Dear Gentlemen,

In this blog I have tried to assemble a list of prominent Soviet tenors – tenors behind the Iron Curtain – singers the careers of which went largely obscure from the Western public because of the political realities of the era they were part of – realities which dictated the detachment of the Soviet opera from its Western counterpart.
It just so happened that these times were the Golden Era of the Russian Opera, and the voices that were hidden behind the Iron Curtain were of a remarkable quality.
In addition to that, the revival of these voices in the West is also of much interest because of the unique character and the idiosyncratic nature of the Soviet school of operatic singing, which was different from the Western in many aspects.
By “voices behind the Iron Curtain” I mean those artists whose entire career or a significant part of it developed during the most ideologically radical years of the Soviet rule and the Soviet Union’s disconnection from the West, and not those who had already established a name for themselves in an earlier period, or those who have only started their way in Soviet Union’s very last days or are singing well into the present – both are more familiar to the Western public.
In cases of some of the singers the information and the recordings presented here is all that is left of them, and in some cases appears for the first time in the internet, or in English and for the Western public.

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Eduard Bagdasaryan (1928)




Born on 5th of February in the Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan in the city of Mary to the family of a construction worker. Acclaimed artist of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic
Started singing as a boy at a very young age. In 1941 with the beginning of World War II had to start working at odd jobs to support his family after his father and older brother were drafted. At the age of 19 was incidentally discovered as a talented amateur and began to attend a musical school and then the Baku city conservatory in the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan where he started studying with the famous singer Suzanna Mikaelyan that studied in Italy with Georgette Everardi
During his studies was a member of the Azerbaijani State Entertainment Association and a member of the Azerbaijani State Orchestra. Also sang on Radio. His debut was in a role of Trike in the staging of "Eugene Onegin" in the conservatory. At some point he was invited to Yerevan (Armenian Soviet Republic) and in 1954 became a soloist of  the Armenian Theater of Opera and Ballet, turning one of its leading singers. In 1968 started performing with the Armenian State Philharmonic Orchestra.
Won the second prize in 1957 Moscow World Youth Festival, the first prize going to another Armenian singer – Artur Aidinyan.
Received several state awards.
Gave concerts all over USSR. Toured abroad. Appeared in several motion pictures.
Died on the 6th of January 2015 in Yerevan, Armenia.


Lutfiyar Imanov (1928)






Born on 17th of April in the city of Petropavlovka (now Sabirabad). People’s artist of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan (1977).
First started to sing in school, and sang with its chorus in Sabirabad State Theater of Drama. In the age of 18 he created his own dramatic group.
In 1943 made his first amateur debut in Sabirabad State Musical Theater in the drama “A bride for five pennies”.
In 1948 started working as an art director in the Sabirabad City Culture Hall.
In 1957 graduated from the vocal department of the Zeinalla Baku city Musical College after three years of studies (class of A.Milovanov).
In 1954-56 he was a soloist of the Azerbaijani Radio Society, in 1956-57 - a soloist of Azerbaijani State Stage Orchestra, and in 1956-59 - a soloist of the Theater of Musical Comedy. In 1959 he also made his professional operatic debut in the main role in a play “Kerogly” by Uzeir Gadzibekov in Moscow.
From 1958 to his death he was a soloist of the Azerbaijani State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet.
In 1962 he enrolled into the Faculty of Theatrical Studies of the Azerbaijani University of Culture and Arts, graduating from it in 1968.
In 1965 he underwent an apprenticeship in the Bolshoi Theater and in 1975 – in La-Scala.
Starting from 1968 he sang in the main roles in more than 30 operas. Some of his best roles were Rhadames, Jose, Herman, Manrico, Othello, Duke, Faust, Cavaradossi.
In 1980 and 1985 he was elected to be a member of the High Soviet of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialistic Republic.
In 1987-1991 he was the chairman of the Azerbaijani Society of Theater Artists.
Along with his singing career, he was also teaching in Azerbaijani State Conservatory, where he was a professor, and in 1991-1995 – in the Musical schools of Istanbul and Izmir.
During the 1990-ies went to tours in Italy, Germany and Iran.
Was given the highest award of the Republic of Azerbaijan – the “Istiglal” sign.
Died in January 2008.

 


Murtuza Mamedov (1897)






Born on June 22nd in the village of Hanbagy, near the town of Shusha, Elizavetpolskaya province. Lyric-dramatic tenor. People’s artist of the Soviet Union (1938).
Born into a family of a tanner.
Already in his childhood for his exceptional voice and musical talent he received the nickname Bülbül, which means “nightingale” in Azeri, which stayed with him for his whole life.
In 1915 he was invited to sing in Tiflis, and astonished the famous Georgian singer Vano Saradjashvili. By 1916 he was already renown all over the Caucasus region. The same year he also sang in his first opera role.
He received his musical education in the Moscow conservatory (class of N.Speranski), also studied with V.Nikolskiy, finishing his studies in 1927. Then went to La-Scala, where he studied with G.Anselmi and R.Grani for four years.
The Italian journal “Arte Nostra” published an article about him, the “Colombia” record company approached him for recordings, many opera theaters around the world invited him to perform with them. It was said that his Italian pronunciation was perfect.
He had the opportunity to hear the legendary Russian tenor Sobinov when being in Moscow, and “could not get enough of him”, according to his words. When being in Italy he once spent all his money to go and hear Chaliapin sing. According to his words, after that experience he could not sleep the whole night and had profound visions of the essence of vocal art.
In the 1920ies he was one of the founders of the Azerbaijani national musical theater and opera, as well as its soloist, and also a folk singer.
One of the characteristic traits of his style was the combination of Azerbaijani folk motives with the traditions of Italian classical operatic singing. He was said to have a very gentle, light, swift, silver-like voice with a beautiful timbre. He could sing in both lyrical and dramatic roles.
He also was a very successful and colorful dramatic stage actor.
Became a laureate of the First all-USSR Competition of pianists, violinists, cellists and vocalists in Moscow in 1933.
From 1932 to 1961 - taught in Azerbaijani State Conservatory (from 1940 – professor).
His contribution to the gathering, studying and development of Azerbaijani folk music is enormous. For example, his articles are to this day being used as a basis for study books for Azerbaijani folk music, and the first study books for playing on the Azerbaijani folk instruments as tara, kemancha and balaban were written by him.
He also consulted the most prominent Azerbaijani composers in their work, and was many times the first and the main soloist in their operatic works. He has done a great deal to spread the Azerbaijani musical culture all over USSR.
In addition to that, he was one of the founders of the Azerbaijani Institute of Arts and Architecture.
Was also a deputy in first, second and third convocation of the High Soviet of the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialistic Republic.
Received the Stalin Premium (1950). The Medal of Lenin (1946, 1956), The Red Banner of Labor (1936, 1958), The Honor Sign (1938) and the Italian sign “Garibaldi Star”.
Died on 26th of September 1961 in Baku.
 



Avak Petrosyan (1912)





Born on March 29th in the village of Gyamrez (now the Abovyan region of Armenia). Lyric-dramatic tenor. People’s Artist of the Armenian Soviet Socialistic Rebublic (1956) and the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialistic Republic (1962).
Studied in the Moscow conservatory in 1940-1941 (class of K.N.Dorliak), and in Erevan conservatory (class of N.G.Kardyan), finishing his studies in 1942.
Starting from 1941 – soloist of the Opera and Ballet Theater of Armenia.
Among his roles: Manrico, Cavaradossi, Radames, Raoul, Saro (“Anush” by Tigranyan), Santur (“David-Bek” by Tigranyan), Ashug and Sheikh (“Almast” by Spendiarov), Tirit ("Arshak II" by Chuhadzhyan), Seyran (“Namus” by Hodza-Einatov).
Toured throught USSR.
Also gave concerts, and among his concert repertoire were more than 200 pieces, including Armenian folk songs and classical compositions.
Received the Stalin Premium (1951) for the part of Vagan in the play “Heroine” by Stepanyan.
Gave concerts abroad.
Died on 2nd of November in Yerevan.
 



Ivan Shvedov (1898)





Born on December 25th in the village of Liptsi, near the city of Kharkov. Acclaimed Artist of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialistic Republic (1940).
Studied in Kharkov Musical-Dramatic Institute in 1926-1931 (class of M.Chemezov).
In 1929-33 – soloist of the Kharkov Opera Theater, in 1933-36 – Odessa Opera Theater, 1936-43 – Kiev Opera Theater.
Had a beautiful and very musical voice of wide diapason, even in all registers, a very expressive artistic performance on stage.
Sang with the most famous Ukrainian soloists, like the legendary Oksana Petrusenko, and was one of the idols of the Ukrainian opera lovers.
Was one of the few carefully selected Ukrainian artists to go to Moscow for the “Celebration of the Ukranian Art” jubilee, where he was received with great enthusiasm.
Among his roles: Cavaradossi, Andriy (“Zaporozhez za Dunaem” by Gulak-Artemovsky), Petro, Andriy (“Natalka Poltavka”, “Taras Bulba” by Lysenko), Andriy (“Mazeppa” by Tchaikovsky), Davydov (“Podnyataya Zelina” by Dzerzhinskiy), Pavlo (“Perekop” by Rybalchenko, Meytus, Tiz), Enik (“The Bartered Bride” by Smetana).
In the beginning of the World War II he stayed at the German occupied territory, and continued to sing at the Kiev Opera Theater along with his wife, also a soloist of the Kiev Opera Theater – Sofia Yudina, even forced to sing in German. But he decided to leave the theater and went to Germany, and then to Italy. When he was there, he met with the professor Evgeniy Onatskiy, who was one of the most prominent figures of the Ukrainian community in Italy. When being there Shvedov gave a single concert, together with the other artists that escaped with him, and it had amazed Evgeniy Onatskiy to such a level that he begged him to go to trials in Rome’s Opera Theater. But Shvedov completely rejected that idea.
In 1950 Shvedov and his wife went to Argentina, where they gave some concerts from time to time, but this great singer never again enjoyed an operatic career.
Because of what happened during the World War II, the name and the recordings of Shvedov were completely erased from all Soviet books and archives.
Died on 28 of July 1959.
 



Sergey Danielyan (1929)





Born on 31st of July in Baku. People’s Artist of the Armenian Soviet Socialict Republic (1967).
In 1957 graduated from Baku Musical College.
In 1969 graduated from the Faculty of Directing of Yerevan Theatrical Institute.
In 1974 graduated from Yerevan conservatory.
In 1956 made his debut in Baku Opera Theater.
In 1957, for having extraordinarily beautiful voice he was invited to the Armenian Theater of Opera and Ballet, where he quickly turned one of its leading singers.
Among his roles: Herman, Manrico, Rhadames, Othello, Don Carlos, Richard, Canio, Cavaradossi, Jose, Tannhauser, Oedipus rex (“Oedipus rex”, I.Stravinsky), Ovod (“Ovod”), Alexey (“Optimisticheskaya tragediya”), Mindia (“Mindia”), Abovyan (“Abovyan”).
Gave concerts.
Made many tours abroad and received countless honorary awards and prizes.
From 1968 taught in the Komitas Yerevan State conservatory (professor), where among his students were many of the most famous present Armenian opera singers.
Died on 4th of December 2009 in Yerevan, and the ceremony of his burial was carried with state honors.
 



Tigran Levonyan (1936)




Born on December 14th in Beirut (Lebanon). People’s Artist of Armenia. 
Singer, actor and producer.
In 1958 graduated from Yerevan city Theatrical Institute. Also studied singing with his wife, the famous Armenian singer Goar Gasparyan.
Was a soloist of the Armenian Theater of Opera and Ballet and also gave concerts.
During his career he performed in leading roles in classical European and Armenian operas, among which were “Pagliacci”, “Troubadour”, “David Bek”, “Anush”, “Arshak the II”, “Siberian barber”.
Perfected his skills in La-Scala.
From 1991 was the director of the Erevan Theater of Opera and Ballet.
Was a professor in the Komitas Erevan State conservatory.
Died on 25th of June 2004 in Yerevan.
 


Kazis Gutauskas (1909)





Born on 4th of September in the village of Kitlyarishkay, Lithuania. Lyric-dramatic tenor. People’s artist of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (1959)
In 1939 graduated from Kaunas city conservatory (classes of of S.Marinisis and E.Vilinis).
In 1939-41 -  soloist of the opera troupe of the Big Theater in Caunas.
In 1941-44 - soloist of the opera troupe of Vilnius City Theater.
In 1944-64 – leading tenor of the Lithuanian Theater of Opera and Ballet. Also took part in some stagings during 1980-1990.
As a visiting singer he performed in the Opera Theaters of Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Minsk, Riga, and different theaters of the Caucasus Republics of the USSR.
Among his roles: Andrey (“Mazepa”), Shuyskiy (“Boris Godunoff”), Don Karlos, Alfred, Rhadames, Cavaradossi, Rudoph (“The Boheme”), Jose, Faust, Lutauras (“Grazhina” by Karnavichius), Vashkis (“Marite” by Rachunas).
As a concert singer participated in the performance of the 9-th symphony by Beethoven,  the Requiem by Verdi, Stabat Mater by Rossini, the cantatas “Soviet Lithuania” by Rachunas, “Marina Melnikayte” by Klenickis.
From 1963 – taught in the Vilnius Musical School of U.Talyat-Kalpshi.
Died on 10th of October in Vilnius.


Tengiz Zaalishvili (1928)





Acclaimed artist of the Georgian Soviet Socialistic Republic.
His parents were of noble descent, and during the period of Stalin's mass terror were first sent to jail in 1937 and then driven out of their home, having to survive in harsh conditions.
His father had a tenor voice, and his mother was a soprano. They had a habit to sing together and invite quests to their house, even during the hardest of times.
When he was a child, Tengiz was surrounded by traditional Georgian music, and many new Soviet-style songs.
While in school he was the school’s choir soloist, and when the choir participated in an important contest, his singing drew the attention of some prominent figures.
After that he went to a special school for musically gifted children, where he studied with many future famous singers, such as Lamara Chkonia, Mamia Khatelishvili, Nodar Kvernadze.
In 1956 he graduated from the Tbilissi city conservatory (class of S.Inashvili), and started to sing on the Radio. Becoming very famous, he tried his luck in operatic singing, but his first attempts were not very successful. Nevertheless, after some work, he finally reached his goal and became one of the stars of Georgian Opera, singing there from 1959. His favorite plays were "La Traviata" and "Eugene Onegin".
Made tours abroad, including the USA.