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04 January 2015

Vasili Kachalov

Russian film and stage actor Vasili Kachalov (1875-1948) was one of Konstantin Stanislavsky's best known performers. He led the so-called Kachalov Group within the Moscow Art Theatre. It was Kachalov who played Hamlet in the Symbolist production of 1911. He also appeared in four films.

Vasily Kachalov
French postcard, no. 7 N. Photo: Moscow Art Theatre. Publicity still for the play Na dne (The Lower Depths - 1902) by Maxim Gorky with Kachalov as the Baron. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Magnetic Voice


Vasili (or Vachily) Kachalov (Василий Качалов) was born as Vasili Ivanovich Shverubovich in Vilnius, Russian Empire (now Lithuania), in 1875. His father was Ivan Shverubovich, a Belarusian Orthodox priest from Wilno. His schoolmates at the local college included the future statesman Felix Dzerzhinsky.

In 1896, he left the law department of Saint Petersburg University in order to pursue an acting career. After four years of touring the Russian provinces and a brief stint at the Suvorin Theatre, Kachalov made his debut at the Moscow Art Theatre as Tsar Berendey in Vesennyaya Skazka (The Snow Maiden - 1900) by Alexander Ostrovsky.

The snow maiden was played by Stanislavsky's wife, Maria Lilina, who fell in love with Kachalov. She later described their affair as "a touch of private happiness". Another of his lovers was actress Alisa Koonen. He met his wife, actress Nina Litovtseva, when they were acting in the Kazan Drama Theatre, one of Russia's oldest theatres.

Vasili Kachalov was greatly admired for his ‘magnetic’ voice. He played Baron Tuzenbach in Tri sestry (Three Sisters) by Anton Chekhov after Vsevolod Meyerhold's departure from the theatre. In the original 1904 production of Chekhov’s Vishnyovyy sad (The Cherry Orchard) he appeared as Trofimov. He played Hamlet in the Symbolist Stanislavsky–Craig production of 1911.

Kachalov also performed leading roles in productions directed by Nemirovich-Danchenko. He starred in Nemirovich-Danchenko's production of Chekhov’s Ivanov (1904). He also appeared as the Baron in Gorky's Na dne (The Lower Depths - 1902), as William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1904, as Henrik Ibsen's Brand in 1906, and as Ivan Karamazov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s Brat'ya Karamazovy (The Brothers Karamazov) in 1910.

Vasily Kachalov
Russian postcard. Kachalov as Anathema in the prologue of the play Anathema (1909) by Leonid Andreev at The Moscow Art Theatre, Moscow, Russia. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Vasily Kachalov
Russian postcard. Kachalov as Anathema in the prologue of the play Anathema (1909) by Leonid Andreev at The Moscow Art Theatre, Moscow, Russia. Collection: Didier Hanson.

The Lost Letter


After the Russian Revolution, the Kachalov Group went touring Central Europe and did not return until the summer of 1921, under pressure from the theatre's founders.

Vasili Kachalov appeared in several films. The silent Soviet film Belyy oryol/The Lash of the Czar (Yakov Protazanov, 1928) is based on a short story by Leonid Andreyev. Kachalov’s co-stars were Anna Sten and Vsevolod Meyerhold.

His other films include the war drama Giorgi Saakadze/Georges Saakadzé (Mikheil Chiaureli, 1942) – in which only his voice is heard - and Mastera stseny/Stars of the Moscow Art Theater (Vladimir Yurenev, 1949).

This anthology film consisted of three segments of famous plays by Maxim Gorky, Alexei Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov. Kachalov appeared as Gayev opposite Olga Knipper-Chekhova in a segment of Chekhov’s Vishnyovyy sad (The Cherry Orchard).

In 1945 he was the narrator of the animation film Propavshaya gramota/The Lost Letter (Valentina Brumberg, Lamis Bredis, Zinaida Brumberg, 1945) based on a novel by Nikolai Gogol.

Kachalov was named one of the first People's Artists of the USSR after the title was instituted in 1936 and received a Stalin Prize in 1943. He was also the recipient of the two Orders of Lenin.

Vasili Kachalov died in 1948 in Moscow, USSR (now Russia). The Kazan State Theatre was given his name later that year.

Vasily Kachalov
Russian postcard. Photo: K. Fischer, Gorozhankin, Russia. Kachalov as Anathema in the prologue of the play Anathema (1909) by Leonid Andreev at The Moscow Art Theatre, Moscow, Russia. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Vasily Kachalov
Russian postcard. Photo: K. Fischer, Gorozhankin, Russia. Kachalov as Anathema in the prologue of the play Anathema (1909) by Leonid Andreev at The Moscow Art Theatre, Moscow, Russia. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Sources: Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance (Answers.com), Wikipedia (English and French) and IMDb.

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