Written: Mousinka Silla-Novickaya 1916 Moskwa
Sergei Prokofiev mentioned in his diaries that Moussia had been in theatre school in Russia under Stanislavski’s pupil Meyerhold and was familiar with the ideas of Commedia dell’arte and Carlo Gozzi. He was impressed by her professional knowledge and views. He took her advice during the year preceding the premiere of the opera The Love for three Oranges in Chicago (30 December 1921, see article 1 in this series) and she sat next to him during the final rehearsals. The opera is based on the Italian play L’amore delle tre melarance by Gozzi. Earlier that year, in Los Angeles, he had been impressed by a talk given by her, in impeccable French, on the subject of Molière.
At the time that Moussia started her acting lessons with Vsevolod Meyerhold, he worked in St. Petersburg, so she must have moved there and it was probably in that city that she met Vladimir Baranovsky, who also lived and worked there. Some circumstantial evidence suggests that she also had contacts with, or maybe even had lessons at, the influential Moscow Academic Art Theatre (MCHAT) of Constantin Stanislavski. On several of her pictures of later years she wrote In memory of Moscow. Moreover, she knew some of the troupe’s most prominent members, like Vera Baranovskaya, who later also became famous as a film actress. Vera was the sister of Moussia’s first husband Vladimir Baranovsky. She may also have known Stanislavski’s wife Marija Lilina. In her personal photo collection she kept a beautiful photo of Marija Lilina (1866-1943) on the back of which she wrote a note in Russian that in 1937 Lilina played Countess Vronskaya in a stage adaptation of Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina, adding that Marija had created that role herself. At the time, not many people in the West knew about Marija Lilina.
Moussia’s beloved brother Julian, two years her junior, had ambitions of his own:
These pictures have been taken in 1916, when he was 19 years old. The one on the left carries the following caption in Russian :
Pilot Julian Sila-Nowicki, of the 18th Air Squadron.
He wears a military cap with a small aviation emblem. On the right, he wears the same coat but with an astrakhan cap to match the collar. More about Julian in later articles.
1915, Moussia at the age of 20
Marija Lilina, in her role of Countess Vronskaya, 1937
(to be continued)