Dmitri Smirnov (tenor)
|Born||Dmitri Alexeyevich Smirnov
November 19, 1882
Moscow, Russian Empire
|Died||April 27, 1944
Dmitri Alexeyevich Smirnov (Russian: Дмитрий Алексеевич Смирнов, November 19 [O.S. November 7] 1882 – April 27, 1944) was a leading Russian operatic tenor with a lyric voice and a bravura singing technique.
A Muscovite, Smirnov was a student of Emiliya Pavlovskaya and Alexander Dodonov. He made his début in St Petersburg in 1903 as Gigi in Eugenio Domenico Esposito's La Camorra. The venue was the Hermitage Theatre. In 1904, Smirnov became a member of the Bolshoi company in Moscow, singing there until 1910. He then sang at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, from 1911 to 1917. (He had first appeared at the Mariinsky in 1907.)
Smirnov made his French début at the Paris Opéra in 1907. His successful Parisian performances led to an invitation for him to appear at the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang in 1911-12. Competition from the celebrated international tenors Enrico Caruso and John McCormack, who were also singing at the Met at that time, resulted in Smirnov's achieving limited success with New York audiences. In 1914, he performed in the "Russian Seasons" at London's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He would not sing in the United States again except for two performances of Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades with the Washington National Opera—a semi-professional company not related to its present namesake—in 1926.
The tenor left his native land after the Russian Revolution of 1917, preferring to continue his career in the West. Among the cities which he visited were Berlin, Monte Carlo, Milan, Rome, Madrid and Buenos Aires. In 1929, he returned to the Soviet Union for a concert tour. Smirnov gave his last recitals during the 1930s. He taught singing in London and Athens and later retired to Riga (then USSR, now Latvia), where he died during the Second World War, aged 61.
Smirnov was equally comfortable performing lyric roles in Russian, French or Italian opera. His voice was plaintive in tone with easy high notes, great breath control, and a distinctive vibrato that might not appeal to the taste of every modern-day listener. Smirnov's main tenor rivals in Moscow and St Petersburg prior to the 1917 Revolution had been Leonid Sobinov (1871-1934) and Ivan Yershov (1867-1943). Yershov undertook heroic parts such as Siegfried and Otello which Smirnov never attempted, but Sobinov's repertoire was similar to that of Smirnov.
Smirnov left an estimated 90 recordings, the first made circa 1909 and the last around two decades later. Many of these recordings are available on CD reissues by various labels. They confirm his stature as one of the best Russian operatic tenors of the past 120 years—and perhaps the most imaginative artist among them. Nonetheless, his extremely individual singing style can sometimes strike 21st-century ears as being eccentric or self-indulgent.
- McPherson, Jim, "Mr. Meek Goes to Washington: The Story of the Small-Potatoes Canadian Baritone Who Founded America’s 'National' Opera," The Opera Quarterly, volume 20, no. 2, Spring 2004
- Warrack, John and West, Ewan (1992), The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5
- Holdridge, Lawrence F., (1996), Liner notes to Dmitri Smirnov, Pearl compact disc, Gemm CD 9241
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- Answers.com biography
- Historic opera website short biography
- History of the Tenor - Sound Clips and Narration