Natalya Il'inichna Sats (sometimes spelled Natalia Satz; Russian: Наталия Ильинична Сац; 27 August [O.S. 14 August] 1903 - 18 December 1993) was a Russian music teacher and director of the Moscow Musical Theater for Children, now named after her. Having been a victim of Soviet repressions, she pioneered the theater for children in Russia and received numerous awards for her work.
Sats was born in Irkutsk, Imperial Russia, where her father, Ilya Sats, was in political exile. Ilya Sats was a composer, who grew up in a Jewish family. He was a friend and protege of Leo Tolstoy. Her mother, née Anna Shchastnaya, was a singer and a daughter of a Ukrainian general. Although the parents met in Montpellier, they got married in Irkutsk, only after Natalya was born. The family moved to Moscow in 1904, when Ilya Sats became music director of the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT). After the October Revolution in 1917, Commissar of Education Anatoly Lunacharsky proposed to start a theater for the children and the MAT director Konstantin Stanislavsky recommended the 15-year-old Natalya Sats. After many stage successes, she received both Russian and international recognition. In 1931 conductor Otto Klemperer invited her to stage Wolfgang Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in Buenos Aires, and Giuseppe Verdi's Falstaff in Berlin. As the director of the Moscow Theatre for Children, Sats wished to produce a play which would introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra. She commissioned Prokofiev to write Peter and the Wolf and worked closely with him on its creation. Sats was ill at the time of its premiere, given under the auspices of the Moscow Philharmonic, on 2 May 1936, which according to Prokofiev was not a success. However, Sats was able to narrate its first performance in the Moscow Theatre for Children, held on 5 May, which proved a huge success and effectively launched the work. This musical piece, dedicated to Sats, has received a wide international success, was recorded over 400 times, and translated to a number of languages. Sats continued to narrate performances of Peter and the Wolf through the rest of her career.
In 1937, after the US ambassador attended one of her shows, she was arrested and taken to the Lubyanka prison. She refused to sign a confession, and was only sentenced to five years at a labor camp in Siberia. At the end of her sentence, she was not allowed to return to Moscow, and moved to Alma-Ata (now Almaty, Kazakhstan). There, she started a new theater for the children, which she directed for 13 years. After Joseph Stalin's death in 1953, Sats was fully rehabilitated and returned to Moscow in 1958. With the support of Russian cultural elite, she demanded to be given an opportunity to start a new theater for the children. After seven years, in 1965, Musical Theater for Children opened its doors. With her troupe, she traveled the world, performing in many countries and languages. She also wrote three books, including a two-volume autobiography Sketches from My Life, translated into English in 1985.
For her work, Sats received numerous awards, including USSR State Prize (1972), People's Artist of the USSR award (1975), Lenin Prize (1982), Hero of Socialist Labor medal (1983), and Lenin Komsomol Prize (1985). She was elected a member of USSR Union of Writers in 1962.
Sats died 18 December 1993, and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow next to her father. The Musical Theater for Children and the State Theater for Children in Almaty were then renamed in her honor. Sats' daughter, Roksana Sats, continues her work in the theater.
- Natalya Sats Biography, Chapter 1.
- See Find A Grave biography
- See Find A Grave biography
- Natalia Sats (1979) Sketches from my Life (trans. Sergei Syrovatkin). Raduga Publishers, Moscow: pp. 215-24
- 40th anniversary of the theater (in Russian)
- Natalya Sats, Sketches from My Life, vol 1, 1984.
- Biography (in Russian)
- Natalya Sats, a biography written by Robert Edwards on the Find A Grave website.
- Peter & The Wolf [VHS], Proscenium Entertainment, released February 26, 1996.
- Natalya Sats, 90, Dies; Children's Opera Head, obituary in The New York Times, December 22, 1993.
- Natalia Sats--Triumph of the Human Spirit, an essay.
- Short biography of Natalia Sats, on the Natalya Sats Musical Theater website.