“The Moscow State Chamber Theater on Tour around the USSR.” Cover of Zhizn’ iskusstva (Art Life), no. 11, year unknown, featuring portraits of members of the Kamernyi Theater, including its director, Aleksandr Tairov (top row, center). (YIVO)

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Tairov, Aleksandr Iakovlevich

(1885–1950), theater director, founder of the Kamernyi Theater in Moscow. Aleksandr Tairov (originally Kornblit) was born into a teacher’s family in the town of Romny, Poltava province. He gained his first theatrical experience as a gymnasium student in Kiev, where he played in amateur productions. In 1905, while studying at the Kiev University Law Faculty, Tairov began acting on the professional stage. Accepted into the Saint Petersburg troupe of Vera Komissarzhevskaia in 1906, he transferred to Saint Petersburg University.

In 1907, Tairov was invited to join the Itinerant Popular Theater, where he performed until 1909 and also directed his first plays. From 1909 to 1912, while continuing to appear as an actor, Tairov worked mainly as a director at the Russian Municipal Theater in Riga (1909–1910), the Simbirsk Drama Theater (1910–1911), and the A. K. Reinek New Drama Theater in Saint Petersburg (1911–1912).

In 1912, Tairov decided to leave the theater. In 1913, he completed his university studies and joined the Moscow Law Association. That same year, however, he was invited to join the Moscow Free Theater, where he produced the plays Peretta’s Cloak by Arthur Schnitzler and The Yellow Jacket by Joseph Henry Benrimo and George C. Hazelton. A group of like-minded actors coalesced while these productions were created, and with them Tairov organized the Kamernyi (Chamber) Theater in Moscow in 1914. He remained the theater’s artistic director until 1949. His wife, actress Alisa Koonen (1889–1974), became his closest collaborator.

Tairov’s aesthetic principles—which repudiated both what he called Stanislavsky’s “naturalistic” theater and Meyerhold’s “conditional” (symbolic or nonrealistic) theater—found expression in the Kamernyi Theater’s productions. Tairov declared his goal to be the creation of “heroic theater” and “theater of great feeling.” He defined several stages in the development of his method: “neorealism” and “concrete realism” in the 1920s, when he produced Phaedra by Jean-Baptiste Racine, Giroflé-Girofla by Charles Lecocq, and Groza (The Thunderstorm) by Aleksandr Ostrovskii; “structural realism” in the 1930s, with The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Optimisticheskaia tragediia (Optimistic Tragedy) by Vsevolod Vishnevskii; and “romantic realism” in the 1940s, with Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and Bez viny vinovatye (Guilty without Guilt) also by Ostrovskii.

Tairov attributed great importance to actors’ mastery of technique and the creation of stage characters as a synthesis of emotion and form. Emphasizing the intrinsic value of plays as artistic productions, Tairov insisted that directors take an active role in working with dramatic material. He also devoted particular attention to his productions’ sets, which were designed by leading artists.

During the anticosmopolitan campaign, Tairov was accused of cosmopolitanism and formalism. In June 1949, he was removed from his position as head of the Kamernyi Theater. In August 1950 the theater was renamed the A. S. Pushkin Moscow Drama Theater. During the last months of his life, Tairov worked on the plan for a book about his creative career. He died in September 1950 in Moscow.

Suggested Reading

Aleksandr Iakovlevich Tairov, Zapiski rezhissera: Stat’i, besedy, rechi, pis’ma (Moscow, 1970).



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson