Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Firebird - Lydia Vertinskaya

Lydia Vertinskaya, Sirin ("Sadko," 1952)

In 1940, in Shanghai, China, a fateful meeting took place, between Alexander Vertinsky, who had been singing his way across the globe since the Russian Revolution, and a 16-year-old half-Georgian emigre, who was born in Harbin. From the memoirs of Lydia Vertinskaya:

"Once on a Paschal evening, we were invited to listen to Vertinsky. Until that time I had known Vertinsky only through his records and was a fan, but had never seen him myself. So we arrived at the cabaret, 'Renaissance.' The half-dark hall was filled with cigarette smoke....Onto the stage walked a pianist. And next to him, a man in an elegant black tuxedo. Vertinsky! How tall he was. His face was not young. His hair was parted smoothly. The profile of a Roman patrician! In an instant, he took the quieted hall in hand and sang. His performance had a great impression on me. His slender, fantastically expressive hands, his manner of bowing, always a little sloppy...the lyrics of his songs, where every word and phrase, pronounced by him, sounded beautiful and elegant. I had never heard someone speak the Russian language in such a remarkable manner, the words struck me with their rich intonation.

"I was enchanted and taken into a sweet prison....In him...was such a worthiness, an actor's pride! But at that moment I felt only sorry for him. I was young, inexperienced, had not known life, but I wanted to defend him. ... And all of my unaroused tenderness and love - I was ready to give to him. To give with joy. Because there is no one better than him.

"By lucky chance, just behind our table were sitting his friends. He came near and we were introduced. I said, 'Sit down, Alexander Nikolaevich.' He sat, and later said many times, 'I sat and stayed forever.'

"He called himself 'a prisoner of the Caucasus," he liked it very much that I was half-Georgian, because he had always loved Georgians. He asked me what the Georgians call me. I answered, "Lila." Alexander Nikolaevich smiled. "How wonderful. I will call you Lila, but you will then call me Sandro."

Lila and Sandro
Alexander Vertinsky wrote several poems about his "Lila." Here is an excerpt from her favorite one:


She is with me like an icon--
Forever. And ever.
Resembling a eaglet
Fallen from her nest,
like a young eaglet
torn off the cliffs,
with a ringing voice
I heard in some dream.
Her glance like a bird
on a mountain-top
when the green fire of dawn
transforms its eyes to flame...


Она у меня, как иконка -
Навсегда. Навсегда.
И похожа она на орленка,
Выпавшего из гнезда.
На молодого орленка,
Сорвавшегося со скал,
А голос ее звонкий
Я где-то во сне слыхал.
И взгляд у нее - как у птицы,
Когда на вершинах гор
Зеленым огнем зарницы
Ее озаряют взор..

Vertinsky wedding, 1942

With one of their daughters

....and so it was that Vertinsky, whose plaintive voice and languid manner had charmed fans around the world, from Marlene Dietrich to Rachmaninoff to Stalin (when Vertinsky was inevitably blacklisted by Soviet bureaucrats, Stalin removed him from the list personally),  found, at last, in Lydia Tsirgava, a place of strength and refuge. In 1943, their first daughter was born on a train to Shangai, then, the small family was given permission to return to Russia. Vertinsky extended his artistry beyond the cabaret, to entertain Soviet audiences until his last breath. The fates of all of "his girls" became subsequently entangled with the history of the Soviet (and then Russian) theater and cinema.

Lydia Vertinskaya, starring in a Soviet film.

Anastasia and Marianna Vertinskaya

Alexander Vertinsky passed from this earth in 1957 in St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia.

Sandro's "Lila" lived to the ripe age of 90, when she succumbed to illness on December 31, 2013. She was buried in Novodevichy Convent with much decorum.

Anastasia Vertinskaya, in the role of Ophelia

  • Marianna Vertinskaya

A close-up of Lydia Vertinskaya as Sirin/Firebird

the song of a shell sapphire melting inside jade a color unnamed Ofra Haza's version of this song defies categoriz...

popular on this site