Ivan Vsevolozhsky

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Ivan Vsevolozhsky, before 1908

Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky (Russian: Иван Александрович Всеволожской; 1835–1909) was the Director of the Imperial Theatres in Russia from 1881 to 1898 and director of the Hermitage from 1899 to his death in 1909.

A competent administrator, Vsevolozhsky ran the Imperial Theatres with a determination for excellence. In 1886, Vsevolozhsky initiated two major reforms for the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres, namely the relocation of the Imperial Ballet and Opera from the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre (deemed unsafe by 1886) to the Mariinsky Theatre, and the abolition of the post of First Imperial Ballet Composer, a post previously held by such composers as Léon Minkus and Cesare Pugni.


History has not been generous to Vsevolozhsky. Though unknown to most people, even those in the arts, it was he who brought about the very existence of such world-famous ballets as The Sleeping Beauty (Tchaikovsky/Petipa) and The Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky/Ivanov).

In 1889, he duly instructed the Imperial Balletmaster Marius Petipa to choreograph a full-length ballet to the story La Belle au Bois Dormant, or The Sleeping Beauty for a premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre. He successfully obtained the most famous Russian composer to write the score for it, one Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Vsevolojskoy wrote the libretto himself; in his career, he had been both a playwright and an essayist and was also a talented artist capable of designing costumes for the theater. Because of his vision, The Sleeping Beauty ballet (1890) is said to have had the most expensive and elaborate scenery and costumes ever seen on any stage before—and in all likelihood, since.

Ivan Vsevolozhsky in traditional costume, 1903
Ivan Vsevolozhsky, circa 1895

A great admirer of Tchaikovsky's music, Vsevolozhsky was also instrumental in bringing to the stage three of that composer's later operas, namely The Enchantress (1886), The Queen of Spades (1889 – with libretto after Pushkin by the composer's brother, Modeste Tchaikovsky), and Iolanta (1892 – also with libretto by Modeste Tchaikovsky.) Iolanta (sometimes written as Iolanthe) was commissioned expressly by Vsevolozhsky as the first part of a two-act gala evening which would conclude with a ballet called The Nutcracker. This two-act ballet was intended to showcase the choreography of Imperial Ballet Master Marius Petipa but eventually had to be created by the assistant balletmaster, Lev Ivanov, due to Petipa's failing health at the time. The premiere of Iolanta and The Nutcracker on December 6, 1892 was a mild success and prompted the famous composer to believe that it would enjoy some popularity for 'at least a couple of years.'.

It was Vsevolozhsky who designed the original costumes for both of Tchaikovsky's last two ballets, The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and The Nutcracker (1892)

In 1899 Vsevolozhsky become director of the Hermitage Museum until his death in 1909. He was married to Ekaterina Dmitrievna née Volkonsky, grand daughter of Feld Marshall Prince P.M. Volkonskoy (1776–1852) under Tsar Alexander I and participated of the battle of Auterlitz against Napoleon.



Further reading[edit]

  • Marion Kant: The Cambridge Companion to Ballet. Cambridge University Press, 2007
  • Debra Craine, Judith Mackrell: The Oxford Dictionary of Dance. Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 330