This is one of my favorite homes in Moscow. Even in a city with lots of original old buildings, this one has more authenticity and personality than most. In part that is because the people who maintain the Maria Yermolova home museum at 11 Tverskoi Boulevard have done a fine job of keeping the “home” in the “museum.” When you walk around the rooms, beautifully furnished and generously outfitted with live house plants, you really feel as though Yermolova will return home any minute following rehearsal or a performance. But it also has to do with the house itself, its architectural style. I love the small-pane bay window in front, something you’re more likely to see in Boston than in Moscow. I love the few steps you take down to enter the building from a lower level. I love the unexpected colors and the small decorative details. It was originally built in 1773 by a member of the Masons, and secretive Masonic orders met here regularly in the early years. It was even said that a murder or a suicide was committed here at one point, thus giving rise to stories of a ghost haunting the home’s chambers. The house was purchased by Yermolova’s husband, a wealthy lawyer, in 1889, the year my maternal grandmother was born.
Yermolova (1853-1928) was one of the first great Russian actresses, and probably the first to reach her level of renown. She was a star at the Maly Theater (during her prime years the Maly was the only major playhouse in town, with only three to five other theaters providing dramatic entertainment), and she was the first to have a theater named after her – the Yermolova Theater in Moscow in 1925. (St. Petersburg’s Komissarzhevskaya Theater, founded in 1942, was named after Yermolova’s great contemporary Vera Komissarzhevskaya.) Here and there you can read that Yermolova was inconsistent, that on any given night she might be brilliant or she might not be. I don’t know about that. Sounds like malarkey to me. I suggest it’s more likely that the people making comments like that were more or less attentive on the so-called “given nights,” giving rise to pointless, subjective conclusions about the actress’s work.
It’s possible that the Yermolova House holds the record for plaques hanging on its outer walls. There are three. The first two you see below are of the traditional type – the first identifying the building as the place where the great artist lived, the second identifying it as a building of note maintained by government funds. The third is the most interesting. It has a lovely lack of officiality about it.
NEXT DAY ADDITION: My friend Svetlana Gladtsyna wrote the following comment on my Facebook post announcing this little blog. It’s so interesting I had to add it:
Just a couple of remarks if I may. This house is situated in the area called “Kozikha” ( named after the two Kozikhinsky bystreets – Bolshoy and Maly), which was a kind of Moscow Latin Quartier, because most of the dwellers there were lecturers, musicians and students. The reason for that was that the biggest and most famous Moscow educational institutions – University and Conservatoire were under a few minutes’ walk from the area. And since the Maly Theater was also nearby, quite a few actors lived there too (e.g. Ostuzhev, Sumbatov-Yuzhin and some others). Maria Yermolova’s house was known among the Muscovites as the ‘Pink Window Glass House’. It was stated that the actress had poor eyesight (a very dangerous case for acting!) and doctors advised her to have specially made glass of the pink color put in her room window (it is still there, as a matter of fact). This district is believed to have been the least dangerous and the most democratic one in the city. (A ‘freak’ entrepreneur Savva Morozov also used to own a mansion there). When it comes to Yermolova’s ‘histrionic powers’, I would dare remember the words of the Russian satire writer of the late XIX-early XX centuries, the so-called ‘King of the Russian Feuilleton” , Vlas Doroshevich: “When she is making ‘varenje’ (the Russian-style berry or fruit jam) on the stage, you get the feeling she is making it from her own liver.” Well it was a sort of joke of course. According to her contemporaries, she was truly the favourite actress among the then Moscow theater-goers. After her death, the funeral service took place in the Bolshoye Voznesenie Church, where Alexander Pushkin married Natalia Goncharova. And there were lots of people who wanted to say their last and sad farewells to her… Well, hope all this is not too boring…