Actor Kirill Lavrov, the longtime artistic director of St. Petersburg’s main Great Dramatic Theater (known locally by its initials, BDT) and a patriarch of the Russian theater, died April 27 in that city after a long illness. He was 81.
Born in Kiev, Ukraine into a family with theatrical roots, Lavrov received no formal stage education. A combination of wartime evacuation, and then eight years service in the Soviet army, meant that when he appeared, practically unannounced, at the Ukrainian National Theater in Kiev, his path to future fame was far from assured.
But that fame came quickly, and in 1955 he was moved to Leningrad’s BDT into the company of legendary Soviet director Georgy Tovstonogov (after whom the company remains named today). He became the theater’s artistic director in 1989.
Lavrov then made an early attempt, not entirely successful given the climate of the time, to bring in new directing talent to the theater. He himself continued to star on its stage almost until the last — and even on the day of his funeral, April 29, had been scheduled to play a role.
As much for his administrative as theatrical duties, he became a city legend, acclaimed as an Honorary Citizen of St. Petersburg. Other state prizes for an actor who in his time embodied to some extent the ideal Socialist hero were also plentiful — notably one Lenin and two State prizes.
Popular fame as one of the few actors allowed to depict Communist leader Vladimir Lenin arguably restricted his theater career — though he only played the role four times, twice on screen and twice on the stage.
Rather he will be remembered for the likes of stage roles like Molchalin in Griboyedov’s “Woe from Wit” from 1962, and Astrov in Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya” 20 years later, both at the theater which was his home for more than 50 years.
Among a wide variety of screen roles, his Ivan Karamazov in Ivan Pyryev’s “Brothers Karamazov” (1969) stands out — where he starred alongside the recently deceased Mikhail Ulyanov, another sanctioned Lenin player.
Lavrov’s official connection with ideology was patriotic rather than directly Communist, although he served as a national deputy in various sessions of the Soviet national assembly, at a time when artistic figures were an increasing part of the public face of that organization.
One of his last screen roles was that of Pontius Pilate in an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s once-forbidden novel “Master and Margarita.”