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Olga Orlovskaya: A Singer Is Not Only a Voice
Olga Orlovskaya, a soloist of the Baltimore Opera Theater and Teatro Lyrico D'Europa, rarely speaks of her kinship with Feodor Chaliapin. The soprano is the great-great-granddaughter of the great bass. On the 140th anniversary of her famous ancestor Olga decided to organize a concert in the United States. It was held at the Strathmore Mansion near Washington DC.
“I felt the need to prepare such a concert, as here no one remembers that it is his anniversary year,” the singer said. She explains that the “Talents of the World” Foundation, with which Orlovskaya has been collaborating for many years, arranged similar programs in several dozen Russian cities, but Olga had been unable to participate in them due to her concert commitments in the United States. “However, in recent months I have sung a lot in Russia, so my connection with my home country is not lost,” she adds.
The program for the concert at the Strathmore Mansion included works penned by a wide variety of composers – Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, Dvorak, Cilea, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Schubert. “We didn’t attempt to delve into Chaliapin’s repertoire, as he was a bass-baritone and I am a soprano,” Orlovskaya said, explaining the selection. “Perhaps I would have preferred certain other works, but we based our choice on the fact that the public was anticipating a most diverse program, and thus we made it so that the most memorable arias would be performed.”
One of the core program pieces was the Russian folk song Nochenka, which was one of the exceptions made with a nod to Chaliapin’s repertoire.
“Nochenka has been with me since the first days of my life, and I loved it since childhood. And at first I didn’t know that my great-great granddad sang it. I simply liked this sad dramatic song. It was only later when reading the memoirs of Feodor Chaliapin that I realized that he sang it during the most difficult periods of his life when he moved about from theater to theater. He sang and he cried,” Orlovskaya says.
In essence this Nochenka song is the family heritage which recalls her ties with Chaliapin. “Feodor Chaliapin loved live and he had many women. It so happened that he is from the Tambov region and one woman there got pregnant from him, a woman of German descent. She died during childbirth but the baby was born healthy. Fortunately it was taken in and raised by other people. That was my great grandfather. He was the illegitimate son of Chaliapin,” explains Olga, sharing her family secrets.
According to Olga, her great-grandfather inherited his father’s surprising voice. He did not however take to the stage, preferring another way of serving people – working for the benefit of his local collective farm. His granddaughter, Olga’s mother, did however become a singer.
“In Russia I didn’t talk about our kinship with Chaliapin and first told the story in America. In an interview someone asked me who else sang in our family. I responded that my mother is a wonderful soprano, she is a choirmaster, and then there was this one performer – Chaliapin,” recalls Orlovskaya.
“Unfortunately we do not have any sort of rarities connected with Chaliapin’s name. Simply my grandmother was very similar in appearance to her grandmother, the German woman, and I always knew about our kinship with Feodor Chaliapin. I know this, but I haven’t ever sought out the opportunity to document this,” adds the singer, who performs on many stages across America, including the Boston Majestic Theatre, Wichita Grand Opera, Palm Beach Eissej Campus Theather, Palmetto Opera and others.
By her poignant intonation one gets the sense that Olga is very reverent of her great ancestor. She speaks of the time when he had to get through a very difficult period in his life. “I think that God watched over him and sent him the right people. He could have simply perished but fate helped him do what he was destined to,” she says.
Orlovskaya notes that the fame of her great-great-grandfather does not weigh upon her and does not hinder her from succeeding on the opera stage: “My friend Maria Maksakova is in a different situation: her mother is an actress and her grandmother. She, like many children of actors, has had moments when people have compared and wanted them to ‘correspond’. I don’t encounter this. To begin with, my great-great-grandfather is a rather distant relative albeit direct. Moreover he was a bass-baritone and I am a soprano, and we have different repertoires that cannot be compared. He could not perform my program and I could not do what he was able to do. I simply wanted to sing and I never had the aim of becoming a ‘star’. I am grateful to God for the voice he gave me.”
Orlovskaya, in addition to her career as a soloist is also engaged in teaching, and she firmly believes that anyone can sing. “Among my students there are some without a voice or an ear, and there have even been some with speech problems. I worked with them and now I can say that everyone has a voice: the question is how best to use it,” she says.
However, she says, “just a voice alone is not enough.” “A singer is not only a voice. It is a soul, it is books read, performances watched and experienced. Chaliapin had enormous talent for drama. This was the suffering which he had to endure, not only physical but spiritual. Feodor Chaliapin could get through to the audience from the stage,” Olga says.
In Russia Olga Orlovskaya was a soloist for the New Opera, Helikon-Opera and Novsibirsk Theater of Opera and Ballet. She got married and moved to the United States, where she began to perform in Baltimore and tour around various cities of America and Europe.
ITAR-TASS correspondent specially for the Russkiy Mir Portal