The Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev has frequently been hailed as an emblem of 20th-century modernism, its productions created by a ““committee”” of directors, composers, and designers viewed as a realization of an elusive dream of art synthesis. Present research based on diverse unpublished sources traces the beginning of the transition toward modernism on stage to the earlier activities of the Moscow Private Opera directed by Savva Mamontov. An artist and a millionaire, Mamontov succeeded in realizing his ideal of opera as a synthesized art form by instigating major reforms in acting, directing, and design, all later adopted by Diaghilev. However, parallels between their two enterprises have always been dismissed as coincidental. New evidence reveals the existence of a mentor-student relationship between Mamontov and Diaghilev based on shared aesthetic views that earned both men a derogatory label of ““decadents.”” Intrigued by Mamontov's philosophy and collaborative methodology employed in creating productions such as Gluck's Orfeo and Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko, Diaghilev studied organizational principles of his enterprise and modeled the Ballets Russes after them, while himself assuming the role of an artistic director similar to Mamontov's. Thus, Savva Mamontov paved the way for the modernist vision of theater presented to the world by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.
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