Praskovya Zhemchugova (1768-1803), the Russian actress, singer (soprano).
Born in the village Berezino of the Yaroslavl Region in a family of a village smith, a serf of the Count Boris Sheremetev. When a girl, she was taken as a house-serf to the estate Kuskovo, where the Countess Marfa Dolgorukaya made the girl her pupil. The Countess dressed Praskovya as a daughter of a nobleman; teachers taught her different subjects, noble manners and music. Good voice and absolute pitch lead Praskovya to the most famous in Russia Serf Opera and Ballet Theatre that belonged to Sheremetevs at that time.
In 1779 the girl made her debut on the stage of the serf theatre in Kuskovo in the role of a maidservant Gubert in the comic opera by A.E.M. Gretri “Test of Friendship”. After successful debut Sheremetev charged Kovaleva the main role of Belinda in the opera by A. Saccini “Colony, or New Settlement”. In this performance the actress appeared under the name of Zhemchugova, because Sheremetev decided to replace “vulgar” surnames of his actresses with new ones, relating
to names of precious stones. After the role of Belinda Kovaleva-Zhemchugova became primadonna of the company of Sheremetev’s Kuskovo theatre situated near Moscow.
The most prominent role was the one of Alina (“Queen of Golkonda”, by Seden, 1786): the Empress Ekaterina who was present at the play in Kuskovo granted Zhemchugova with a diamond ring. At the end of 1880-ies actors of the Medox Company started to teach serf actors of Sheremetev (M.S. Sinyavskaya managed the woman’s part of company), at the same time Zhemchugova became the wife of Sheremetev.
The actress played about 50 opera roles. Creative work of Zhemchugova absorbed the best traditions of the folk music. Acting in operas of the western composers she enriched texts with the Russian dialect, created her own musical variants of recitatives and passages.
In the times of the golden age of the theatre Zhemchugova got ill with consumption. Performances stopped for a time, but in 1797 on the occasion of visit of Pavel I “Samnit Marriages” were presented. In 1798 Sheremetev freed Zhemchugova and all her family. He understood that poor health would not let Zhemchugova return to the stage, so the Count closed the theatre.
In 1801 Sheremetev married Zhemchugova in secret. On February 3, 1803 she gave birth to a son and died in the night of February 23. Zhemchugova was buried in Sheremetev’s family crypt. In memory of Praskovya Zhemchugova a common lodging-house (“hospitage”) was constructed that should “give all homeless night’s lodging, all hungry – meals and one hundred poor brides – dowry” (today the Scientific Research Institute of Emergency Care named after N. Sklifosovskiy is situated here).
Charming image of Zhemchugova is embodied in the folk song “In the late evening from the forest…”, on the portraits pictured by N.I. Argunov. In memory of Zhemchugova Praskovyina Street is named (former Maryina Street) in Ostankino, and in 1970 – an alley in Kuskovo.