Meyerhold Theater/Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Moscow

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The Meyerhold Theater, you ask? That’s right. It was never built. A project design was created in 1931-32 by Mikhail Barkhin, father of the great contemporary theater designer Sergei Barkhin. It went into construction and was slowly taking shape in the mid 1930s. There are a few photos out there of that process. But it never came to fruition. Meyerhold came under attack from the Soviet authorities at this time, coming under virulent attack in 1937. His friend and assistant Alexander Gladkov left behind a diary (published in 2013 in the Russian journal Nashe nasledie, or, Our Heritage) of this brutal year in Soviet history and he describes in chilling, minute detail the way everyone turned away from Meyerhold as the attacks mounted, and the way that every day people came to the theater where he was temporarily working, wondering if he would still be in charge. On August 26, 1937, Gladkov wrote, “An article appeared in Izvestia severely criticizing the project for the new GosTIM (State Meyerhold Theater) building. This is unequivocally another blow to Meyerhold.” On December 24 Gladkov wrote, “The death throes of GosTIM continue. The fact that its fate has not yet been decided officially gives rise to much talk and even a little hope. But the degree of abuse heaped on Meyerhold in the press only increases.” Meyerhold was arrested in June 1939 and was shot probably on February 2, 1940 in a basement in the NKVD headquarters in central Moscow. So what happened to the theater that should have housed the work of one of the greatest theater artists of all time? It was turned into a concert hall, with the corner section of the building straddling Triumphal Square and Tverskaya Street providing access to the Mayakovsky metro stop. And there we have something of interest to show you. Take a look at the second and third photos immediately below. They show a plaque describing the history of the building, but only part of its history, a whitewashed version of his history. We are informed here that the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall of the Moscow State Philharmonia was built between 1933 and 1940 by architects Dmitry Chechulin and K.K. Orlov (whose first name I haven’t discerned). But from Gladkov’s diary we know that at least as late as August 1937 this building was fully expected to be a theater. There is nothing on the plaque about Barkhin, nothing about the Meyerhold Theater, nothing about Meyerhold himself, who was murdered just as the building that should have housed his playhouse was christened as a concert hall. How’s that for bitter irony in a simple, informative historical plaque?

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Most of what had been erected for the Meyerhold Theater was rebuilt or reconfigured for its new purpose. There are, however, a few details left from the original plan. Look at the two photos of the interior below, for example. You’ll see a balcony fronted by columns with arches in the background. These were to be entryways/exits leading to actors’ dressing rooms backstage. The general Greek amphitheater feel of the hall was something Meyerhold wanted. The boxes were probably part of the original plan. So there you have it – a theater that never existed, built for a man who was murdered by the time it opened. It’s a sad and maddening story. And the reality of it is  buried deeply in a few random, hidden details that are there for the cognoscenti to appreciate – if “appreciate” is the word…

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