My webmaster, remembering that I spoke to him about anecdotes that could potentially be interesting and important, suggested that I add as many of them as I could remember to these biographies. Therefore, among the biographical notes will be anecdotal material and my personal reminisces of the singer or dancer. Photos and further information will also be added as they are discovered. – DNF
M._. Abuk was born in the Northern Caucasus, being Karachay, an ethnic people of that region. Like most dancers, he brought his own personality to the stage, which was fiery and exciting. When he received his American citizenship, Susan, the wife of dancer V.P. Seminev, and I stood as witnesses to his honesty and good character.
I.V. Assur possessed a wonderful baritone voice. If he would have been born at an earlier time, he most probably would have had a career not only in the opera houses of Russia, but also those in Europe and around the world. Assur, a registered Don Cossack with the All Cossacks American Stanitza, was born into a musical family. His grandmother, Ludmila Buhaloff, was a concert pianist in tsarist Russia. His father and uncles played several instruments, his father being proficient on the violin. His brother was denied a career as a concert pianist due to an injury sustained to a hand during the war. After the Second World War, as with many Russians who thought it better to live in exile than under the yolk of the Communists, the Assur family fled Russia (then the Soviet Union), settling first in Germany and then in Italy, where he studied with noted voice teachers Amanda Liberts-Rebane, Maximilliano Cerra, Wolfram Zimmerman and Enrico Rossi, who was the teacher of Beniamino Gigli and Mario Lanza. Leaving Europe, his family migrated to the United States, where he became a baritone soloist with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus. There, he found great joy and pleasure in singing the sacred music and folk songs of Mother Russia.
He, Savchuck and I were the closest of friends and were always seen together. For this reason, the chorus dubbed us “The Three Musketeers” (see biography of A.V. Savchuck for photo). Assur honored me by allowing me to be godfather to one of his daughters. Like many others, he often switched choruses, spending two or three years with Kostrukoff then two or three years with Jaroff. This he did several times. After retiring, he decided to return to Russia, settling in St. Petersberg. Several days before he left for Russia, he visited me for a final drink together and to say our goodbyes. At that time, he asked if he could have my copy of the book “Life and Destiny of a Cossack” by G.A. Soloduhin, which was autographed to me. I was very happy to be able to give him this parting gift. One of the last things he said to me was “You are really a true friend.” In Russia, there was a one-hour television documentary made about him and Jaroff’s Don Cossacks. One afternoon, I received a telephone call from St. Petersburg. It was a priest. He sadly told me of the passing of Assur. He told me that I was among the four or five people that Assur wished to be notified of his passing. I talked for several minutes with the priest; sad to say I made a gigantic mistake: I told the priest that Assur’s voice at the end of his life was nowhere close to what it once was. From the change in the tone of his voice, I believe the priest took this as a disparaging remark about Assur. It was clear from our short conversation that the priest had tremendous respect for Assur. The point I wanted to make was that if he had heard Assur sing at the height of his vocal powers, he would have been even more impressed with the beauty of his voice and vocal artistry. Many times in the past, I have paid for the mistakes of others. I sincerely hope that the memory of Assur will in no way be tarnished or marred by my mistake.
Assur can be heard on many of the recordings of Jaroff and his choir. He also appeared in a full length motion picture with them. On a DVD, a compilation taken from television from the years 1963, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969 by WDR Television, Assur can be seen and heard in a wonderful rendering of the folk song Stenka Razin. There was also a television performance in 1965, but this was for ARD television and was not included in the compilation. I end this biography of I.V. Assur by saying that I am very proud to have been able to call him friend.
G._. Azaroff was a lyric tenor who used his voice intelligently and sang with great sensitivity. He was noted for the fervor of his singing of Russian Orthodox Church music. During World War II, he served in the US Navy as a pharmacist’s mate and saw action in the Pacific.
V.I. Babitsch, at the age of 16, was the youngest person ever to tour with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus. Son of Kuban Cossack colonel I._. Babitsch, and grandson of Kuban Cossack Ataman General _._. Babitsch who, with his Kuban Cossacks, helped subdue the wild tribes of the Caucases, bringing the area under the control of czarist Russia, and eventually being absorbed into the Russian Empire. General Babitsch was the first Ataman elected by his own Cossacks, until that time it was the czar that appointed the Ataman. Ataman general Babitsch was friend and advisor to the last three czars of Russia. He met his death at the hands of the Bolsheviks, being murdered and decapitated. His head, being mounted on a pike, was passed around the Caucases to show the Bolsheviks’ loathing and hatred for the tsarist loyalists. He was in his 90s at the time of his murder. His body was only identified by the Cossack blouse he wore, which was recently made for him by his daughter-in-law, who solemnly buried the headless body, digging the grave with her own hands.
After the Second World War, Colonel Babitsch, who despised the Communists, was sentenced to ten years in the Gulag labor camps of Siberia. Serving his time, he was released and returned to the Kuban, a broken and very sick man, passing away a year or so thereafter. At the time of his imprisonment, his wife, being with child, fled the Soviet Union with their three children to the safety of the west, first to Italy where her son Valeri was born, then to Venezuela and finally to the United States.
N.P. Bochko, the son of a professional wrestler, was born in southern Russia. He was able to flee the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. Arriving in New York, he was almost immediately hired by S.A. Jaroff to dance with his chorus. For close to twenty five years, he was perhaps the premier Cossack dancer in the world. Even in his mid- and late-forties, he knew how to cut back and conserve his strength without diminishing the quality of his dancing. Even at this stage of his career, there were moments when he could reach back and demonstrate the flash of old. Only the legendary S._. Karavaev, who danced with the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova, stands above him on the list of great Russian folk dancers. Though the greater majority of his career was with Jaroff’s chorus, he did dance one season in 1958-1959 with Kostrukoff’s General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus.
I was fortunate enough to be present at a concert given in Passaic, New Jersey. When the chorus started to sing “Lezginka”, Bochko entered from the back of the hall, marching smartly down the aisle (in his tcherkeska). In front of the stage, he made a sharp right turn and marched up the steps leading to the stage. On stage, he marched a few steps and then spun into his dance. All of this was both highly theatrical and effective, establishing the atmosphere and mood, which led to G.A. Soloduhin’s famous dagger dance. Of all the dancers I had the honor and privilege to work with, he is the one I am most proud to have worked with, for he was a wonderful dancer, a showman, and always a polite, kind, helpful colleague and friend.
N._. Chaly, a bass with a large, powerful, expressive voice was born in the Don Valley. His father was reputed to have had one of the most beautiful bass voices among the Cossacks, and served as priest and spiritual adviser to the Don Cossacks. Chaly, at the age of 16, fought with the White Guard Don Cossacks against the Bolshevik Red Army. He told me of two incidents that happened during the Revolution. One instance involved his being on foot, after having his horse shot out from under him. With the battle going against them, the cry went up: “Save yourself anyway you can”. The Cossacks turned in retreat, horses and riders galloped past him, leaving him virtually alone. As he ran, he heard the voice of a Cossack calling his name. “Nicholai, Nicholai!” Chaly turned to see an old Cossack galloping towards him. As he galloped by, the old Cossack reached a hand down and swung the 16 year old up on the back of the horse, carrying them both to safety. Another time, with the battle going against them, the Cossacks were sent in on foot with fixed bayonets to allow the machine gun units time to gather their guns and flee the battlefield. They saved the machine guns and their crews, but at a heavy price to those Cossacks on foot. During the Second World War, the Nazis took his son and used him for medical experiments. Chaly showed me pictures of his son, horribly disfigured and mutilated by their experiments. Even with the horrors of war, how can man sink to such low depths as to inflict such unspeakable torment and suffering on his fellow man? Chaly’s son survived, and was given a pension and medical care by the German government — little compensation for his pain, mutilation and disfigurement.
After the Second World War, Chaly emigrated to the United States, making a motion picture shortly thereafter in the Ukrainian language. The title, I believe, was “Zaporozhian Cossacks Across the Danube”. He played the title role. I have seen the film, but that was close to sixty years ago. I remember, though, the power of his acting, which was quite Chalapin-esque. I do not remember if he sang in the film. After making the film, he became a member of the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus, staying with them until S.A. Jaroff was able to reestablish his chorus in Europe. He then became a member of Jaroff’s chorus so as to enable him to visit his son in Germany several times during the concert tour.
Chaly was a marvelous raconteur of anecdotes and humorous stories. The humorous stories, he often would act out. The voice of a boy, old man, young lady, old hag, or the cultured eloquence of the seasoned diplomat, coupled with his ever-changing facial expressions and movement and gestures of his hands and body, left us convulsing in laughter. Chaly was, indeed, a remarkable individual. In 1963, he was ordained a deacon of the Orthodox Church, and served in that capacity at the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in New York City. His passing on 13 August 1980 at the age of 77 was caused by a heart attack.
G._. Chumak was born in Southern Russia. He possessed a beautiful basso cantante voice, which he used with great artistry. After more than fifty years, I still vividly recall the sensitivity of his singing of P._. Tschesnokoff’s “Save Thy People O’ Lord”.
M.A. Dedovitch possessed a very beautiful tenor voice as exemplified by the solos he recorded with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus. Prior to his singing with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus, he sang in the chorus of the Paris Opera, then with the Imperial Singers, who he recorded with.
There is an interesting anecdote about the song “Nightingale” which he recorded with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus. One day, when the chorus was rehearsing, Dedovitch brought the music of the song and showed it to Kostrukoff, saying it was a song he remembered from his youth. Kostrukoff had the chorus sing it, and liked it so much that he added it to the chorus’ program for the upcoming concert tour. The song was well received by the public. One day, when Kostrukoff was speaking with Dedovitch, he told him that he had never heard the song before and asked where Dedovitch had heard it. With a smile, Dedovitch replied that it was not an old song, and that he had written the words and composed the music himself.
After the second World War, when S.A. Jaroff and his Don Cossack Chorus were trying to reestablish themselves in Europe, there was a financial problem. Wishing to see Europe again, Dedovitch joined Jaroff’s Don Cossack Chorus. To help with the financial problem, he paid his own transportation costs to Europe, as well as the transportation costs of two of the other singers. This enabled Jaroff to have the highest quality singers at his disposal, and ensured the great success they received in Europe.
Dedovitch did return to the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus and remained with them until his death in 1962. In December of 1961, when the chorus broke for the holiday season, Dedovitch told me that when the chorus resumed rehearsals in February for the spring tour, he would give me a copy of the music to the song “Nightingale”, and also of a lullaby that he composed. Alas, it was not to be: Dedovitch passed away several weeks before we started rehearsals. Thinking back some 50 years, I remember Dedovitch as a kind, helpful person, a sensitive artist, and always a refined, cultured gentleman.
G.P. Dubrovsky and G.M. Youreneff: “The Brothers Godunov”
G.P. Dubrovsky and G.M. Youreneff started their careers in the opera houses of Imperial Russia. Fleeing the bolsheviks after the Revolution, they sang in Western Europe, mainly in the French-speaking regions of France, Belgium, and Monte Carlo. Dubrovsky was Georgian by birth, Dubrovsky being the name he chose for the theater. Dubrovsky was among those wonderful Russian basses that, at one time or another, was considered competition for the great F.I. Chalapin. No matter how gifted they were, Chalapin was head and shoulders above them, in a class of his own. Dubrovsky recorded for LA VOIX DE SON MAITRE (HIS MASTER’S VOICE). I have heard a recording by the Black Sea Cossack Choir, conducted by A._. Sholuch, with a bass solo, the voice I could swear was that of Dubrovsky. G.A. Soloduhin, in his book “Life and Destiny of a Cossack”, speaks highly of Dubrovsky and his solo work with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus. Dubrovsky and Youreneff were friends from their early days in opera.
They both sang the role of Boris Godunov in the opera of the same name by M.P. Moussorgsky and were often seen together. For this reason, we respectfully called them “The Brothers Godunov”, a pun on the novel “The Bother’s Karomazov” by F.M. Dostoyevsky. For a short period of time, Dubrovsky was the voice teacher of Mario Lanza. Youreneff’s voice was strong and powerful with a metallic edge, being ideal for the dramatic baritone roles in the operas of Verdi. For a while, Youreneff was the protege of Chalapin. When Chalapin was spoken of in the chorus, he was spoken of in tones of respect and admiration (for those who are interested in this immortal collosus of Russian and operatic music, read his two autobiographies: Man in Mask and Pages from my Life, and the wonderful biography Chalapin by Victor Borovesky). Like Dubrovsky, Youreneff also recorded for LA VOIX DE SON MAITRE (HIS MASTER’S VOICE). In the book Herman Klein, and the grammophone, which is a compilation of essays, newspaper articles, and record reviews by the famous British critic Herman Klein. Klein, writing on page 539, “a Russian baritone, G.M. Youreneff,with a capital voice, gives ample justice to the lonely step and the bells of the Kremlin.” The bells of the Kremlin being composed for Youreneff by V._. Karnavalov. I have never heard the recording, but I have heard him sing this song in rehearsal and in concert at Town Hall (New York), with the Balalaika Symphonic Orchestra conducted by A._, Kutin. At that time, I played Balalaika with the orchestra. The song and its singing was impressive, ending on a sustained and powerful high G. Speaking of high notes, even in his 70s, Youreneff boasted that he could sing a powerful high C and said if anyone would pay him $100 he would gladly demonstrate this for them.
Born in Russia (the Soviet Union) after the Second World War, M._. Gann was able to flee to western Europe — I believe to Belgium — and then to Canada, where he became a Canadian citizen. He sang with Kostrukoff’s choir from the fall of 1961 until 1972, when the choir was disbanded
Gann had a strong bass voice and sang solos with the choir. Became one of Kostrukoff’s closets friends, and had great respect and admiration for Kostrukoff, Kostrokoff being his idol. In the later 1970s, he sang with Jaroff’s choir for one season.
Being very religious, the chorus members respectfully called him “Michael the Monk”.
I.I. Guzenko was born in the Kuban River region of the Caucasus. He fought with Kuban Cossack units in both the First World War and the Russian Revolution. With other Kuban Cossacks, he was able to escape from Russia to western Europe. He possessed a beautiful, silvery tenor voice. In Europe, he sang with the Kuban Cossack Choir, conducted by L._. Ivanov. There is a small picture of the Kuban Cossack Chorus, with Guzenko among the singers, in the Kuban Cossack House, Howell NJ. After immigrating to the United States, for many years he sang with Kostrukoff and the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus, becoming one of Kostrukoff’s closest friends.
L._. Hutkovsky was born in Belarus. Tall, slender and handsome, these natural attributes enhanced the quality of his dancing. His “Lezginka” was par excellence with picturesque movement while dancing on his toes, without the aid of a toepiece. His “Kozatchok” was also excellent, featuring wonderful leaps and jumps which were the equal of A._. Schikolenko, the great leaper and jumper who danced with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus a decade earlier.
V._. Karigoz, I believe, was born in Bessarabia. He was highly intellegent and well educated. Being very religious, he devoutly sought after religious truths which led him to write two books concerning prophecies of the Bible. The books were scholarly written and his conclusions were both interesting and plausible. For this reason, in the chorus, he was called “The Prophet” and when spoken to, was often addressed as “Professor”. He possessed a strong spinto tenor voice, which was well trained. After the war, he made his way to Italy. There, he sang with the Cossack Chorus Don-Kuban-Terek, a chorus that sang in Italy for a few years after the war, before being disbanded. For several years, he was soloist with Kostrukoff and the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus. Desiring to see Europe again, he joined Jaroff’s Don Cossack Chorus. His voice can be heard on recordings and on the DVD of the Jaroff Chorus.
Born in 1900 in Chernigov, Imperial Russia, to an aristocratic family, Y.V. Keikuatov‘s lineage can be traced back to Tartar nobility and princes of the Golden Hoard who once ruled the Nogey region of southern Russia. In 1637, one of his ancestors, Peter Keikuatov, allied himself with Mikhail, the first Romanov Tsar, and the Keikuatovs were granted the title “Princes of Russia”. Well educated, Keikuatov spoke excellent German and French, finishing the Sumskoy Cadet Academy in 1917.
Like many of the sons of the nobility, Keikuatov joined the White Guard Russian Volunteer Army to fight the Bolshevik insurgence. He served under General I.G. Baroovich in the Drozdov Cavalry Division, a division that was greatly feared by the Red Army.
With the collapse of the White Russian Army in the Crimea, the White Army was forced to flee by boat to Galipili and other ports in Turkey. Due to being ill with typhoid, Keikuatov was unable to flee and remained in the Crimea, where he recovered and continued fighting the reds, this time under the command of General Baron P._. Wrangel until being captured by the Red Army.
Being captured by the reds he faced almost certain death; it was only through the kindness and mercy of one of his captors that his life was spared. Though suffering from hunger and the intense cold of the Russian winter, he endured, survived, and finally made his way to Kiev, where he found family friends.
In Kiev, he enrolled in the Kiev Conservatory. This was a time of danger: fearing arrests by the communist authorities, he often changed his residence to thwart those that might be looking for him. He was constantly watched by the NKVD (secret police) and his passport was stamped ENEMY OF THE STATE. In the mid-1920s and throughout the 1930s, he sang at the Kiev Opera and throughout the Ukraine, traveling extensively throughout the Soviet Union as far as Kazakhstan and Siberia.
In 1941, while performing in Brest-Litovsk, it was occupied by the advancing German army. This enabled Keikuatov and his wife Yulya, who was also a member of the theatrical group, to flee to the west. In Germany during the 1940s, he performed in Munich at the Blue Bird, a Russian immigrant theater, and then with the Black Sea Cossack Chorus, conducted by B. Ledkovsky. In 1951, he, his wife, and son, were able to come to America. Here, he sang with N.F. Kostrukoff’s General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus, and later S.A. Jaroff’s Don Cossack Chorus.
When I met and worked with him, in the early 1960s, he was still physically robust, standing 6’2″ tall, and carried himself with dignity and pride. He never looked down on anyone, and was always polite and cordial. When spoken to, he was always addressed as “Prince” (Knyaz). He was a wonderful sketch artist with a wonderful sense of humor which was, at times, caustic. He made many humorous sketches of the chorus; one of these sketches can be seen on a website detailing Jaroff’s chorus. Among the most humorous was a sketch of Jaroff, who cast a long, dark shadow. On the head of the shadow was a French military hat of the type worn by Napoleon. This was in reference to Jaroff’s claim of being the reincarnation of Napoleon. This sketch brought smiles to all the chorus members, including Jaroff.
The caustic side of his humor was subtle. I remember dining with him in Cologne. He ordered a steak and, looking at the size of the steak, asked the waiter if a microscope was also going to be served.
In his late 50s, he started to wear a tight-fitting rubber girdle beneath his Cossack blouse. Some would roll their eyes at this but, in reality, it shows Keikuatov’s knowledge of singing and the problems that older singers encounter. As singers grow older, the lower abdominal muscles that support the voice weaken, causing a distressing warble in their singing. Wearing this device was a brilliant solution to the problem, and enabled Keikuatov to sing at a high level of artistry and extend his career. I have heard of an Italian operatic baritone who, in the later years of his career, would take the wrist of the singer closest to him and force his or her hand as hard as he could into his lower abdomen to support these muscles when his big aria would come.
I will preface the following incident by facts from his early life: in the revolution of 1905 at the tender age of 5, he witnessed the burning of the beautiful chateau where he was born, designed by the Italian architect Rastrelli. In 1918, at the age of 13, hiding in the crowd, he watched his uncle and cousins being bound with barbed wire and buried alive, then watched as Bolshevik horsemen trampled over his relatives, leaving none alive. His mother died in 1920 of hunger in Odessa. His older brother, Misha, was presumed dead in 1922, killed by the reds. His five-year-old son died during Stalin’s hunger purges of the 1930s in the Ukraine. When performing with Jaroff’s chorus, on the east coast of the United States, it was unknown by the sponsors of the concerts that we were all American citizens and, to a man, anti-Soviet Union. These sponsors placed a soviet flag on the stage next to the American flag. As the chorus left the stage, Keikuatov turned his head and spat on the soviet flag as he passed it. Knowing the above facts, there are those — myself included — who do not condemn him for desecrating the soviet flag in this manner. His son, Oleg, was an officer in the United States Army, and served with distinction with Green Beret units in Vietnam. In November 28th, 1983, at the age of 82, a massive heart attack took him from the life.
A final remembrance, thinking back 50 years and more, I remember being impressed by his voice, its timbre and nobility of utterance which reminded me of the great Estonian operatic baritone, Georg Ots.
Special thanks to Siegfried Tiefenbeck, Germany, for supplying data and documents.
P._. Konuch was born in Belarus. Almost from day one of the Second World War, he fought against the Germans, sustaining a wound to an eye which left him with a permanent squint and required him to wear glasses.
After the war, he was able to make his way to Italy where, in Rome, he decided to study voice. There, he developed a lifelong friendship with another student, the Bulgarian bass, Boris Christoff, who within a few years would become world famous and the leading operatic bass in the world. Christoff would often invite Konuch to spend time with him during the summer at his villa outside of Rome. When they studied together, Konuch was thought to have had a voice of slightly better substance, but Christoff had a superior musical intellect and insight into music which made the difference between an excellent singer (Konuch) and a great artist (Christoff).
Konuch sang bass solos of sacred music and folk songs with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus. He is one of the many singers that sang with both Kostrukoff and Jaroff. With Jaroff’s chorus, he sang solo on recordings and on television. He was a quiet, kind and generous person, whom I liked and respected.
G.M. Kosoff was a Don Cossack colonel and fought the Germans from the beginning of World War I until the day Czarist Russia capitulated. Had the war continued, he would have been promoted to the rank of general, being the next in line to be promoted to that rank. He he been promoted, he would have been the youngest general in the Russian army, at the age of 26.
During the Revolution, he led White Guard Don Cossacks fighting under Admiral A.V. Kolchak in Siberia. With the defeat of the White Army, he fled Russia, leaving through China. He possessed a strong tenor voice, and was greatly respected by Kostrukoff and all the members of the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus.
Born in the Don Valley, Lazarev is numbered among the finest Cossack dancers. While dancing with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus, though still in his twenties, he had a full beard, which made him look much older. I remember Kostrukoff telling me that once, after a concert, a woman approached him and scolded him for making an old man do such a strenuous dance. She said she feared he would have a heart attack. Kostrukoff told the woman that Lazarev was only in his twenties and in excellent health. This calmed the woman.
Lazarev danced with Kostrukoff’s chorus, then later with Jaroff’s chorus. Deciding not to tour any longer, he danced at the Russian night club Balalaika, situated behind Carnegie Hall. There, the highlight of his dancing was Lezginka with flaming daggers
L._. Lugovsky was among those singers whose career started on the operatic stage, singing one or two years at the Odessa or the Kiev Opera. When the Germans invaded Russia (the Soviet Union), this ended his career as an opera singer. His powerful baritone voice, with its nut-brown timbre, was ideal for the sinister baritone roles in operas such as Jago in Verdi’s Otello, Gerard in Giordano’s Andre Chanier, and the three roles of Lindorf, Coppelius, and Dr. Miracle in Offen Bach’s The Tales of Hoffman, just to mention a few. In my opinion, from about 1940 to 1960, vocally, he was easily the equal of Ivan Petrov, the great Russian (Soviet) baritone of that time. Like many other singers, several times he switched choirs. The reasons for switching choirs were that it was a mark of prestige for one to say he was a member of both choirs. There were those who left Jaroff to join Kostrukoff, wanting to tour the United States and Canada, or be home for the Christmas holidays with their families, seeing as Kostrukoff’s choir took a respite of four to five weeks starting around the 20th of December. Those who left Kostrukoff to join Jaroff mainly did so to be able to see and tour Europe. The last few years before Jaroff’s retirement, Lugovsky was his assistant.
P._. Myhalik, the great basso octave whose powerful, resonant voice could easily descend to the F below low D (contra F), was among the first to volunteer following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and joined the US Marines. In a battle for one of the islands in the Pacific, he and another Marine were in a foxhole in an advanced position when a Japanese soldier crawled close and threw a grenade into their foxhole, killing his comrade and wounding Myhalik severely. He spent more than a year in the hospital recovering and, for the remainder of his life, had a silver plate in his head as a memento of the war. Of all the medals he received, he was most proud of his Purple Heart, and on occasions he proudly wore it in concert, pinned to his Cossack blouse.
In response to a recent inquiry that we received about Myhalik, I include my response:
Though we were good friends, I know little of his early life. The correct spelling of his name is Myhalik. His parents, though born in what is now Ukraine, thought of themselves as being Russian. Here, I deviate and go into Russian history: Russia began in the area around Kiev, and was known as Kievan-Rus (Russia). Due to constant wars with Tartars and other marauding tribes, the ruling families moved their capitol north and settled on the Moscow River, where they built a city that bears the name of that river. These northern lands were known as Great Russia, and the lands to the south (now the Ukraine) as “Little Russia”. The root of the word Ukraine is “krai,” which means “edge” or “side”, in other words, the edge of side of Russia. The lands to the far west, in the Carpathian Mountains, known today as Carpatho-Ukraine, was originally known as Carpatho-Rus (Russia), and this is the area where the Myhalik family comes from, being in earlier times Cossack border guards on the frontier.
Most likely, his early vocal training was in Russian church choirs. Prior to the Second World War, he sang with a Kuban Cossack choir that was then active in America. After being discharged from the Marines, the GI Bill enabled him to study formally at the New York College of Music. One of his teachers there was Dr. William Thomas Pollak. Ten years later, when I studied there, Dr. Pollak was also my teacher. I remember him telling me what a towering and sinister Sparfucile in Verde’s opera Rigoletto Paul would have been had he gone into opera. Two things thwarted this, one being the lack of repertoire for such a voice (in opera, the bass is required to sing no lower than the low D; Paul could sing the F below this with ease) and the other being, in his late 30s, he thought it too late to start a career that would take years to reach the top with there being no guarantee of final success.
When Jaroff retired, he appointed Paul administrator of the Don Cossack Chorus, and named George Margitich — though he never sang with the chorus — as conductor. Differences of opinion between the two led to Paul leaving the chorus.
Following Jaroff’s death, Margitich called the chorus together to sing at his wake. While Paul was also at the wake. Margitich did not ask him to sing with the chorus, which hurt Paul deeply, for he was a friend of Jaroff and once an important member of the chorus.
Paul belonged to a Masonic lodge, and in 1985 asked me to make several arrangements for his voice and organ that he could sing at various Masonic functions. In his 70s, Paul still worked to improve and perfect his singing. He took vocal lessons from Luigi Marcasio, a baritone who had an operatic career in Italy.
Paul’s passing was without pain or suffering. The morning of his death, finishing breakfast with his wife, he said he felt tired and wanted to lie down and rest. When his wife went to wake him, she found he had passed away.
If you have not read the biography of N.O. Reva, please do so, for I write of Paul there. You have expressed interest in knowing when Paul became an octavist. First, the octavist voice has nothing to do with when the voice breaks and settles into a specific voice category. Octavists don’t have a vocal technique, they have a vocal “method,” a method that is peculiar to the Russian people. Singers sing on the breath, expelling air as they sing. As strange as it may seem, the octavist sings while taking IN breath. For this reason octavists are sometimes referred to as “strohbass”. As there are no teachers that teach this method, I believe Paul (and Reva) achieved these lower notes through trial and error, and much experimentation.
Using a normal voice, Paul (a bass) could sing up to the D above middle C. Resonance is important to singing, and this is the key to the success of the octavist. As a dancer with Jaroff’s chorus, I was not on stage for the first part of the concert, which was dedicated to sacred music. At a concert at Beethoven Halle in Bonn, Germany — a large hall that seats more than 2,000 — Paul was curious about the acoustics of the hall, and asked me to go out front and hear his solo. Just prior to his solo, I slipped into the hall and stood against the far back wall. I was impressed with the huge size of the voice, and his projection, which carried to every corner of the large hall. When I told Paul, there was a smile of satisfaction on his face.
Resonance, which equates to projection, was the dominant aspect of his success. This, coupled with his lung power, and superior musical intelligence, made him the kind of singer that is only heard once every one or two hundred years. This may sound an outlandish and brash statement, but we have been recording the human voice for more than a 125 years. The first professional recording company, the Columbia Phonograph Company, was formed in 1889. Since then, hundreds of millions of recordings have been made. I challenge anyone to play for me a recording with a voice the equal of Paul.
E._. Nikiforov, born in or near Moscow, was the consummate professional dancer. He is one of the very, very few dancers that can honestly say that they never had a bad performance. Being proud of his American citizenship, after leaving the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus, he worked in Washington D.C. for a government agency.
Photo shows Nikiforov dancing in Town Hall, New York, with the Balalaika Symphony Orchestra of New York, conducted by Alexander Kutin.
Y._. Resnikoff, born in southern Russia to Don Cossack parents, sang baritone with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus. In later years, he moved on to Jaroff’s chorus, where he sang bass. He was Paul Mihalek’s brother-in-law, having married his sister. He also conducted a church choir.
N.O. Reva is one of the two marvelous basso octaves I was fortunate enough to know and work with, the other being P._. Myhalik. Generally, singers are wary and look askance at their competition, but not these two. If in the company of Reva, and the name of Myhalik came up, Reva would speak of him with great praise, respect and friendship. If in the company of Myhalik, and the name of Reva came up, Myhalik would speak of him with equally great praise, respect and friendship. This feeling of mutual goodwill may in part be due to both being of Zaporozhian Cossack blood. They liked to sing together, and together their voices were the solid foundation that the choral harmonies were supported on. The voice of Reva was soft grained and velvety in texture, while the voice of Myhalik had a metallic bite to it. It could sound like the voice of God or the voice of Doom. Though of different timbre and character, their voices blended perfectly together. During the first World War, Reva was a major in the Imperial Russian Army. An interesting note is that his passport did not list his nationality as Russian, but as “Cossack”. I have recently visited his gravesite to say a prayer. To honor the memory of these two remarkable singers, I have set to music the Lord’s Prayer, one reciting a line, then the other on the A below low D (contra A). First Reva, then Myhalik, ending with both singing together.
A.V. Savchuck, a registered Kuban Cossack at the All Cossacks American Stanitza, was among the finest tenors to ever sing with the Cossack Choruses. A.T. Gretchaninov chose him to sing the role of Aloysha in his operatic version of Dobrinya Nikititch, which was staged in Miami in the early 1950s. After the performance, Gretchaninov told Savchuck that he was the ideal Aloysha: quite a compliment from the composer, who heard such great Russian tenors as L.V. Sobinov and D.A. Smirnov sing the role! There is a Russian-language film of the life of Gretchaninov, made here in the United States, in which Savchuck appeared and sang Gretchaninov’s Lullaby. Savchuck was also an accomplished actor. His height of 6’2”, plus his manly good looks, made him a favorite of the ladies. In a photo taken when he was in his early twenties, he resembled the actor Tyrone Power. In his late 50s, he wore a mustache and resembled the actor Clark Gable so much that people would often mistake him for the famous actor, and for this reason his friend I.V. Assur would often call him Clark. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was soloist with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus.
Among the many anecdotes about him, there are several of great interest. In the Midwest, a young woman was so enamored with his voice and stage presence, that she followed the chorus a week or so just to hear him sing and speak to him after the concerts. He was always polite and respectful to her, being both honored and flattered by her adoration. Another time, an elderly woman, presumably a voice teacher, pulling a young man by the arm, approached Savchuck and, pointing a finger at him, shouted to the young man, “You have to sing like this man, you have to sing like this man.” In the summer of 1964, he made a tour of Japan with S.A. Jaroff and his Don Cossack Chorus, recording with them after the tour. On that recording, he sang the song Sakura in Japanese, and a duet with his good friend, the baritone Assur.
Savchuck sang under several different names: with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus, he used Holub, his stepfather’s name while, with the Jaroff choir, he used his own name, Savchuck. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a perennial guest on the Joe Franklin television show, where he used the name Don Carlo. He received an enormous amount of fan mail; Joe Franklin was also inundated with mail asking and sometimes demanding his further appearances.
Savchuck was one of the most versatile artists to have ever sung with a Cossack Chorus. His versatility ran from opera to Russian church music to operetta to Russian folk songs to musicals and to popular song. In the late 1980s, he appeared with the Capella Russian Male Chorus, “Akafist”, conducted by George Szurbak. At the International Orthodox Music Festival in Hajnowka, Poland, he was asked to sing three solos. He declined, saying that one would suffice, and the other two should be given to younger singers, to enable them the opportunity to sing solo. Savchuck’s solo was a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, on one note. Though only on one note, he imbued the prayer with great artistry of vocal coloring, shading and usage of delicate nuances to balance word with music. On returning home to the US from Poland, he visited me. There was one unusual incident that he wanted to tell me about: after the concert, a woman came to him and told him that the beauty of his voice and singing so enthralled and engulfed her that she experienced an orgasm. Unusual indeed! But I can relate to what the woman heard; in cathedrals, or large churches, the acoustics, with the reverberation of sound and the adding of overtone on overtone bring out another dimension in the voice, which is never heard in the opera house or concert hall. This is why singers of the past and present have always liked to sing in cathedrals and large churches. Since the late 1930s, recording engineers have been able to approximate this by adding an echo chamber to the recording. The great Swedish tenor Jussi Björling was among the first to have this process in his now famous recordings.
A side note about acoustical properties in such large spaces. The Hagia Sofia Cathedral, now a mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey, possesses a wonderfully beautiful acoustic anomaly. A person can sing a four note chord: do mi so do and as he sings, each note hangs in the air and is followed by the following notes and all four notes can be heard simultaneously as one chord for several seconds, then slowly dissipates, one tone after the other.
When the chorus was touring Alaska, there was no road that lead to the town of their next concert. The chorus had to travel upriver, on a large motorboat. It was late fall, and the sun set early in the afternoon. Savchuck was talking to the captain at the wheel. Savchuck, looking out, saw something in the water. Pointing to it, he asked the captain, “What’s that?” The captain, seeing what he pointed at, quickly swerved the boat, barely missing a log floating downstream. The captain told Savchuck that due to the fading light he hadn’t seen the log and, if they would have struck it at the speed they were going, there would be no motorboat left and they would all be in the water.
Another time, there was a problem with the bus. Being close to the bus company’s main building, the driver decided to return there and exchange the bus. Kostruckoff and Savchuck walked into the work area to talk to the manager. Kostruckoff, not seeing a grease pit behind him, stepped back and started to fall into the pit. Savchuck, seeing this, grabbed Kostruckoff under the arms, stopping his fall and then lifting him out of the pit. Had Savchuck not done this, Kostruckoff most surely would have been injured and, depending on the severity, it could have caused cancellation of the tour and possibly even disbanding of the chorus.
There was a time when the bus driver was ill and couldn’t drive. Savchuck drove the bus 200 or 300 miles, to the next concert.
In the late 1960s, Savchuck decided not to tour with the Cossack Choruses, but he had not lost his desire nor his love of singing (he once told me he would sing until the day he died). He then sang in the chorus of the City Center Opera of New York, until he retired in his early 70s. Even after that, he could be heard singing in the choir of the Russian Orthodox Church on 125th Street in New York.
Savchuck was always a team player and always worked for the success of the chorus. At times, he would hum the melody with the soloist. This would not only reenforce the melody, but also add a golden tinge to the soloist’s voice. When not on tour with the choruses, he sang on Sundays in the Russian Orthodox church choir on 125th street in New York, the Capella Russian Male Chorus, conducted by N. P. Afonsy, and the liturgical singers male chorus, which was headquartered at the Russian Orthodox Church in Singac, New Jersey. One afternoon, he called and asked me to meet him at a rehearsal of the liturgical singers. I arrived a little early, as the chorus assembled, the chorus’s administrator told them everything would be fine, and there would be a good rehearsal because Savchuck would be there. This shows the respect and esteem in which he was held by his colleagues and those who knew him. I end this biography of A.V. Savchuck by saying that I am very proud to have been able to call him friend.
V.P. Seminev, was born in Southern Russia, his mother being the daughter of a Don Cossack. At the close of the second World War, like many others, his family was removed to Germany against their will, presumably for forced labor, and placed in a camp with barbed wire fences, guarded by Germans with sub-machine guns. V.P. Seminev was eight or nine years old at this time. He told me once, when he had gotten too close to the barbed wire fence, a German soldier on the other side of the wire, with a sub-machine gun, charged at him menacingly, shouting “rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat” to get him away from the fence. After the war, the Seminev family was able to emigrate to Venezuela, and from there to the United States.
At the end of the 1961 Fall Tour, Kostruckoff asked if I could find dancers for the upcoming 1962 Spring Tour. It was at this time that I met Babitsch and Seminev. I taught them Kozatchok and set dance routines for them. I informed Kostruckoff of this and, on my recommendation, he contracted them without an audition. Babitsch did well, but Seminev, during the very first concert while dancing, sprained his ankle and couldn’t dance the remainder of the tour. Kostruckoff could have sent him home and replaced him, but instead asked me what I thought; I said that if Seminev returned home after only one day with the chorus, there would be those who would snicker and perhaps ridicule him. Behind the facade of a tough, battle-hardened Cossack officer, Kostruckoff was a man of compassion and a sympathetic nature: he kept Seminev with the chorus for the Spring Tour but, not knowing his abilities, did not take him in the following 1962 Fall Tour.
Prior to the 1963 Spring Tour, I told Kostruckoff that I had worked with Seminev the previous summer and again after the Fall Tour. Once again, on my recommendation, and without an audition, he re-hired Seminev. At the first concert, Kostruckoff watched intently as he danced. After the concert, Kostruckoff told me he was well pleased and satisfied with Seminev’s dancing.
Seminev became my best friend: I became the godfather of his daughter Eileen, and he the godfather of my daughter, Glafera. He was always there for me, helping me with home repairs while slowly dying of cirrhosis of the liver. Until the day he died, he always spoke of Kostruckoff in terms of respect and gratitude, being proud and honored to have danced with him and his General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus.
G.A. Soloduhin was born in the Kuban River region of the Caucasus, where his grandfather, a Don Cossack, had resettled two generations earlier. Soloduhin’s father served with distinction in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 and 1905. Soloduhin’s military training was at the Kuban Cossack Stanitsa of Ilyinsk. With Kostrukoff and his General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus at the 1939 World’s Fair in San Fransisco, Soloduhin’s fiery and hair-raising dagger dance was a prominent part of the enormous success that the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus received.
Soloduhin was a marvelous horseman, being trained by his father and grandfather from an early age in the Cossack art of “dzhigitovka”, or trick riding. With a band of fellow Kuban Cossacks, he was featured by the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in spectacular trick riding, being especially noted for his riding strapped to the belly of a horse in full gallop.
Soloduhin also worked in Hollywood, appearing in dozens of motion pictures which needed a trick rider, often dressed as a cowboy, Indian, calvary trooper or whatever the film required. With the onset of the Second World War, he returned to the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus for an overseas tour to entertain American troops in the Pacific theater. He remained with the General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus for the remainder of his artistic career.
Photos From “Life and Destiny of a Cossack,” autobiography of G.A. Soloduhin
N._. Voronoff was born in Siberia. He was able to flee the Soviet Union, leaving through China. He made his way to the United States, where he settled in northern California. Though not a soloist, he was one of those indispensable singers who’s voice (a baritone) added richness and depth to the choir. He was polite and helpful to anyone who needed help. He sang honestly, and for the success of the choir. He was just one of the many cultured and refined singers who sang with the choir.
I.M. Wereschagin was a first-class dancer who danced with fire and a purpose: to uphold and continue the Cossack dance tradition, and to honor his Don Cossack heritage. I first met him when he was fifteen or sixteen years of age. At that time, he possessed a fine, light lyric tenor voice and, if he had pursued a vocal career, there is little doubt he would not have developed into a tenor of the highest quality. Instead, he chose to develop his talents as an exhibitionist Cossack dancer. His father was a Don Cossack officer who was quiet, reserved, soft-spoken and always in control of his emotions. During the Second World War, he fought against the Germans. His courage and reckless abandon caused him to be revered and respected by his fellow Cossacks. I was told that, once he climbed on a German tank, shot the German positioned in the turret, then dropped a grenade into the tank, killing the crew and destroying the tank. His mother, who I met when she was in her mid- to late-forties, was a very attractive woman, with finely chiseled features and high Asiatic cheekbones. I have seen pictures of her taken in her twenties; she was a woman of great beauty. To me, they were Uncle Mischa and Aunt Olya. As a team, Wereschagin and I started our careers as dancers, first as amateurs, with a repertoire of Kozatchok, Russian folk dance, Russian sailor’s dance, sabre dance, and Lezginka, then professionally in 1960 with Kostruckoff and his General Platoff Don Cossack Chorus. Wereschagin also sang tenor with the Chorus.
We started our dancing careers together and we ended them together in 1982, dancing in a concert of the Don Cossack Chorus, conducted by G._. Margitich, who conducted the chorus after S.A. Jaroff retired. This concert took place at Montclair State Teacher’s College in Montclair, New Jersey. The famous tenor, Nicolai Gedda, was the featured soloist.
List of Chorus Members
The list of chorus members is woefully short, and represents only about 25% of those who performed with the choir. If anyone has information about others who performed with the choir, and can substantiate it with a program, photograph, or other memorabilia, please contact us and we will be proud to add their names to the list or biography to this page.
Alexandrov, Avramenko, Azarov, Blair, Dedovitch, Franchesco, Galley, Guzenko, Jordan, Karigoz, Kosoff, Kukuruza, Kulick, Lashevich, Mamonoff, Martinez, Sablin, Savchuck, Semionoff, Shemansky, Staneslovsky, Tanner, Tarpoff, Usenko, Vasilev, Wereschagin
Aristoff, Assur, Kiekuatov, Lugovsky, Marco, Olsen, Prock, Slepoushkin, Voronoff, Youranieff
Andronoff, Chumak, Dubrovsky, Foster, Gann, Grigorieff, Kadarik, Konuch, Kotchoubey, Kudravaty, Resnikoff, Soresio, Tchechoff
Abuk, Babitsch, Bochko, Ferensick, Firsow, Foster, Lechow, Hutkovsky, Medvedev, Nikiforov, Sablin, Schikolenko, Seminev, Soloduhin, Tavasieff, Wereschagin, Zhandor
It may be noticed that among the chorus members there are several non-Russians. The last decade or so of the choir’s existence, to keep up the high standard of performance, several non-Russians of exceptional vocal and dancing ability were taken into the choir. Not only Kostruckoff did this, as Jaroff also made use of non-Russian/Cossack talent. When Andre Schlouch was conducting the Black Sea Choir, he also did this: there was one German bass, Hans Rippert who, after leaving the Black Sea Choir, became world famous as a singer of Russian folk songs under the name of Ivan Rebroff.