Rescuing a Russian Treasure

Commissioned by Count Nicholas Petrovitch Cheremetiev (1751–1809) at the close of the eighteenth century, Ostankino palace ranks among the most important surviving estates in the Russian Federation. The one-story neoclassical building is composed of a central pavilion, which is flanked by an Egyptian hall and an Italian hall along with a series of formal apartments and passageways. A man of the Enlightenment, Cheremetiev envisioned Ostankino as a “palace dedicated to the arts,” created by an extraordinary team of architects, artists, and craftsmen—many of whom were serfs of his estate. The result was an extraordinary neoclassical residence renowned for its concerts, receptions, and other lavish events. The first part of the palace to be completed, the theater, designed by the architects Alexei Mironov and Grigori Dikouchine—both serfs of the count—and built between 1790 and 1792, survives as a rare and striking example of eighteenth-century theater architecture. Although private, the theater, which had a crew of more than 160 and state-of-the-art equipment, was run as a professional enterprise, entertaining audiences with performances of works by some of the leading playwrights and composers of the day. We know that an opera by Andre Ernest Modeste Grétry was performed during the state visit of Czar Paul I just prior to his coronation in Moscow in 1797. Cheremetiev‘s passion for the theater carried over into his personal life. The count was in love with one of his serfs, an actress named Praskovia Kovaliova whom he had tutored in music and the dramatic arts since the age of 7 and who performed in his theater under the stage name “the Pearl.” He eventually married the actress, having granted her freedom.

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