Dmitri Nabokov

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Dmitri Vladimirovich Nabokov (Russian: Дми́трий Влади́мирович Набо́ков; May 10, 1934 – February 23, 2012[1][2]) was an American opera singer and translator. He was the only child of author Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Vera, and was in his later years the executor of his father's literary estate.

Early life and education[edit]

Dmitri Nabokov was born on May 10, 1934, in Berlin. He was the only child of Vladimir Nabokov and Véra Slonim Nabokov. Due to Nazi Germany's growing political and social repression and the likelihood that the regime might target the family (His mother was Jewish), the family fled to Paris in 1937, and emigrated to New York City in 1940.[3] Subsequently, Nabokov was raised in the Boston area during the years that his father both taught at Wellesley College and served as curator of lepidoptery at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology. When his father took a teaching job at Cornell University, Dmitri lived in Ithaca, New York.

In 1951, Nabokov entered Harvard College, where he was a resident of Lowell House. Nabokov studied History and Literature. Although he scored high on the LSAT and was accepted to Harvard Law School (while still an undergraduate), Nabokov declined admission because he was searching for a vocation. Nabokov graduated cum laude in 1955. He studied singing (bass) for two years at the Longy School of Music. Nabokov then joined the U.S. Army as an instructor in military Russian and as an assistant to a chaplain.[4] He was also an important photographer, and his portraits of literary figures are widely published.


Nabokov translated many of his father's works, including novels, stories, plays, poems, lectures, and letters, into several languages. One of his first translations, from Russian to English, was Invitation to a Beheading, under his father's supervision. In 1986, Dmitri published his translation of a novella previously unknown to the public. The Enchanter (Volshebnik), written in Russian in 1939, was deemed "a dead scrap" by Vladimir Nabokov and thought to have been destroyed. The novella has some similarities to Lolita; consequently (though Dmitri did not agree with this assessment) it has been described as the Ur-Lolita ("The Original Lolita"), a precursor to Nabokov's best-known work.[5]

He also collaborated with his father on a translation of Mikhail Lermontov's novel, A Hero of Our Time.[6]

In 1961 Nabokov made his operatic début by winning the Reggio Emilia International Opera Competition, basso division, singing the role of Colline in La bohème (which was also the début of his fellow cast member Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo; Pavarotti won the tenor competition).[7] Among the highlights from his operatic career are performances at the Gran Teatre del Liceu with the soprano Montserrat Caballé and the tenor Giacomo Aragall.[8]

In 1968 he was cast in the movie Una jena in cassaforte, the set of which was Villa Toeplitz, in Varese, [9] (A Hyena in a Safe) , by director Cesari Canevari. The cast also included Maria Luisa Geisberger, Ben Salvador, Alex Morrison, Karina Kar, Cristina Gaioni and Otto Tinard.

In 1980, Nabokov, also a semi-professional racecar driver, was driving a competition-model Ferrari 308 GTB when he crashed in Chexbres on an autoroute linking Montreux and Lausanne. He not only suffered third-degree burns over 40% of his body, but fractured his neck. Nabokov has said that he temporarily died: "[I am] enticed by a bright light at the far end of the classic tunnel, but restrain myself at the last instant when I think of those who care for me and of important things I must still do."[10] The injuries suffered in the crash effectively ended his operatic career.

As executor of his father's literary estate, Nabokov wrestled for 30 years over whether to publish his father's final manuscript, The Original of Laura.[11] It was published by Knopf on November 16, 2009.

In celebration of Vladimir Nabokov's centenary in 1999, Dmitri appeared as his father in Terry Quinn's Dear Bunny, Dear Volodya, a dramatic reading based on the personal letters between Nabokov and literary and social critic Edmund Wilson, whose words were read by William F. Buckley. Performances took place in New York City, Paris, Mainz, and Ithaca.

Several of Dmitri Nabokov's other publications were written under a pen name that he never revealed.[12]

Later life and death[edit]

Despite "an active, colorful love life",[13] Dmitri was a lifelong bachelor and had no children. In his later years he lived in Palm Beach, Florida, and Montreux, Switzerland. He died in Vevey, Switzerland on February 23, 2012.[14][15]


  1. ^ Slotnik, Daniel E. (February 25, 2012). "Dmitri Nabokov, Steward of Father's Literary Legacy, Dies at 77". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "Dmitri Nabokov, dernier gardien des secrets de son père, est mort". Le Monde. 2012-02-27. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  3. ^ "I Will Sing When You’re All Dead" The Morning News, November 8, 2008. Link to Article
  4. ^ "Nabokov Carries on Father's Legacy," The Harvard Crimson, 6 August 2005. Link to Article
  5. ^ Nabokov, Dmitri. "On a Book Entitled The Enchanter". The Enchanter 1986: 85, 107, 109.
  6. ^ Lermontov, Mikhail (1841). A Hero of Our Time. Translated by Vladimir Nabokov, in collaboration with Dmitri Nabokov (1958 ed.). Anchor Books.
  7. ^ "La Bohème Discography." OperaGlass. 08 Dec 2003. 20 Aug 2006 Link to Article
  8. ^ "Dmitri Nabokov Interview with JOYCE." NABOKV-L. 10 November 2003. Link to Article
  9. ^ Comune di Varese (June 2018). "Progetto di valorizzazione del Parco di Villa Toeplitz". Rotary Club Varese Verbano. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  10. ^ Halpern, Daniel, editor, Our Private Lives: Journals, Notebooks, and Diaries, The Ecco Press, 1998, p. 318.
  11. ^ Rosenbaum, Ron (February 27, 2008). "Dmitri Nabokov turns to his dead father for advice on whether to burn the author's last, unpublished manuscript". Slate. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  12. ^ Swaim, Don (14 October 1986). "Audio Interview with Dmitri Nabokov" (Podcast). Wired for Books. Event occurs at 32:00. Archived from the original on 19 March 2012. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  13. ^ Boyd, Brian (1993). Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years. Princeton University Press. p. 419. ISBN 0-691-06797-X. Retrieved 2012-02-24.
  14. ^ Obituary at
  15. ^ Been there - Obituaries (Harvard Class of 1955) Archived September 3, 2011, at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]