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Galina: a Russian Story Paperback – 1 Oct 1985


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Product details

  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Publishers Ltd College Publishers (1 Oct. 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156343207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156343206
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 661,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

The world-renowned diva describes her life in the Soviet Union, her marriage cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, her operatic career, and their departure from Russia, in an account of artistic life in the USSR.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By GlynLuke TOP 100 REVIEWER on 2 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
It has taken me many weeks since I read this staggering book to feel ready and able to review it.
Galina Vishnevskaya (now in her mid-80s) was the Soviet Union`s most highly praised and prized soprano in the mid-twentieth century, until 1974, when she and her husband, the internationally acclaimed cellist Msitislav `Slava` Rostropovich, were `permitted` by the particularly virulent regime in place at the time to move abroad, effectively exiling themselves from their place of birth, something Galina & Slava never wanted or asked for. As dedicated artists, all they wished was to be allowed to practise their considerable art in peace, but in the philistine, paranoid era that Soviet Russia was then enduring, no such thing was possible unless you were a passive puppet of the regime or a paid-up Communist Party member. They were neither. Far from it.
This lengthy, beautifully written, furious and searingly candid book - both the autobiography of a remarkable woman and a biography of her time - takes us from her childhood in the 1920s/30s up to the 1970s, taking in her first steps as a singer (first of all in popular touring operetta, which proved a priceless training ground for the young, ambitious Galina) and an early marriage; her first few meetings with the impulsive Slava, who, endearingly, behaved like any besotted suitor, until she relented - they soon married, and were together till his recent death aged 80; their close friendships with Shostakovich, who comes across as a thoroughly lovable, self-deprecating bear of a man, as frustrated with Soviet stupidity as anyone; and Solzhenitsyn, who holed up in the grounds of their dacha for a few years, where he had the peace to write and live the spartan life he preferred.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Robert A. Josey VINE VOICE on 22 April 2008
Format: Paperback
In this age of trashy, ghost written 'celeb' auto-biographies a book of true quality like this is a rare experience. Why it hasn't beeen re-printed I cannot imagine.

Galina's story is one of endurance over hardship, starvation, political turmoil. She emerges as a iconic opera superstar and a beautiful, warm-hearted human being.

The book covers the era of Soviet repression, when artists and writers like Boris Pasternak, Dmitri Shostakovich and Alexander Solzhenitsyn were being hounded by ignorant and malicious apparatchiks of the Communist state.

Galina and her husband, the late, great Mtislav Rostropovich, were friends with many of the most celebrated artists and composers of the 20th century. Amongst them was Shostakovich - who dedicated many of his works to them both. Galina's descriptions of the composer and his life nail the lie still perpetuated by Marxist Western academics that he was a communist stooge. He was anything but.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By g wieck-schlacht on 6 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This may seem to be a subjective look into the maschinations of the artists' world of Russia but having experienced some of the intrigues which generally go along with this profession based not only on art and talent but also on ego, G.V. gives a clear picture of the metier.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. T. Rowe on 30 Jan. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Galina A Russian Story ,Excellent ,first class read.best ever ,amazing story of Galina and her struggles with the Russian authorities .
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 23 reviews
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
"Everything was backwards..." 4 Aug. 2002
By Bob Zeidler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"...We were actors in real life and human beings on the stage."

Thus spake Galina Vishnevskaya, in interviews she and her husband, Mstislav ("Slava") Rostropovich, gave in Paris in 1983, captured in a companion book ("Russia, Music, and Liberty: Conversations with Claude Samuel.") to this one. The quotation barely begins to suggest the Kafkaesque world in which they lived, when they were musical artists of the highest order in the Soviet Union.

Vishnevskaya was a "prima donna assoluta" at the Bolshoi Opera during her prime, arguably the finest Russian soprano of all time. And, as her prime overlapped those of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, one can only wonder what her international reputation might have been had her career been entirely in the west; the first two-thirds (and best) part of it was largely away from the gaze of the international music community.

This is, as she subtitles it, her "Russian story" covering her life up to the final hours in 1976 when she left the Soviet Union, eventually (two years later) as an exile. And it almost ended before it ever started.

Born in poverty to parents who abandoned her to her grandmother, she possessed an incredible voice as a child. Largely self-taught, and then - at age sixteen - improperly taught - she didn't learn proper voice technique until after she had established a beginning career in operetta. Then she contracted TB, and the doctor caring for her offered that the only cure - which she refused - was to collapse the infected lung. It was only by mortgaging her future singing fees for black-market purchase of scarce antibiotics that she recovered.

In 1952, in her mid-twenties, she auditioned for the youth group of the Bolshoi Opera Theater, was instantly accepted, underwent a meteoric rise through the Bolshoi ranks on her voice and talent, and soon became the prima diva of the troupe. In 1955, she met Rostropovich, whose courting of her is one of the few lighthearted sections of an otherwise chilling tale of intrigue, deception and lies in the intelligentsia circles in which the pair of them existed and performed.

The next two decades (1955 - 1975) of this journal focus largely on one person, and the special relationship that they had with him: Dmitri Shostakovich. As artists, it was only natural that their paths would cross and thereafter, for the rest of Shostakovich's life, intertwine. But this was more than acquaintanceship; it was friendship based on trust during Shostakovich's years when it was virtually impossible for him to trust anyone. And Vishnevskaya defended that trust with the ferocity of a tiger. One anecdote of her ferocity will suffice as an example.

In the early 1960's, the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko was well-published in "accepted" Soviet literature journals despite his "rebelliousness." His famous poem, "Babi Yar" (1961) about the German slaughter of Ukranian Jews during WW II, gained overnight success, and Shostakovich, moved by the poem's message, placed it at the core of his Thirteenth Symphony with Yevtushenko's warm agreement. The work received its Russian premiere "as is" on December 18, 1962, and was tumultuously received by the audience but not by officials of the state, who read into it a message of Russian complicity in the matter of anti-Semitism, a subtext of Yevtushenko's that was undoubtedly accurate, as he revised the text shortly after the premiere without consulting Shostakovich. Some years later, in London where Vishnevskaya and Rostropovich met up with Yevtushenko, Vishnevskaya gave Yevtushenko a tongue-lashing over his "revisionism" that runs several pages.

In an act of supreme political courage involving another Russian writer, Rostropovich provided refuge, for four years in the early '70's, to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose writings on conditions in the Soviet Union were officially banned. Solzhenitsyn subsequently went into political exile, but this act of courage was to have its effect on the careers of Vishnevskaya and Rostropovich, particularly the latter, who for all intents and purposes had his abilities to perform and conduct stripped away from him. Only by "pulling in markers" were the two of them able to secure permission from Brezhnev to go abroad on a two-year "artistic leave."

"Galina" ends on a note of uncertainty and apprehension, as Vishnevskaya, in 1976, boards a plane with her two daughters to join Rostropovich in the West, eventually (1978) in exile when their citizenship was revoked for the Solzhenitsyn matter. But this is merely the end of her "first" Russian life and the beginning of another, more international, one. Her own career as a diva continued for nearly another decade; Rostropovich went on to become an internationally-known conductor while continuing his career as a preeminent cellist; with "perestroika," they made an historic return to Moscow in 1990 (after Gorbachev restored their citizenship), at which Rostropovich conducted what is to me the finest performance of Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony (immortalized on a Sony CD that also included Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" and William Schuman's orchestral arrangement of Charles Ives's "Variations on America").

Nowadays Vishnevskaya loves to brag about her six thoroughly-Americanized grandchildren. They oversee the Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Foundation, a charity for immunizing Russian children against disease. She recently founded the Galina Vishnevskaya School of Opera in Moscow, for providing master classes to promising young artists. All in all, a rather remarkable "follow-up" for this peripatetic pair of seemingly perpetually-young 75-year-olds.

But the clock cannot be turned back. "Galina" serves as a gripping reminder of how things were over the fifty years that the two of them spent in the Soviet Union. And, at least as important for me, it serves as one of the most honest and accurate appraisals of Dmitri Shostakovich the person as one is likely to find, from one who knew and loved him as a true friend.

Even in a totalitarian society, supreme artistry can sometimes carry clout. For Vishnevskaya (and Rostropovich), there was enough clout - barely - to get out and "live to tell about it." Thankfully.

Bob Zeidler
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
fantastic and very informative 27 July 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read this book the first time 10 years ago and recently again. At the time I didn't know too much about russian music or history and I credit this book much of the knowledge I have of these subjects aw well as the russian mentality. I am now a prefessional musician who often has heard and read conflicting ideas about Prokoviev and Shostakovich's political roles. Galina, who knew very well Shostakovich's situation is giving us a first hand testimony.I listen to Shostakovich's music differently now. Her internal conflicts are also vividly but not overly described. Knowing very closely Moscow's intelligentia (Solsjenitsyn, Sacharov a.o.)of the 60's, we can gather extremely interesting facts of these people. Her biography is not too self-centered. What an interesting life she has had as a prima donna opera singer and being Rostopovich's wife. She is also very honest about herself, which I appreciate.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Perhaps the Best Operatic Autobiography Ever 9 Aug. 2007
By G P Padillo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Of all the singer's biographies I've read (which is plenty!) this remains at the top of the heap. It is a journey that could have only come from the pen of Vishnevskaya and, unlike so many autobiographies which eventually turn into a "And then I sang _____, and then I sang at the White House, and then I . . . " Galina reads almost like a novel. Her description of the Soviet Union during the war years is positively chilling. The road she took to success, punctuated by hardships followed by tragedies is never less than enthralling. How many biographies can truly be called "page turners?" Well, this is one!

The insights she gives into the Soviet system, the role and treatment of artists by the government, her personal views on politicians, singers, composers all come off with rare candor that almost caused me to blush.

Feeling mezzo soprano Elena Obratzsova had been been a betrayer, she humiliated the young singer in public shouting out "Judas" writing of Obratzsova's exit, "Like a snake with a broken spine, she crawled past the amazed Americans, who stood aside to let her pass." Ouch!

My favorite passage from the book succinctly, and pointedly paints the most vivid picture of the Soviet system:

In this vast, monstrous theater, with our faces twisted by
underground jargon, we Soviets wriggle and squirm for one
another. We are actors by compulsion, not by calling, in an
amateur theater run by no one. And all our lives we perform our
endless, pathetic comedy. There are no spectators, only
participants. Nor is there a script, only improvisation. And
knowing neither plot nor denoument, we act.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Whether or not one is a fan of opera, this will prove to be an enlightening, fascinating read.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
a fierceness requited... 24 Nov. 2002
By LuelCanyon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Vishnevskaya's reputation for forthrightness AND the sub-title she chooses here --A Russian Story-- indicate strong intentions for this book. Not 'MY Russian Story', but 'A Russian Story', as she tells an epic Russian story, honoring with a severe truth the Russia of sorrows of which her story forms a unique part. This is no prima donna's idle tableau of a curtained career. Vishnevskaya's art comes of suffering, & she doesn't head down that road. She divulges her art generously, but her attitude never self serves. Her aim is always higher - she's interested to say not only what HAPPENED in Soviet life, but what WAS. and WHO!--- Vishnevskaya regularly excoriates with galvinizing abandon the soviet lackeys with whom she had to deal! She names names and motives, because it's the damned truth! The West in general and artists in particular owe a huge debt to Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya for the willing sacrifice of themselves in exile for the simple truth. Rostropovich garners the commentary in the West with the cello & conducting, but Galina is the heart of genius, and THAT seems the telling component in this book. Her depiction of Solzhenitsyn is heartrending, and stands as the book's axis; everything leads to it, and derives from it. Her friendship with Shostakovich, her brilliant feelings toward him-- an almost daughterly reverence informed by the highest artistic aesthetic. It's also through the part Shostakovich played in her life that we meet a musically learned Galina as well. She was a musician FIRST, singer second. How rare and wonderful - no wonder Slava fell in love! Galina dances with the shadows of Shostakovich throughout, & it's one of the book's endearing aspects. There are wonderful stories too of Britten and his music, & a surprisingly frank exposition of Furtseva, soviet Minister of Culture, whose enigmatic machinations both helped and ill-served Galina more than once. Vishnevskaya can sing AND write! The book ends when you don't want it to, leaving Russia... it's ultimately a love story -- Galina and Russia. Maybe she'll yet write her American story.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Galina: A Russian Story 26 Aug. 2002
By D. Lee Edwards - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Galina, né Pavlova, has many interesting stories to tell about her remarkable life: as a baby abandoned by her parents, an army officier and a polish/gypsy mother, she was raised by her paternal grandmother. Galina overcame so many difficulties in her life, surviving the blockade of Leningrad during the war and so many hardships such as tuberculosis and starvation. Unlike so many singers' biographies, this intelligent artist shares more than anecdotes about the opera world and her many successes in the theatre. She speaks of her personal friendships with people such as composer Shostakovich her neighbor, scientist Andrei Sakarov, also a neighbor, and writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a live-in guest in her dacha. There is much commentary written with not a little bitterness about the Soviet authorities who so often thwarted her career and blocked free expression in the arts within the Soviet country and in other countries where she was invited to perform. She writes very well and with much insight into philosophy, human relations, personalities, etc. I found the book very absorbing and hard to put down. Her close friendship with British composer Benjamin Britten also yields many stories of their memorable times together both at Aldeburgh and on vacation in Armenia and Russia. Her remarkable and at times stormy marriage to cellist/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, her third husband, brought about big changes in her life, and their mutual courage and boldness to stand up for freedom against the Soviet regime cost them their citizenship.
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