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Opera Prelude Lecture Series: ‘When Art Danced with Music - Ballet Russes, Diaghilev and his Circle’

with Dr Natalia Murray, Callie Gaston, soprano, & Maria Levandovskaya, piano

Venue: Caversham Room at Cadogan Hall


Dr Natalia Murray
Callie Gaston
Maria Levandovskaya

Sergei Diaghilev was one of the most important impresarios of the 20th century. The central figure in the artistic world of St Petersburg, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin and Madrid, he formed close friendship with Stravinsky, Coco Chanel, Prokofiev and Jean Cocteau.

Dr Natalia Murray will introduce us to Diaghilev as major patron of visual arts, starting with his exhibitions of Western-European art in St Petersburg and the magazine and artistic movement which he launched in 1898 – Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) and moving on to his most famous enterprise Ballet Russes, which staged 70 ballets and 15 operas in Europe and America.

After the closure of World of Art journal in 1904 and the conclusive World of Art exhibition in 1906, Diaghilev turned increasingly westward, preparing the way for his establishment in 1909 of the Ballet Russes. The major part of the World of Art circle, including Bakst and Benois, followed Diaghilev and graced his new enterprise with their skills.

In the West Diaghilev strived to present Russians not as fellow Europeans, but as new oriental people, which made his enterprise much more interesting and exciting in the West. Back in 1897, Diaghilev outlined his ambitions in a letter to Benois: “To polish Russian painting, cleanse it, and most importantly, present it to the West, glorify it in the West.”

Many extraordinary pieces of music were composed especially for Ballet Russes at Diaghilev’s request and he often collaborated with Russian as well as French composers. During this morning’s lecture given by Dr Natalia Murray, you will hear arias and songs by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Gounod and Satie, sung by Callie Gaston, with illustrations from the piano by Russian pianist, Maria Levandovskaya who will also play some of Prokofiev’s piano pieces.

Before being awarded PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Dr Natalia Murray read History of Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg and completed the PhD course at the Hermitage Museum. In 2012 she wrote a book The Unsung Hero of the Russian Avant-Garde. The Life and Times of Nikolay Punin (Leiden-Boston: Brill Academic, 2012).

At present she is teaching courses in 19th- & 20th-century Russian art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, working as Head of Education and Public Programmes at GRAD (Gallery for Russian Art and Design) and curating exhibitions of Russian art in England. She has recently curated a major exhibition Revolution. Russian Art. 1917-1932 which took place at the Royal Academy of Arts earlier this year and she is currently editing her next book on post-revolutionary festivals in Petrograd.

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Concert Duration:
2 hours

Ticket Information *

£30 (unreserved seating)

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