The column "Legends of the Bolshoi Theatre": Veronika Borisenko

Today our new column "Legends of the Bolshoi Theatre" features prominent opera singer Veronika Borisenko.

Tamara Sinyavskaya wrote about Veronika Borisenko: "It was a voice you could hold in the palm of your hand – so dense, very beautiful, soft, but at the same time elastic. The beauty of this voice is that it is sunny, despite the fact that it is a mezzo-soprano... The voice of Borisenko has everything: day and night, rain and sun..."

Soviet opera singer (mezzo-soprano), soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre and teacher, Veronika (Vera) Ivanovna Borisenko was born in the Belarusian village of Velikie Nemki into the family of a railway worker and a weaver on January 16, 1918. Her father died when Vera was a two-year-old child. And although she did not dream of singing at first, she was fond of singing since her school years. After graduating from a seven-year school, Veronika went to work as a typesetter in a printing house. But the craving for the stage led her to the Theatre of Working Youth, where she attended a choir circle, which was led by the director of the Gomel music school. It was within the walls of this school that the musical education of the future singer began. After graduating from the school in 1938, she entered the Minsk Conservatory. But soon the war broke out – her studies were interrupted, and the young singer started travelling with a concert brigade to military units until the commandership sent her to Sverdlovsk to finish her studies at the Ural Conservatory named after Modest Mussorgsky.

After graduating from the Conservatoire, Veronika Ivanovna underwent on-the-job-training at the Sverdlovsk Opera and Ballet Theatre, debuting as Ganna “May Night, or the Drowned Maiden” by in N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov.

In 1945, the young singer, already a postgraduate student at the Kiev Conservatory and a soloist at the Kiev Opera and Ballet Theatre, won the All-Union Competition of Performing Musicians, and in December 1946 she was invited to join the Bolshoi Theatre repertory company. She became a soloist, immediately taking a leading position in the troupe. The very next year Borisenko performed the role of Grunya in the premiere of the opera "Enemy Force" by A.N. Serov and together with other participants of the production became the winner of the Stalin Prize.

She was cast in the main roles in "Khovanshchina" and "Sadko", "Mazepa" and "Prince Igor". These operas and others were Veronica Borisenko sang – “Carmen”, “Rigoletto”, “May Night, or the Drowned Maiden”, “The Enchantress” and “Rusalka” – were recorded. The operas were recorded by Veronika Ivanovna jointly with the leading opera soloists of the time: with S. Lemeshev, I. Kozlovsky, A. Pirogov, G. Nalepp. The number of complete studio recordings of operas with Borisenko is record-breaking – more than a dozen. For comparison: in a much more technically advanced era, with Elena Obraztsova, who was a real star of her generation, the Melodiya label recorded only three operas in her entire life, and during the full flowering of her art – in the 1970s, none.

The beauty of the singer's timbre, singing culture and artistry were highly appreciated by critics and colleagues, and all performances in which Veronika Borisenko sang were full houses. The first season of Borisenko at the Bolshoi Theatre was crowned with victory at the World Festival of Youth and Students vocal competition in Prague, where she won the first prize.

Veronika Borisenko performance of Konchakovna in the opera “Prince Igor” by A. Borodin left the unforgettable impression on her contemporaries. Her languid cavatina, where the singer’s voice richness, full of oriental tenderness was revelled. One of the artist's vivid images is Vesna-Krasna in the opera “The snow Maiden” by N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov. "Still sounds her honey-like timbre of voice when Spring in the prologue sings "valleys of the southern countries", or in Act 4 in Yarilo valley gives the Snow Maiden a great gift of love",  recalled Kira Leonova* this role of Borisenko. Dramatic talent of the singer was also fully brought out the role of Nilovna – Borisenko was the first performer of this role in the opera “Mother” by T.N. Khrennikov.

This period of bright bloom was not long - after forty years, as often happens, there was a decline, and then a break in theatre work. After some time, the singer returned to the theatre to perform the roles of “characteral grandame" – she was a good actress, was straight and convincing in those roles. In 1973, for example, she even went on tour with the Bolshoi Theatre to Milan, where she performed one of these roles – Khivrya in the opera “Semyon Kotko”. But at that time, even in this role, the singer was already working in the theatre "on ad hoc invitations"; her "protagonists" remained in the past – in the era of the 1940-1950s. In the reviews that appeared after the premiere of the opera “Eugene Onegin”, which was revived in 1962 on the Bolshoi Theatre stage by M.L. Rostropovich and B.A. Pokrovsky, the critics singled out Nanny in the singer's performance.

Veronika Borisenko had an extensive concert career. In addition to academic halls, she performed in workers' clubs and in front of peasants, and her repertoire, along with the large number of works of Russian and foreign classics, included songs by Soviet composers (for example, in the late 1940s, "Song to Stalin's good health" by composer Vano Muradeli was popular, and later the song "My Moscow" by Dunayevsky became widely known). The singer travelled all over the country with concert programmes.

In terms of beauty, expressiveness and richness of colours, thick mezzo-soprano voice of Veronika Borisenko was compared to that of Nadezhda Obukhova.
Veronika Borisenko died in Moscow on September 7, 1995. She is buried at the Manikhino-Troitsky cemetery near Moscow.

The singer's enchanting voice has been preserved in a rather extensive discography. We invite you to listen to a musical selection of famous opera roles performed by the Bolshoi Theatre soloist Veronika Borisenko.

* Kira Leonova (1922-1999) was a Soviet and Russian opera singer (mezzo-soprano)