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This famous apartment building in Moscow was home to the actress Sofya Giatsintova for a staggering 54 years. She lived here, as the plaque says, from 1928 to 1982. Giatsintova, who was born in 1895 and died in 1982, is one of those names that constantly hovers over anyone working or studying in the sphere of Russian theater. She was educated at the young Moscow Art Theater and she began acting there in 1910, when she was 15 years old. Throughout her long career she worked at many prominent Moscow playhouses, including the Second Moscow Art Theater, the Mossovet Theater and Lenkom, where she was artistic director from 1951 to 1957 (some sources say 1952 to 1958).
The building at 12 Bryusov Lane is the very one into which Vsevelod Meyerhold and his wife Zinaida Raikh moved at the same time as Giatsintova and many other famous performers. In fact, the entire street may claim the greatest concentration of actors/artists/ composers/musicians/dancers/writers of all Moscow’s streets. If you read Russian you might be interested to take a look at the Russian Wikipedia entry on Bryusov Lane – it is packed with information.
Giatsintova’s name came from her first husband, a sailor who ended up emigrating to the United States during the Russian Civil War. Their marriage was later annulled and around 1924 – I haven’t pinned down the exact date – Giatsintova married the famous actor and director Ivan Bersenev. His plaque hangs a few window-frames away from Giatsintova’s. They remained together until 1949 when Bersenev left Giatsintova for the great ballerina Galina Ulanova. Bersenev died in 1951 at the age of 62.
The big Moscow Art Theater encyclopedia, published in 1998 on the occasion of the theater’s 100th anniversary, mentions that Giatsintova was born into an elite family. Her father was a professor and writer; her mother came from the Chaadayev family, hearkening back to the famous writer, philosopher and political prisoner Pyotr Chadayev.
That encyclopedia provides one of those pithy, encyclopedia-like descriptions of Giatsintova: “”G’s lyrical gift combined with taste and a vividly cheerful talent for character roles.” She also commanded, the encyclopedia tells us, a highly “expressive” quality with a penchant for the “grotesque.” This apparently served her well in productions like Alexander Afinogenov’s The Oddball, the famous dramatization of Andrei Bely’s novel Petersburg, and Deval’s A Prayer for the Living in the 1920s and ’30s. Like everyone else at the Second Moscow Art Theater, she had to move on when the theater was broken up by the Soviet government in 1936.
Her memoirs, Alone with my Memories, published posthumously and unfinished in 1985, are considered to be of great value for the rich information they contain about her early years. Her story of over 500 pages breaks off as the Second Moscow Art Theater is ending its life. In a long appreciation-afterword to the book, the great Soviet theater scholar Konstantin Rudnitsky writes, “Giatsintova commanded an inquisitive mind, a subtle power of observation, and a lively sense of humor that joyously illuminates some of the pages of her reminiscences.” He points out how her many stories of the pain of loss and death are usually colored with a detectable smile. The book has been reprinted many times since it first appeared.
One of the sadder chapters in Giatsintova’s life occurred in 1973, following the publication in Pravda of a text damning Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Giatsintova was one of a large number of famous Soviet artists and writers who jumped on the bandwagon to demonize Solzhenitsyn. Here is the short text she wrote: “I have never read anything by Solzhenitsyn, so I cannot judge his literary talents. But in a personal sense his behavior strikes me as disgusting. In general this whole story strikes me as revolting. It’s simply terrifying that such people live in our country.”
Not one of the great actress’s best moments. It’s galling. So few were able to stay off the bandwagons – bandwagons we still see rumbling up and down Russia’s streets today.