Pavel Lisitsian

The Times (London)
August 31, 2004, Tuesday

Pavel Lisitsian, operatic baritone, was born on November 6, 1911. He
died on July 6, 2004, aged 92. Russian singer regarded as one of
the best Verdi baritones of the postwar years but whose career was
limited by the Cold War

The Russian baritone Pavel Lisitsian convinced all those fortunate
enough to have heard him that, in the words of one admirer of his
recorded Amonasro in Aida, "he may well have been the best Verdi
baritone of the postwar years". His mastery extended far beyond
Verdi, both in the theatre and on the concert platform, but since his
appearances abroad were sorely restricted by the Second World War and
then by the Cold War and by the suspicion of foreign contacts that it
engendered in the Soviet authorities, his admirers outside the Soviet
Union had to content themselves, for the most part, with his records.

Of Armenian descent, Lisitsian was born Pogos Karapetovich Liseetsian
in Vladikavkas (Ordzhonikidze), near Grozny, the son of a mineworker.
Thinking to follow in his father's footsteps, he was apprenticed as a
welder. As a child he sang in church choirs, and after his voice broke
his singing as an amateur in workers' concerts soon brought his gifts
to wider attention. At length, backed by a local workers' co-operative,
in 1932 he entered the Leningrad Conservatory where he studied for
three years, during which he continued to work in a factory and also
took cello lessons. In Leningrad at that time memories were still fresh
of the methods of the pre-1914 Italian school exemplified by singers
such as De Luca and Stracciari, and later Lisitsian would always
describe himself to acquaintances as essentially an Italian singer;
certainly his command of legato and the beauty of his voice were among
the qualities that would have appealed to his Italian predecessors.

His first professional engagement as a soloist was at the Maly Theatre
in Leningrad in 1935, and in 1937 he was contracted as a principal
baritone by the theatre at Yerevan in Armenia. In 1940 he joined
the company of the Bolshoi in Moscow and remained there as a leading
member of the company until

he retired from the stage in 1966.

His success there was immediate, consistent and prolonged. In 1959
he sang Napoleon in the first complete performance of Prokofiev's War
and Peace to be staged in Moscow. It was conducted by Melik-Pashayev
with whom Lisitsian became particularly associated and who, according
to Galina Vishnevskaya, formed a core of favourite singers

who also included Andzhaparidze, Arkhipova, Petrov and Vishnevskaya
herself. Their performances of the great Verdi operas became legendary
in the postwar decade.

At the same time Lisitsian continued to appear frequently outside
Moscow, especially in Armenia, and he reckoned that during the war
he gave 500 or more concerts to serving Soviet troops.

The restrictions placed on his travels outside the USSR by a regime
always worried that their best people might defect have already
been mentioned. However, in the years of the post-Stalinist "thaw"
Lisitsian did make a tour of the USA when, in 1960, he appeared at
the Metropolitan Opera as Amonasro. But the Met at that time still
retained the services of, among others, Merrill, Warren, MacNeil,
Zanasi, Sereni and Bastianini, and Lisitsian's debut excited little
comment, favourable or unfavourable. Elsewhere he won good opinions,
especially in San Francisco, as much for his recitals of Russian and
Armenian songs as for his stage appearances. In 1963 he was heard
also in Western Europe, and was a member of the Bolshoi company which
visited La Scala, Milan, in 1964, where he sang Eletsky in The Queen
of Spades and Napoleon.

After retiring from the Bolshoi in 1966, he travelled widely and
successfully as a recitalist and was particularly pleased by the
popularity of the vocal quartet that he formed in 1970 with three
of his children. From 1967 to 1973 he also taught regularly at the
Yerevan Conservatory.

Lisitsian was a handsome presence on stage and an excellent actor.
His voice was a splendid, high lyric baritone, beautifully trained
and evenly produced throughout a range of two octaves which extended
easily to the high A, and without hint of fuzz or wobble.

His declamation was exemplary, being both clear and vivid, and was
allied to sure taste and musicality. If his voice was thought a little
small for Amonasro in so large a theatre as the Met, his powers of
projection were ample compensation.

Despite the relatively primitive technology of the Soviet recordings,
all these qualities can be admired on his records, sung invariably
in Russian. His Valentin in Faust, recorded in 1947, was described
by one critic as "simply a great piece of singing under impeccable
artistic guidance". Another wrote that Lisitsian's Valentin, "in
glorious voice, is the standard by which to judge the others".