Elena Chudakova (1925-05-01 Briansk, Russia – 1973-04-07 Vilnius) – a Lithuanian opera singer, lyric coloratura soprano, 1952–1973 a soloist of the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theatre. She is one of the most celebrated Lithuanian opera singers of the 20th century, the foremost Lithuanian coloratura sopranos. Both contemporaries and music critics praised her for a unique, crystal clear timbre and wide diapason as well as ability to richly project a character.
Elena Chudakova was born on May 1, 1925 in Briansk (Russia) to a family of Alexandra and Venyamin Makovsky. Even though there were no musicians in a family, Elena fascinated everybody with her singing since she was a child. Soon the family moved to Smolensk and during the war years (mother, Elena and her brother Vyacheslav) retreated to Kirsanov (Tambov Oblast) where Elena completed nursing courses and started working in a hospital. She used to sing everywhere – at the hospital and at home; with friends she formed an amateur collective, which was led by a serviceman Ivan Chudakov. In 1943 he married Elena. After the couple moved to Alma Ata Chudakova completed a radio operator training courses. She worked at the Pavlodar airport. In 1944, she was appointed to the Vilnius Meteorological Station. Her vocal talent was noticed and she was invited to join a Baltic military district song and dance ensemble where she soon became the leading soloist.
In 1946, encouraged by her friends Chudakova entered Vilnius Music School (presently J. Tallat-Kelpša Conservatoire), where she studied with a talented pedagogue Lyudmila Menabeni. As Chudakova progressed very rapidly, she was accepted to the Lithuanian SSR State Conservatoire (presently the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre) in 1947. At the Conservatoire she studied singing with Menabeni, opera singing with Antanas Sodeika and chamber singing with Chaimas Potašinskas.
Her first solo appearance at the Concert Hall of the Conservatoire in January 1952 earned her great recognition. The same year she graduated from the Conservatoire and started singing at the Opera Theatre. Her first significant role was Violeta in Verdi’s opera La traviata. Throughout her career Chudakova appeared as Violeta 135 times. And 20 years later it was one of her last roles.
In 1954, the Opera Theatre introduces itself in Moscow’s Academic Theatre. Chudakova’s Violeta gets rave reviews. Back home she is honoured with the title of Distinguished Artist of the LSSR, and the Opera Theatre – the Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre.
During her first five years at the Opera Theatre Chudakova appeared in almost all main coloratura soprano roles and casted majority of her best operatic soprano roles: Violeta (Verdi’s La traviata), Marfa (Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar’s Bride), Gilda (Verdi’s Rigoletto), Musette (Puccini’s La bohème), Rosina (Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia), Lakmé (Delibes’ Lakmé), Konstanze (Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail).
From 1955 on Chudakova gives solo concerts, enhances her repertoire with chamber music works. She performs in the Philharmonic Hall in Vilnius and also in different cities and small regional towns. In about two decades her concert repertoire was rich with folk songs, works by Lithuanian and Russian composers including: songs, romances and opera arias by J. Gruodis, P. Tchaikovsky, N. Rimsky-Korsakov and S. Rachmaninov as well as vocal opuses by W. A. Mozart, J. Weckerlen, F. Schubert, J. Brahms, E. Grieg, F. Chopin, J. Strauss, G. Meyerbeer and A. Dvořák. She usually was joined by her regular stage partner pianist H. Znaidzilauskaitė. At the radio studio Chudakova and the Lithuanian Radio Orchestra led by J. Vadauskas recorded R. Glière’s Concerto for Coloratura and Orchestra.
In 1957, together with the Opera and Ballet Theatre Company and musicians from the State Philharmonic Chudakova tours in the People’s Republic of Poland giving 16 concerts in Warsaw, Cracow, Poznan, Wroclaw and Koszalin.
In summer of 1958 she participates in the Opera Theatre’s trip to Leningrad. The singer earns great recognition everywhere. In the Leningrad press V. Dmitryevsky especially lauded Chudakova’s Violeta: “The singer projects the heroine’s inner state vividly. It seems, that by revealing every emotion the loving person experiences she reached the pinnacle of great tragedy.” (J. Viliūtė, p. 69)
The highlights of the second decade of her career (1960–1970) include Princess Ninette in Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges, Zerline in Auber’s Fra Diavolo, Manon Lescaut in Massenet’s Manon, Juliette in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, Adina in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen, Jolanta in Tchaikovsky’s Jolanta, Olympia in Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann, Arsena in J. Strauss’ Der Zigeunerbaron.
She gave concerts in Moscow, Riga, the Caucasus, the Ukraine, Moldova and Poland. Concerts and opera productions garnered her wide recognition.
In 1963, after tour in Moscow she was honoured with the title of the People’s Artist of the LSSR.
In 1969, a new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto is put on. Chudakova introduces a new concert programme and performs with the Lithuanian String Quartet as well as the State Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra led by S. Sondeckis. In 1970, together with a group of the Opera Theatre soloists she tours Bulgaria. Her brilliant singing earns outstanding acclaim, her Violeta is considered to be second to none on the then scene. Back from the tour Chudakova records 14 songs by J. Gruodis at the Record Studio. She is awarded the LSSR Prize for her roles of Violeta, Gilda, Rosina, Manon and Lakmé.
The 1971–1972 season is as intensive. Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La traviata and Der Zigeunerbaron in Vilnius, Kaunas and other cities in Lithuania. Even though already seriously ill, she starts 1972–1973 season full of energy – sings Gilda, appears in the concert for the Central Television, works on a new role – Frasquita in Bizet’s Carmen, and at the end of October together with a group of the artists leaves for the USA – sings in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. She conceals her weakening physical state and is equally demanding to herself and colleagues. “Her coloratura technique is excellent, diction clear, intonation precise, dynamic range rich and applied in the right measure and taste, timbre lucid, bright, tender” (J. Viliūtė, p. 132). On December 1st she gives her 135th and the last performance of Violeta (La traviata).
Chudakova’s last appearance on stage took place on December 2, 1972 as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto.
She died on April 7, 1973 in a hospital in Vilnius.
Chudakova is buried in Antakalnis Cemetery. Gravestone was built in 1977 (Sculpt. B.Vyšniauskas). Even though her personal life was not easy and quite dramatic, her artistic accomplishments made Chudakova an unforgettable Lithuanian opera legend.
Among music lovers Chudakova was called by the most affectionate name: “Our Violeta”. Indeed, even though she sang other most challenging lyric coloratura soprano roles, Violeta in Verdi’s La traviata was her most cherished one. And to this day as Violeta she is in a class of her own. Chudakova’s Violeta was herself – with an unquenchable thirst for love, saintly dedication and premonition of tragic destiny. For opera critics in Poland, Bulgaria and Germany she was a discovery: “Your Chudakova is a miracle! She is a singer of the highest calibre!” they wrote comparing our Violeta and Gilda to the greatest bel canto stars Amelita Galli-Curci (1882–1963) and Toti dal Monte (1893–1975).” (G. Kaukaitė. Mūsų Violeta – Elena Čiudakova. “Literatūra ir menas”, 2015. No. 3520)
On April 2, 1997 a memorial plaque with the singer’s bas-relief was fixed to the wall of a house on Goštauto st. 4 in Vilnius, where the singer lived in 1963–1973, (sculpt. Skaistė Žilienė).
Written by Aldona Juodelienė
Zerline, „Fra Diavolo“, 1960
Micaela, „Carmen“, 1960;
Frasquita, „Carmen“, 1972.
Olga, „Rusalka“, 1954
Adina, „L’elisir d’amore“, 1966
Lakme, „Lakme“, 1955
Krasnaia shapochka - „Krasnaia shapochka“, 1959
Juliet, „Romeo and Juliet“, 1965
Manon, „Manon“, 1964
Zofia, „Halka“, 1972
Konstanze, „Die Entführung aus dem Serail“, 1957
Violetta, „La Traviata“, 1952;
Count Ceprano, „Rigoletto“, 1954;
Gilda, „Rigoletto“, 1957;
A Voice from Heaven, „Don Carlos“, 1959;
Amelia's servant, „Un ballo in maschera“, 1967.
Olympia, „The Tales of Hoffmann“, 1962
Princesse Ninette, „The Love for Three Oranges“, 1963
Musetta, „La Boheme“, 1954
Marfa, „The Tsar’s Bride“, 1952
Rosina, „The Barber of Seville“, 1956
Esmeralda, „The Bartered Bride“, 1955
Arsena, „The Gypsy Baron“, 1962
Iolanta, „Iolanta“, 1961
Aukselė, „Vaiva“, 1958
Aušrelė, „Duktė“, 1960
Malvina, „Buratinas“, 1969
“…her Violeta” is a woman anticipating love and her destiny… Chudakova knows how to read Verdi’s intonations and projects Violeta’s entire passion, love and sacrifice via voice exclusively. She does that extremely sensitively, outlining emotional nuances with exquisite delicacy”
“The voice of wondrous silvery clarity, saturated with inner warmth and life’s optimism, was in agreement with scenic verisimilitude, absolute sincerity and unaffectedness.”
“In her singing every word was meaningful as if coloured, every composition – a canvas, scene. Talking about such canvases could easily fill hours: Belazaras’ fragile, white-reddish song The Apple Trees; Gruodis’ I Dreamed a Dream lit by sun; as if tuned from colourful patches Tchaikovsky’s My Little Liza; a passionately intoxicating romance I Opened the Window; Rachmaninov’s greenish barcarole They Answered as well as his limpid and transparent romance It is So Good Here…”