Sergei Lemeshev

Sergei Lemeshev

as Lensky in Eugene Onegin
Born Sergei Yakovlevich Lemeshev
(1902-07-27)July 27, 1902
Staroe Knyazevo, Tver Governorate, Russian Empire
Died July 26, 1977(1977-07-26) (aged 74)
Moscow, USSR
Occupation Operatic singer
Years active 1926–1956

Sergei Yakovlevich Lemeshev (Russian: Серге́й Я́ковлевич Ле́мешев, born July 10 [O.S. June 27] 1902, Staroye Knyazevo, Tver Governorate – died June 26, 1977, Moscow) was one of the most well-known and beloved Russian operatic lyric tenors.


Early Life and Career

Lemeshev was born into a peasant family, and his father wanted him to become a cobbler. In 1914, he left a parish school and was sent to be trained to make shoes in St Petersburg. In 1917, he graduated from school in Tver, where he received vocal training. He began first at a local workers' club and later moved to Moscow.

Between 1921 and 1925, he studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Nazari Raisky. In 1924, he sang in the opera studio of Konstantin Stanislavsky. From 1926 and 1931, he sang in the theatres of Sverdlovsk, Harbin, and Tbilisi.

In 1931 Lemeshev was invited to the Bolshoi Theatre, made his debut and eventually became the theatre's soloist. His lyrical tenor of an unusually soft and light timbre almost at once brought him love and popularity among admirers of the operatic art. Nevertheless, Lemeshev was a great worker and worked hard to develop each of his opera roles. His vocal and artistic qualities, evident to every listener, are beauty of timbre, musicality, effortlessness of vocal production, expressiveness, very clear diction and incredible pianissimo. The best years of his operatic career were from 1931 to 1942. He was also an outstanding concert singer and a brilliant performer of traditional Russian folk songs. In 1938, he became the first artist to sing all 100 romances by Tchaikovsky in 5 concerts. Folk songs broadcast on the radio further sealed his stature as a truly national singer.


The beginning of the Great Patriotic War was crucial for Lemeshev; during one evacuation he caught a very bad cold which resulted in two attacks of pneumonia, complicated by pleurisy and tuberculosis of the right lung. He was treated with artificial pneumothorax, which induced the therapeutic collapse of one lung. Although singing was forbidden, he adapted by being more conscious and sensitive with regard to his technique, and continued to sing with one lung from 1942 to 1948, when the other lung was also artificially collapsed and re-inflated. During that period he recorded Lakme, The Snow Maiden, Les pêcheurs de perles, Mozart and Salieri and pieces from operas like The Barber of Seville and Rigoletto.

In 1947, he toured and performed at the Berlin State Opera. Along with his friendly rival, tenor Ivan Kozlovsky, he was the leading tenor at the Bolshoi until 1956.


Lemeshev's operatic repertoire consisted primarily Russian works along with a particularly significant amount of French and a few Italian and German pieces. Almost all works were performed in the Russian language. Considerably very few complete recordings are available, with only excerpts available in spite of Lemeshev's numerous performances on stage in roles such as the Duke in Rigoletto and Almaviva in The Barber of Seville.

Signature Role as Lensky in Eugene Onegin

Lemeshev's signature role was as Lensky in Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and he performed it more than 500 times from 1927 onwards. He performed it for the last time on his 70th birthday, after suffering three heart attacks and having a lung removed.

Other Key Roles

In 1953 Lemeshev was given the prestigious title People's Artist of the USSR. He was also appointed assistant manager of the Bolshoi from 1957 to 1959. He debuted as director in 1951, with the production of La Traviata in the Maly Opera Theatre in Leningrad (now known as the Mikhaylovsky Theatre). Following this, he was made director for the production of Massenet's Werther in 1957 at the Bolshoi.

Toward the end of his career, he mainly gave concerts of Russian classic romances and folk songs, with performances aired on the radio, and taught in the Moscow Conservatory as associate professor.

He was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.


Lemeshev’s talent, artistry, acting skills and conspicuous charm very quickly made him a public idol. Almost all his performances during the 1930s and 1940s were accompanied by crowds of fans following him through the streets, spending days and nights near his house.

While Lemeshev was one of the leading tenors of the Bolshoi Theatre, he was admired by female fans, who were jokingly called "lemeshistki." The theatre lobby was a venue for scuffles between the "lemeshistki" and the "kozlovityanki" (female fans of Lemeshev's rival Ivan Kozlovsky).

Additionally, the film "The Musical Story" (1941) in which he played the main role, brought him the Stalin prize, and even more widespread furore and fame all over the USSR.

Personal life

Six marriages and numerous affairs focused the attention of Lemeshev's fans on his personal life. His fourth wife was the famous soprano, Irina Maslennikova, who gave birth to Lemeshev's daughter Maria. Ultimately, he found his life partner in singer Vera Kudryavtseva. Their marriage lasted for over 20 years, until Lemeshev's death in 1977.


He authored the book "The Way to Art", published in 1968.

Asteroid number 4561 received the name Lemeshev in 1978, a year after Sergei Lemeshev's death.


more information

Quotations about Lemeshev

"Soft spoken and self-effacing, Lemeshev hated his star status and all the pomp and partying that it implied. His workaholic attitude and exactingness were legendary and directors, conductors, accompanists, and fellow singers always found him a nice and easygoing man everyone loved to work with…" (Voice of Russia)

"He sang sul soffio (leaning on the breath), avoided stressful abdominal respiration (only Caruso could do it), and directed the sound current to the mask, the method of singing which was so much Lauri-Volpi's gospel." (Dr. Joseph Fragala)

"He developed a mixed voice of incomparable beauty, which made it possible for him to take the highest notes with such beautiful richness that even specialists could not explain how it was done technically….His high C’s … sounded virile and full…His manner of lowering his larynx a bit on high notes allowed him to perform the parts which we ordinary lyric tenors did not sing, [roles such as] Rodolfo in La Bohème, Levko in May Night, Dubrovsky, Fra Diavolo…" (A.Orfenov)


Vasiliev, Viktor Dmitrievich: Doroga k Lemeshevu, Tver', 2002, ISBN 5-87049-247-5

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