Professor recounts Russian poet’s life in exile

Elizabeth Stoeger, Freelancer

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The passionate poetry of Alexander Pushkin came to life Wednesday Oct. 15 in the evening during the faculty lecture and recital.

Dr. Anton Belov, an assistant professor of voice at Linfield, and accompanist Susan McDaniel, Linfield’s principal accompanist, took to the Ice Auditorium stage to perform “Pushkin in Exile – A retrospective on the life of a great poet.”

Belov was born in Moscow and earned a Bachelor of Music Degree from The New England Conservatory. He also holds an Artist’s Diploma and a Master of Music Degree from the Juilliard School, and a Doctorate of Music Degree from Boston University.

He has inhabited some of the greatest operatic baritone roles and appeared as Escamillo in “Carmen,” Germont in “La Traviata,”  the title character in Don Giovanni and many other famous roles.

McDaniel, an alum of Linfield, has been on the staff of the Seattle Opera and Utah Festival Opera as well as music director and pianist for the San Diego Opera Ensemble, Off-Center Opera in Seattle and the Puget Sound Concert Opera.

The evening was a combination lecture and recital, with Belov singing some of Pushkin’s most famous poems and providing an overview of Pushkin’s life. The pieces were sung in Russian with English translations in the program.

Pushkin was a great lover and was, by his own admission, in love 114 times during his 37 year lifespan. Belov poked a bit of fun at Pushkin throughout the lecture for his reputation as a womanizer.

Despite enjoying the frivolous side of life, Pushkin’s poetic genius was well known in Russia.

He improvised a poem in front of the palace of Tsar Paul I and it became famous as a written manuscript throughout Russia. Because it mentioned assassination of the Tsar by his son Alexander, Pushkin was in danger of being displaced.

He was finally called before the Mayor of St. Petersberg and requested to produce his rebellious poetry. Pushkin said it had all been burnt, so instead he wrote all of it from memory.

This so impressed the mayor that he implored the Tsar not to send him to Siberia. Instead Pushkin was sent south to Moldova.

He continued his life of debauchery while in exile and produced some of his greatest works in exile, like his poem “The Gypsies” and one of his most famous works of prose, “Eugene Onegin.”

Pushkin was a smart writer and he knew that if he wanted to compose a poem criticizing the government, it would have to be metaphorical, “We cannot say anything political directly, you have to use symbolism,” explained Belov.

In his poem “Arion,” which was set to music by composer Sergey Rachmaninoff and sang by Belov, Pushkin used Greek mythology to comment on the public hanging of several leaders of a rebellion group in Russia..

At the age of 27, Pushkin was already the most famous poet in Russia.

When he was 30, he married a 16 year old girl, and the union produced children. However, it did not end well because a French officer, George D’Anthès, constantly pestered his wife and Pushkin was an extremely jealous man.

Pushkin died “in the most romantic way of dying possible,” said Belov, three days after being injured in a duel with D’Anthès.

Today, Pushkin is acknowledged as the “founder of Russian literary language,” said Belov. In Russia, Pushkin is the equivalent of William Shakespeare.

The pieces were exquisitely performed, with a dramatic spirit and energy. Belov acted each poem and engaged the audience totally.

Belov’s rich, unamplified baritone voice was smooth and complimented the romantic poetry of Pushkin exceedingly well. McDaniel also showed herself to be a first-rate pianist in her own right.

The two are currently working on a CD of the recital pieces which will be completed in the near future.