade of an entire historical
era. Today when tensions are high and the world is seeking redemption, we feel
that Lermontov’s ideas are as relevant as ever.”