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 attended vocal training. He began first at a local workers’ club and later moved to Moscow.
Between 1921-1925, he studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Nazari Raisky (1875-1958). In 1924, he sang in the opera studio of Konstantin Stanislavsky. From 1926-1931, he sang in the theatres of Sverdlovsk, Harbin, and Tbilisi. In 1931, he was invited to the Bolshoi Theatre, where he sang the roles of Tsar Berendei (The Snow Maiden), Lensky (Eugene Onegin), and Gerald (Lakmé). Along with his friendly rival Ivan Kozlovsky (1900-1993), he was the leading tenor at the Bolshoi until 1956.
While Lemeshev was one of the leading tenors of the Bolshoi Theatre, he was admired by fans who were jokingly called “lemeshistki.” The theatre lobby was a venue for scuffles between the “lemeshistki” and the “kozlovityanki”, as Kozlovsky’s fans were known.
Lemeshev’s roles included Levko in May Night, Zvezdochyot (the Astrologer) in The Golden Cockerel, the Indian guest in Sadko by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Boyan in Ruslan and Ludmila by Mikhail Glinka, Dubrovskiy in the opera of the same title by Eduard Napravnik, and the Duke in Verdi’s Rigoletto, among others. Lensky was his signature role, however, and he played it more that 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.
He played the leading character in the triumphant Russian film “A Musical Story”.
In 1941, he was awarded the Stalin Prize.
Edited by kokoraya on 11 Jan 2011, 10:31
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