In memory of Galina Vishnevskaya

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A grand Gala concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre and in memory of the great Vishnevskaya herself, featuring a repertoire of much loved Russian and Western Classics. Established in 2002 by the legendary Russian singer Galina Vishnevskaya, the Opera Centre provides professional training for talented young singers from Russia and abroad.

After graduation many of their students have gone on to become soloists of the leading opera houses of Russia and Europe. To date the centre has staged ten opera productions and numerous concerts as well as being represented at many opera festivals over the past eleven years since it opened and completing successful tours of Belgium, Hungary, Germany, France, Italy, Mexico, and South Africa, to name a few.

The great Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya was born Galina Pavlovna Ivanova in 1926, in Leningrad (now St Petersburg). Abandoned by her parents and raised by her grandmother, Galina’s early life was hard. During the Second World War, she joined the resistance effort to defend Leningrad from the Nazis – for which she was later decorated for her courage – and had a brief, unhappy marriage to Navy officer Georgi Vishnevsky, keeping the surname after their divorce. In 1944, after the city’s liberation, she joined a small operetta company led by Mark Rubin, who became her second husband. They had one son who died in infancy. The couple toured together for several years, but the marriage again proved unsuccessful.

Then in the early 1950s, Galina Vishnevskaya’s star was at last in the ascendant. She joined the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and married her life partner, the cellist, pianist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich (known as ‘Slava’) with whom she had two daughters. She became one of the world’s most celebrated divas, acclaimed from Moscow to New York at a time when most Soviet artists were unheard of in the West. She and Rostropovich made a substantial contribution to cultural life during the ‘Khrushchev thaw’ – the decade of relative liberality that followed years of Stalinist oppression.

This period of artistic flowering came to an abrupt end with the arrest of Khrushchev in 1964. Ten years of struggle against dictatorship followed, during which Vishnevskaya and Rostropovich remained outspoken critics of repression, and risked their own freedom to hide their friend Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from the authorities. In 1977 they fled to the United States, where Rostropovich was appointed Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) in Washington, a post he kept for the next seventeen years. Vishnevskaya undertook numerous concert tours, directed opera productions and published her memoirs. Galina: a Russian Story became an international bestseller.

In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev restored their citizenship, enabling Vishnevskaya and Rostropovich and to return home in time to witness the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. They quickly re-established themselves as major cultural, political and intellectual figures of the new Russia. In 2002, Vishnevskaya opened her own opera theatre in Moscow, dedicated to training the opera stars of the future, and at the age of 80 starred in Aleksandr Sokurov’s film Alexandra, as a grandmother determined to visit her grandson in a Chechen army camp.

Galina Vishnevskaya received many honours and awards during her long career, both at home and in her adoptive countries – including People’s artist of the USSR, the Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur of France, and the Order for Merit to the Fatherland (four times). But she was always most proud of the medal she received in defence of Leningrad, when she was still just a teenager. Galina Vishnevskaya died at home in Russia aged 86, on 11 December 2012. She was laid to rest in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.


13 October 2013


Cadogan Hall, London


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