Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin was born on February 13 (according to the old style - February 1), 1873 in Kazan in a peasant family of natives of the Vyatka province. They were poor, his father served as a scriber. Feodor studied at private school, but was expelled. Then there were parish and craft schools, he left the last one because of a serious illness of his mother. At this point his formal education was over.
Once Feodor heard choral singing in the church, and it fascinated him. He asked to join the choir, and was accepted. 9-year-old Chaliapin had a perfect pitch and a beautiful voice – a descant, and he was taught musical notation and even got a salary.
At the age of 12, Chaliapin first came to the theater - the "Russian Wedding" performance. From this moment the theater "drove him crazy" and became his passion for life. When the opera arrived to Kazan, it, according to Feodor, amazed him. Chaliapin really wanted to look behind the drop-cloths, and he sneaked behind the stage. He was taken as an extra "for a nickle." His career of the great opera singer was still far ahead. In the future there were a breaking voice, moving to Astrakhan, starving and returning back to Kazan.
Chaliapin’s first solo performance - Zaretsky's part in the opera "Eugene Onegin" - took place in late March of 1890. In September, as a chorus member, he moved to Ufa, where he became a leading singer, taking the place of a sick artist. The debut of 17-year-old Chaliapin in the opera "Pebbles" was evaluated and occasionally he was entrusted to small parties. But the theatrical season ended, and Chaliapin again found himself without work and without money. He played bit parts, wandered and in desperation even thought about committing a suicide.
He was assisted by the friends who advised him to take lessons from Dmitry Usatov - a former actor of the imperial theaters. Usatov not only studied the famous operas with him, but also taught him the essentials of etiquette. He introduced the newcomer to the music circles, and to the "Lyubimov's opera" as well. Having successfully played over 60 performances, Chaliapin left for Moscow, and then for St. Petersburg. After the success as Mephistopheles in "Faust", Chaliapin was invited to the Mariinsky Theater to have auditions and was admitted to the troupe for three years. Chaliapin received Ruslan's part in Glinka's opera "Ruslan and Lyudmila", but critics wrote that he sang "badly" and he was passed over for a long time.
However, Chaliapin got acquainted with the well-known philanthropist Savva Mamontov, who invited him as a soloist in the Russian private opera. In 1896 the artist moved to Moscow and had successfully performed for four seasons, improving his repertoire and skills.
Since 1899, Chaliapin was in the troupe of the Imperial Russian Opera in Moscow and enjoyed success with the public. He was admitted in the Milan La Scala Theater with enthusiasm - there Chaliapin appeared in the image of Mephistopheles. The success was tremendous, the singer received offers from all over the world. Chaliapin conquered Paris and London with Diaghilev; Germany, America, South America, and became the world-famous artist.
In 1918, Chaliapin became artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater and received the first title of the People’s Artist of Russia.
Despite the fact that from his youth, Chaliapin sympathized with the revolution, he and his family did not avoid emigration. The new authorities confiscated his house, the car, his savings in the bank. He tried to protect the family and the theater from accusations, repeatedly met with the leaders of the country, with Lenin and Stalin as well, but this helped for a while.
In 1922, Chaliapin and his family left Russia, touring in Europe and America. In 1927, Council of People's Commissars disqualified him from the title of the People's Artist of Russia and deprived of civil rights. The Chaliapin family settled in Paris, and it was there that the opera singer found his last refuge. After the tour to China, Japan, America, Chaliapin returned to Paris in May 1937 being already seriously sick. Doctors diagnosed leukemia.
The great artist died on April 12, 1938. Chaliapin was buried in Paris, and only in 1984, his son Fedor succeeded in reburial of his father's cremains in Moscow, at the Novodevichy Cemetery. In 1991, 53 years after his death, Chaliapin's title of People's Artist was retrieved.
Feodor Chaliapin played an important role in the opera art development. Over 50 played roles in classical operas, over 400 songs, romances and Russian folk songs were in his repertoire. In Russia, Chaliapin became famous for the main parts of Boris Godunov, Ivan the Terrible and Mephistopheles. Not only did his magnificent voice delighted the audience. Chaliapin paid great attention to the scenic image of his characters: he reincarnated into them on the stage.
Feodor Chaliapin was married twice, and in both marriages he had 9 children.The singer met his first wife - Italian ballerina Iola Tornagi at the Mamontov Theater. In 1898 they were married, and six children were born in this marriage, one of whom died at an early age. After the revolution, Iola Tornagi lived in Russia for a long time, and only in the late 1950s she left for Rome on the invitation of her son.
While being married, in 1910 Feodor Chaliapin took up with Maria Petzold, who was bringing up two children from her previous marriage. Despite the fact that Chaliapin was not divorced yet, his second family emerged in Petrograd. In this relationship, Chaliapin had three daughters, but the couple could legalize their relationship only in Paris in 1927. Feodor Chaliapin spent his last years with Maria.