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Programme Booklet for the Gala Performance of The Pearl
at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, 17 May, 1896,
in celebration of the Coronation of Emperor Nicholas II

[suitable for framing]

“Later we drove to the Bolshoi theatre for a gala performance. As usual they were giving the 1st and last acts of A Life for the Tsar and a beautiful new ballet The Pearl.”

Nicholas II, writing in his diary, 17 May 1896

“Yesterday there was a gala performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, the Empress was in a silver brocade dress.”

Grand Duke Konstantin Romanov, writing in his diary, 17 May 1896

Details of page 1 and verso

Details of page 2 and verso

Details of page 3 and verso

7pp. Presented for sale unbound in seven individual leaves (printed on both sides, except blank verso of Leaf 4) and sold only as a complete set.

Size: 43.5 x 31.8 cms (17.1 x 12.5 inches).

Description: An extremely rare complete programme booklet for the gala first performance of the especially commissioned ballet The Pearl (music by Riccardo Drigo, choreography by Marius Petipa), presented at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, 17 May 1896, in celebration of the coronation, and in the presence of, Emperor Nicholas II, and Empress Alexandra. Illustrations by Nikolai Semenovich Samokish (1860-1944). Published by the Imperial Moscow Theatres.

Rarity: No copy recorded in the A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum, the St Petersburg State Museum of Theatrical and Musical Arts, or the Central State Archives.

Condition: Slight foxing and staining on the title page which has browned over the years, but all other leaves otherwise clean, with only minor flaws, tears to edges. Slight creasing through the middle of each leaf (the booklet had been stored folded). In its original state, the booklet was interleaved with tissue paper (for the protection of the illustrations); this tissue paper has disintegrated over time but there has been no perceptible deterioration in the quality of the illustrations which retain a wonderful luminous quality – most of all in the silver and gold which is used with lavishness throughout.

Provenance: Purchased from the collection of Arsen Degen, Russian ballet critic.

Presented for sale unbound in seven individual leaves (printed on both sides, except blank verso of Leaf 4) and sold only as a complete set.

Price upon application     enquire

Postage, packing and insurance extra

Suitable for framing. An expert restorer will be able to clean the frontispiece and the few marks on the remaining leaves. I can arrange for the restoration and framing to be done at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Price for this upon request.

Comment: The beauty of this programme booklet is manifest not only in the colour and draughtsmanship of the illustrations (by Nikolai Semenovich Samokish, 1860-1944), which show a wonderful rich imagination, but also in the cohesion and logic that is contained within just seven pages – beginning after the title page with the coronation itself, moving into the scenes of the ballet, and then ending with an audience leaving the Bolshoi after the performance.

In 1896 the Imperial Russian Ballet in St Petersburg was headed by the Frenchman Marius Petipa, who had by then been Chief Balletmaster for more than twenty five years. The Bolshoi in Moscow was at this period very much the second theatre; it was without a resident balletmaster for long periods, and was short of money (most of the budget was spent in the capital). For a coronation performance such as The Pearl most of the personnel at the Mariinsky was transported to Moscow. Ivan Vsevolozhsky was at the head of the Administration. Riccardo Drigo was a composer and principal conductor at the Mariinsky. This was the team which had produced Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty in 1890 (it was Vsevolozhsky who had had the idea for the ballet, and designed the costumes), Nutcracker in 1892 (Drigo had conducted at the first performance), and the revised Swan Lake in 1895. This was the Golden Age of Russian ballet.

Historical Background: This is the only known extant original of this very beautiful programme booklet, which is unique, not only as an historical record of the history of Imperial Russia, but also for the particular circumstances surrounding the ballet itself, namely the backstage intrigues perpetrated before the premiere, by Mathilde Kschessinskaya, prima ballerina and formerly the mistress of the Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich (later Nicholas II).

In her memoirs Kschessinskaya herself describes how when she learnt that she was not to dance in the coronation gala (she had fallen out of favour at the Imperial Russian Ballet as soon as her relationship with the Tsarevich ended), she wrote to Nicholas reminding him of his promise that she could ask him for his help at any time. Upon receipt of his former mistress’s note, Nicholas was as good as his word, and made it clear to the Directorate of the Imperial Russian Theatres that he wished for Kschessinskaya to dance. Both Drigo and Petipa were then duty bound to hurriedly write the music, and create the steps, for a new interpolated number, The Yellow Pearl.

Every dancer of note then employed by the Imperial Russian Theatres performed in this ballet, including Pierina Legnani, Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Maria Petipa, Ekaterina Gelzer, Vera Trefilova, Pavel Gerdt, Nikolai Legat and Sergei Legat.


Kschessinskaya, Mathilde, Dancing in St Petersburg (London: Victor Gollancz, 1960).

Massie, Robert K., Nicholas and Alexandra (London: Victor Gollancz, 1968).

Maylunas, Andre and Mironenko, Sergei, translations from original documents by Darya Galy, A Lifelong Passion, Nicholas and Alexandra, Their Own Story (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1996).

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© 2005 Jeremy Noble