"The palace against the side of the garden": admiring the Opera House in Tsaritsyno

July 5, 2021

The Opera House (the second name is the Middle Palace) is one of the most interesting buildings of Vasily Bazhenov in Tsaritsyno. The Opera House belongs to the earliest buildings of the ensemble. The two-storey palace in the Gothic style stands on the bank of the Verkhne-Tsaritsinsky Pond. Bazhenov described its location as follows: "The palace is against the side of the garden, where there is a small gate to a Perspectivnaya alley on the new bridge ... near the Polutsirkulyarnaya Mountain and the palace."

Despite the impressive size of the palace, it was built quite quickly. In the autumn of 1776, ditches were dug for the foundation; the rest of the work was done during two construction seasons - in the summer season of 1777-1778. The interior decoration was postponed till the supreme order of the Empress and only in the summer of 1784 the palace was plastered, the floors were covered with hexagonal ceramic tiles made of red clay, glazed tile stoves were laid and window frames and doors were prepared.

The Middle Palace had been building directly for Catherine II and was intended for ceremonies, official receptions, home performances and other entertainment events. This is evidenced by the layout of the palace, most of which is occupied by a spacious hall with excellent acoustics.

If you look at the building more closely, you can see that its two floors different from each other. The first floor is quite massive and squat, the second is elegant and airy. Due to this technique, the sensation is evoked as if the palace is striving upwards. The impression is enhanced by the parapet in the form of a complex openwork arcade with central pediments decorated with a stylized likeness of a theater curtain and radiant stars. Bazhenov himself wrote about the Middle Palace as a building consisting of two parts: a gallery on 20 sazhens with two tiers of windows, that is, a little more than 40 meters, and a two-story palace added to it on 12 sazhens and two arshins, which is approximately 27 meters. This double structure is reflected in the plan, in the palace volumes and its decor.

"The Opera House has well-remembered motifs in the decor. The main entrances, located at the ends of the gallery with two tiers of windows, are marked by two huge carved pedimented coats of arms. These are double-headed eagles with the symbols of imperial power - the orb and the scepter. Now they are already restored, but they have been well preserved to our time " Pavel Ermolov, Senior researcher at the Tsaritsyno Open-Air Museum, says. “The researchers of Tsaritsyno believe that the palace was intended for receptions. This was the place where guests were supposed to introduce themselves to the Empress. The coats of arms gave it an official character: apparently, visitors had to pass under the eagles through the gallery and approach the empress."

The main plan of the building has a clear two-story structure, inside it is also visible: these are two rows of windows - large and slightly smaller in the second tier. The windows in the first tier are pointed, they are decorated with a carved white stone decor - a branch intertwined with a ribbon. On the upper windows, you can notice round lucarns.

"Attention is drawn to the decorative frieze with consoles and ovals, an ornamental strip of diamonds and circles, which Bazhenov often used. In general, there are quite a lot of geometric shapes in the design of Tsaritsyno complex. In the upper part of the Middle Palace, you can see a fairly elaborated florid parapet. By the way, Bazhenov built it at the very last moment, because he was afraid that the workers could break off the "tenderness of the white stone figures" by dragging materials up, " Pavel Ermolov says.

If we look at the master plan of Tsaritsyno complex, created by the legendary architect, we will see that the Middle palace indicated on it is slightly different from the real building. This is a peculiarity of many of Bazhenov's structures, because the architect was finishing designing buildings already on the site, focusing on the terrain features and other factors.

After Bazhenov

In the summer of 1785, Catherine II bumped Vasily Bazhenov from the construction of Tsaritsyno. The real reasons for such a tough decision of the Empress are not known. After the death of Catherine II, work on the residence stopped.

Since the end of the XVIII century, the Middle Palace, like other Bazhenov buildings, gradually deteriorated. In May 1803, the caretaker of Tsaritsyno wrote a report to the commander - in-chief of the Kremlin building Peter Valuev, which indicated that among the removed doors and window frames of Bazhenov palaces and houses, both dismantled and preserved, there are frames and doors "in the garden of the far" palace - the Middle one. That is, at the beginning of the XIX century, the frames and doors were already removed from the building, and it stood "with empty windows". In 1804, Peter Valuev gave an order to put the Middle Palace, or, as he calls it, the Gothic house, in order. He was concerned with the local buildings would bring an income, because Tsaritsyno remained the royal residence.

"There is an assumption that Charles Lequin, a Moscow merchant who rented the Small Palace and set up a coffee shop in it, planned to organize concerts and musical evenings in the Middle Palace," Pavel Ermolov says. “These plans did not come true, the building was never repaired, but since then, probably, the name Opera House has been stuck for this building."

The Opera House name is found in the explications to the plan of the ensemble of 1812-1816. The next document that allows us to understand what happened to the palace in the XIX century is the famous Zabelin’s inventory of 1825. This document indicate that the wooden roof of the building crumbled away with age. In the inventory of 1886, even more sad picture is drawn: The Opera house is "of Gothic architecture... without a roof, and many trees have grown on it". Inside, "because of dampness, the plaster on the arches has almost all fallen off, and they are covered with cracks and produce leaks." There are "no floors, no window decks, no frames, no other accessories." Outside, " in many places, the decorations are broken off, and there are also breakages in the holes of windows and doors."

The first restoration of the Opera House was carried out in 1927 under the direction of architect Nikolai Pustakhanov. Overgrown trees were removed from the upper part of the building walls and arches. In 1945, by a decree of the Council of Ministers, the building was transferred to the Moscow State University to house laboratories in it. In 1946, under the direction of the architect Vladimir Bukharin (Gorbachev), measurements were made of the preserved walls and white-stone details of the Opera House and collected them in an album. By this time, a whole forest had already grown on the building again: the height of the trees reached three or four meters.

In 1949, a mock-up of the Opera House was made under the direction of architect Nikolai Vinogradov. Now it is kept in the Shchusev Museum of Architecture.

Exhibitions and concerts

The Opera House was one of the first buildings of the Tsaritsyno ensemble, which was completely restored. After a long restoration, carried out according to the project of Isolda Ruben in 1987-1995, it became the main concert hall of Tsaritsyn. In addition, it began to be used as an exhibition space.

From 2012 to 2014, the building underwent a comprehensive renovation. The question arose about the use of the building - by this time the exhibitions were already held both in the Bread House and in the Grand Palace.

"It was decided to open the Opera House with an exhibition of sculptures from the Ostankino Estate, which was closed for restoration," Victoria Petukhova, Head of the Exposition and Exhibition Department of the Tsaritsyno Open-Air Museum, tells. “Palace interiors have always been decorated with sculptures - marble, alabaster or plaster. Ostankino needed to store sculptures somewhere, and we had palace premises that required such a design according to historical canons. This association seemed very logical to us. The collection is magnificent, it is a unique collection of sculptures by Count Sheremetev."

At the exhibition you can find both original sculptures of the II and III centuries BC, and sculptures of the 19th century - copies of Classic sculptures made by famous artists. The exhibition is an exquisite and harmonious example of combining architecture of the late 18th century and sculpture of the 18th-19th centuries.

Lighting of the palace

The lighting design of the Opera House deserves a separate conversation. The palace is decorated with 28 lighting fixtures, or, to be more precise, 12 pendant luminaires, 14 sconces, one lantern in the Gothic style and one large church chandelier, or a multi-candlestick. On the second floor - in more intimate spaces - the original ones hang. For example, a chandelier for eight candles of Russian production, dating from about the last quarter of the 18th century, whose metal frame is decorated with almond-shaped crystal, or a gilded chandelier for five candles of the first half of the 19th century with five candlesticks in the form of cupids and a sculptural image of an eagle on a pallet.


"The hexagonal lantern in the Gothic style, or candela, is also the second half of the 19th century. It is decorated with images of either griffins or gargoyles. All the chandeliers on the second floor are different - none repeats the other. And each one belongs to a separate style. For example, to the strict Russian Empire style, which became an expression of the ideas of state independence, or the magnificent Elizabethan Baroque, popular in the second half of the 18th century," Alina Khodakovskaya, custodian of museum objects of the first category of the fund storage department of the Tsaritsyno State Open-Air Museum, says.

The first floor of the Opera House impresses with huge ceremonial chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. These are cascading chandeliers with 84 candles created in Austria in the late 1990s specifically by order of the museum. Chandeliers are considered bright examples of Biedermeyer style - an artistic trend in Austrian and German art, which is also called the reduced Empire. There are three such chandeliers in the Opera House in total.

Source: mos.ru

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