Yurii Liubimov: I think about death. How? This is a secret. One cannot tell about such things – everyone thinks about them in his own way

Yurii Lubimov
Yurii Lubimov
Photo: Oleksandr Lazarenko / Gordonua.com

On October 5 on the 98th year of life deceased an outstanding stage director, a founder of Taganka Theater Yurii Liubimov. In 2007 Liubimov gave a detailed video interview to the writer, journalist and broadcaster Dmitrii Gordon. Portal GORDON publishes a text version of the conversation.

By Dmitry Gordon, Project Director

Even having rich imagination it is hard to imagine today what Taganka Theater was for all reading and thinking people in the USSR: symbol of the epoch, theatrical Mecca, aesthetical challenge to the system, ruffian finger in the pocket… The creator of the cultic theater Yurii Petrovich Liubimov immured himself in the frames of Taganka red quadrate and all day and night long he rehearsed. Later he confessed that 15 years he didn’t see the sky and it seemed that the stage director very nearly grew in his usual seat – 13th in the ninth row.

… Foes failed to kill Taganka but in the 92nd a horrifying punch in the pit of the stomach was made by “friends”. The most offending is that the riot, impetuous and ruthless, was excited by the apprentices whose names were turned on the theatrical heavenly dome by Liubimov… Furthermore being on his leave Yurii Petrovich went abroad to put up performances and from the earned money made additional payments to the artists…

He not only hired a young provincial Nikolai Gubenko to the theater but also took him to bosom – the future Minister of Culture of the falling to pieces Union considerable amount of time spent in the house of the mom of Yurii Petrovich. Already later Gubenko gained deskbound deadly embrace and once he professed from the stage to the 75-year old maestro: “We loved you very much… earlier, and now, excuse, hate you!” After this was separation of estate, leaving of the part of troop…

Liubimov outlived everything and revived his theater. He took new apprentices, rehearsed with them during 10 hours in a row and produced two-three premiers a season. What makes him tick? Not near a wish to prove something to somebody. The world has already long ago recognized him to be a great reformer, though Yurii Petrovich himself with irony calls him a dictator, an authorized operative (since he directed three dozens of operas) and just a cave-man. He was rained by the most prestigious awarded and fed to the teeth by insincere compliments. In 90 year age he had only one equal in strength rival – time.

- So, Yurii Petrovich, I envy you: 93rd year came and the eyes are young, fervent. How do you succeed in this – here 30-40-year old people go in the streets with extinct eyes…

- Even younger (he laughs), but this question is not to me – one should address with this there (shows by finger upward) and the ancestors.

- Is it true that your mother is a Gipsy?

- By half: she was born in the family of a Russian teacher and a Gipsy, but not roving – settled. My granddad was not very rich but he possessed an equipage of horses – and how else, what is a gipsy without horses?

- Yurii Petrovich, and have you met Stalin?

- I saw him in the 41st in the metro station “Maiakovskaia” where was solemn meeting on the event of November holiday. I was present there as a soloist of the Song and Dance Ensemble of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, and look: here, on the walls of my room, a film director Sergei Yutkevich wrote: “Not in vain we danced with you during eight years in the agencies”.

- By the way, why in the play by Solzhenitsyn “Sharashka” you play without make-up?

- I consciously made this since I come on stage and both as Stalin and Solzhenitsyn – in such way the play composed.

- In general what do you think about Stalin?

- Approximately the same that Aleksandr Isaevivh thinks, even worse.

- Was he a malicious person?

- Screwed-up, that’s why a neuropathologist Bekhterov who made him a diagnosis, paid by his life for this. Stalin’s henchmen on an impulse of ardent love to Koba wanted that it was examined and confirmed: the chief is absolutely healthy, and the doctor said: “Paranoia is in progress” – and in the evening he died in the box of the Bolshoi Theater. One brought him coffee and dessert that he liked very much, - the death was sweet and fast.

- When a great stage director Meyerhold brought notice to you – how did it happen?

- Very simply. In “A man with a rifle” – an immortal play by Pogodin – I played a junker who was killed, and since I played a role of Friday, I went in for gymnastics, turned a somersault – both front and back. Now, certainly, one cannot say this but then I liked sometimes to show off, especially in front of the ladies. You speak, speak and then oops! – back somersault. Meyerhold said: “This young man moves well”, and Ruben Nikolaevich Simonov – chief of Vakhtangov Theater – immediately hired me.

- On April 23, 1964 – oh my God, how many years passed! – the premier of the stage play “The Good Person of Szechwan” opened Taganka Theater that was headed by you. It was called for reason an islet of freedom in restricted country…

- They say the same till now! Sometimes even public persons admitting me on business recollect: “On yeah, oh yeah… An islet of freedom…”

- That time you were called a dissident but you in every way denied accessory to other-minded…

- As a rule I was tagged twice: Taganka, they said, is a political theater, anti-Soviet, and consequently, I am a dissident.

- But it was a political theater, do you confess?

- In no case!

- A form of protest?

- To tell the truth, the matter is in another thing – I was bored of being an artist, and in 45 I changed occupation, and this was a serious action, for a good reason. I fact I am not some kind of a wiped out mummer, I had everything: I played much, I was honored, laureate…

- Of Stalin’s prize, for a moment. Have you kept the medal, by the way?

- No – when later this prize became the National, I changed it, in vain. They made me to return it, and I, a fool, obediently took it back. I should hide it, say: “Lost it!

- Once you noticed: “If I were the authority no doubt I would lock up Liubimov. Probably Andropov saved”…

- Not only - for example, I was two or three times fixed up to work by Brezhnev. From time to time I was dismissed but I had a lot of friends and among them were even, how they say today, speechwriters – those who wrote speeches for the Secretary General. Exactly they tried to put in a word for me… Oh, once Ekaterina Alekseevna Furtseva told a remarkable phrase: “So why are you itching?” – she liked to clap her hand. – Have we noticed you? Noticed! Now think what we need and everything will be fine. So?!”

- Yurii Petrovich, probably you know that among progressive intelligence there was a group of people who reasoned something like this: “Fuff, Yevtushenko, Liubimov – are they persecuted? They go abroad easily, everything is permitted for them…”

- Abroad, my dear, I went not because of my will – I was sent, and here is the fundamental difference. I was sent and I brought money, as a serf, and when there (shows by finger upward) I was washed off, there was such puffed case on me (turns over imagined pages). “And it’s right that you were punished! Did you say that?. “Said”. - “They even gave it not enough to you”.

- Have you been withdrawn nationality by force or have you asked about this yourself?

- I have asked nothing. To the honor of Englishmen they offered me a passport – that happens rarely! – the same day when it happened.

- Why were you so defiantly thrown away the country?

- You know, I gave an interview to Times which the Soviet authority didn’t like very much and they demanded that I left work within 24 hours and went back home. I understood what did it mean, and I had a little son Petr… Now, thanks God, he is an adult, literate man, he speaks five languages, and then I needed to grow him up…

- What have you blown upon in this interview?

- I didn’t think that I burned the bridges… That time the Soviet air defense shot down a Korean Boeing with two hundreds of passengers on board, and Englishmen asked me how I treated this.

- And what have you answered?

- What I thought! “You see, - I said, - on TV how the relatives of the diseased passengers cried when they were waiting for them in the airport…”

- In what year did you return the nationality of the USSR?

- In full play of Perestroika when Gorbachev came to power. Our authorities started negotiations with England, and nevertheless, according to the documents, only three members of the Political Bureau voted “for”, the rest – “against”.

- Is it true that you apprehended the Union breakup?

- To some extent yes, and when they started louting with me I took the liberty to answer very roughly. “Soon you, - I said, - won’t be hired even as street cleaners, and if I were a master, I wouldn’t entrust you even a broom”.

- Yurii Petrovich, what in your opinion is a trouble of Russia and whether it has the future?

- You see, one can answer such questions according to the same scheme: whoever tried to conquer us hoisted sail. Even monsieur Napoleon stayed, stayed and what? Receded, and we burned Moscow – by the order of Kutuzov. And I direct now “Woe from Wit”, so it is written there – for a long time and for everybody. One can read not only Griboedov – both Ostrovskii, and Saltykov-Shchedrin, and Gogol, of course, and Russia – it repulsed any attacks: including the last terrible war.

- One of the symbols of Taganka Theater was Vladimir Vysotskii…

- Here is his guitar near the wall…

- and in the neighbor room you showed me a table where he mugged up. Had you difficult relations?

- No, absolutely easy. The point is that sometimes he hit the bottle, went on the burst and it was hard – the theater demands constant commitment… You have to play in the evening, in 15 minutes the performance begins, and Vladimir disappeared somewhere – whether went to the mountains with a strange company, or he was carried somewhere away by friends.

- What a quarrel had you on the rehearsal of “Hamlet”?

- It is lies, fibs – there was just tactless from my side conversation.

- How did you know that he died?

- The artist Borovskii came to me with this mournful news at five a.m., for a long time tooted the ringer. My Katia even was afraid because we connected such early visits with well-known associations, and my condition at that time was hard, if not to say worse. David, I remember, said: “That is the end of your quarrels with artists for Vysotsii”… At once I recovered, dressed and went to theater.

- Didn’t the artists of Taganka really like Vladimir Semenovich?

- They constantly laid claims: “Why is it possible for him and prohibited to us?”…

- When there was a break in Taganka did you feel pain?

- No… Here such overall sink of iniquity started… in general I gathered and skipped across to Israel. Then I was invited by Moscow Mayor – then it was Gavriil Kharitonovich Popov. He expressed so artistically: “The palette of the city became empty”… I answered: “If you create me any elementary conditions for work, I am ready”… They believed: if the theater is closed, something will happen, and since sink of iniquity continued, continued and continued, Popov couldn’t fulfil his promises. Nothing but ugliness started: some deputies rushed in my place, they asked with angry on TV: “Is it possible that we give our Russian theater to some Israeli?”

- But you are Russian!

- And those who said this don’t care a curse! As the result I closed the theater. “And what, - asked, - do you want so? Well, let it be as you wish”. (Sad). Nobody even noticed this, and I went as for good.

- How many years do you work in this room?

- On April 23 the 45th season begins. This is a rare thing, believe me.

- I look at these unique walls – one can view them for a long time, and just the same there will not be enough time to examine them… “All goddesses are like toadstools in comparison to the women from Taganka!”…

- This is Andrei Voznesenskii – he was the first who left no stone unturned, and for this I got beans from the high chiefs.

- Smoktunovskii, Solzhenitsyn – what surnames!

- Wonderful! Enrico Berlinguer, Giancarlo Pajetta, Giorgio Napolitano – the current President of Italy: who from the distinguished visitors only not present here! Here you are, Chubais… I directed “Faust” and he hardly gave 20 thousand dollars.

- Now these walls are relic, and nothing can be made with them: neither paint, nor repair…

- Just a bit cosmeticize.

- And what if plaster crumbles, what then?

- One can fit it, glue – there are different technologies and materials. It is everything alright with this, the ceiling has already fell down once…

One day, when I was in England, they told me on BBC that all my room was painted, - and looked at me cunningly: how would I react. I didn’t swallow this hook. “In the USSR paint is bad, - I said, - one can wash it up lately and get to paintings, restore.” Do you know how frescos are restores: The upper layer is washed up and there is earlier under it, and sometimes it is cleared up that this is a work of a great master that was painted by folly.

- Were Gorbachev, Yeltsin here?

- Boris Nikolaevich – no, only his family. They all came when after all we put up the play about Vysotsii.

- What happens now with modern theater? Why does it level steadily decline?

- Hurry – there is its footprint on everything… Plus director’s self-revelation, self-expression that sometimes turns a play into parody. Excuse me, but there is the author…

- and it is a sin to encroach on him!

- If you take up a great classic: Chekhov or Ostrovskii, - no doubt, or else you dreamt about something in the night, it grabbed you for different places – and you dump everything out to the stage. Come on, one cannot do like this! For what do you make performance if you are not satisfied by the author? If you are itching to do this, write the play yourself and assert yourself. Or declare: “free fantasy” – and fantasize.

- Yurii Petrovich, your present marriage is the fourth, and is it true that you were frantic womanizer?

- I have, Dmitrii, a commandment: not to speak about ladies, not to answer indiscreet questions. I don’t like men who tell about the ladies.

- Did you fall in love often?

- It used to be. I won’t deny – yes, one cannot conceal this if the biography is like that.

- You wife was one of the most famous and beautiful native screen actresses whom the whole Soviet Union fancied rotten – Liudmila Vasilievna Tselikovskaia…

- I honestly regret her because in the west, in the Hollywood she would be very rich woman. Liudmila was musical, she sang good, she spoke English – learned herself.

- How many years did you live together?

- About twenty – it is lot for the artist.

- Was the divorce with Tselikovskaia painful?

- Hard.

- What did you feel when you knew that Tselikovskaia diseased?

- I was aware of her disease, heard that she has someone, close to her. Of course it was far from what we had some time ago… (Pause). Let it be!

- And nevertheless why did you drift apart with Tselikovskaia?

- I fell in love with my current wife Katalin. You know, she is such feisty Hungarian…

- I felt this…

- Oh, whatcha! This person is inehorable. Who are Decembrists’ wives – she not only stops a horse of full tilt but also a tank… Have you seen a winter garden in our foyer? This is Katia’s achievement as well as excellent cleanness. When she showed how must be and scrubbed everything everybody laughed at her, and when she made them clean, they stopped…

- Yurii Petrovich, I’ve heard that when occasion offers you meditate

- It happens. First I treated these things unserious but Katia – she is a hard-nut: she doesn’t meditate but makes me to. Well, I am not huffy at her, since… I addicted. When I was undergoing treatment in Hararit in Israel (there is in the mountains a serious school of transcendental meditation) – in some way I believed their evidences. Indeed, the artists, even former, as me! – easily enter this. For example, meditations help me to relax when I am tired, and this is the main thing.

- Yurii Petrovich, and what is this – feeling of age? Do you feel your 92 years?

- Of course I feel… I feel tired – first, I cannot go for a long time – second. Sometimes it is hard even make exercises to which I got used: 30 battements near bars by leg. Now, day muscles hurt, another day doctors prohibit, because there were problems with heart. They even stopped it and then started up again – rather it started up itself. Medical men say: “You should bow from the waist to your ancestors”. In such age, by the way, people are not operated, but they examined my state and decided to risk. They made light anesthesia for me to wake up. I didn’t let Katia know – she knew about this later when everything ended well…

- The ancient people said: “Think about death and you will be better” – do you follow their advice?

- Hum, what could we do with this? Memento mori! Old men have their own buzzes, their own scale of reasoning differing from the young men… If you wake up – it is already good, feels that had a good breakfast and everything works – is even better. If you conducted a fruitful rehearsal – excellent result. This and that…You need to go to tours, have negotiations. Katia of course helps in this, and the son is always ready to support.

- You say that you think about death. How?

- And this is a secret. One cannot tell about such things – everyone thinks about them in his own way.

- Yurii Petrovich, and waking up in the morning do you foretaste how the day will pass, starve for new feelings?

- In general no… I have already told you: healthy – already good, and if something hurts, one should overcome and go because I am educated in such way. I surrender at doctor’s discretion only if they settle me harsh and with verdict: in other way we won’t treat you, and they are very good, worry about me and managed to put me on my legs…

In fact they have already told my relatives that I have five percent to return from there: just imagine how they worried. And this lasted not a week and not two weeks. After such trials you understand who helps you by all essence… Of course I arranged a play for the doctors, brought them to the theater: you see, you restore me to life, and those who act on the stage, drove spare. Ha-ha-ha!

- Can you imagine you to be a hundred-year director who has a rehearsal on the stage of Taganka?

- Oh, I never think about this! Ne-ver! Save God, all we walk before God, and the time of each of us, fortunately for mankind, is not known. It is possible only in rare cases. Chekhov understood that he was passing away, Bulgakov – but they were doctors and could reason healthy…

- Yurii Petrovich, you are very beautiful and dignified man, and I wish you to celebrate not only 100-th birthday but even 102nd, 105th and so on…

- I would like, would like very much! So humbly as Jews say, “till 120 in Jerusalem!”

- Be happy! Thank you!

- For health, and I wish you to scrape out at your place. It is rather tiresome to live in disorderly society, when you don’t know what will happen to you tomorrow, and the elder you are, the harder is to put up with this. Impose order!

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