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Mark Reizen was born into a large Jewish family remarkable for its musicality and the longevity of its individual members (his grandfather lived to be over 100 years old). The family had mining connections, his father being the manager of a coal mine. Mark, his four brothers and his sisters were all trained to play instruments such as the mandolin, guitar, balalaika and accordion.

With the outbreak of World War I Reizen joined the Tsarist army, being twice wounded and twice awarded the St George Cross, the highest decoration for an ordinary soldier. While in the army he and a music-loving commander organised an instrumental and vocal group to entertain the troops. After his second wound Reizen was discharged from the army and following the end of the war entered the Kharkov Polytechnic Institute with the aim of becoming an engineer. However while he was still a student, a friend enrolled him for a vocal audition at the Kharkov Conservatoire. This was successful and Reizen studied there with Federico Bugamelli during 1919 and 1920. He made his operatic stage debut at the Kharkov Opera in 1921 as Pimen / Boris Godunov, later making a significant impact in the title role of Boito’s Mefistofele.

In 1925 Reizen joined the Mariinsky Theatre in Leningrad, where in 1928 he first sang the title role in Boris Godunov. During 1930 he undertook a highly successful European tour, with appearances in Berlin, Paris, Monte Carlo and London. While singing Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust during the same year as a guest at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow he was heard by Stalin, who suggested that he move to Moscow and join the Bolshoi Opera Company. Reizen did so, remaining a principal bass with this company until his retirement in 1954 and subsequently continuing to appear there as a guest. His roles included all the major bass parts in the Bolshoi’s repertoire, for example the title role in Ivan Susanin, Ruslan / Ruslan and Ludmilla, Konchak / Prince Igor, Dosifey / Khovanshchina, Prince Gremin / Eugene Onegin, the Viking Guest / Sadko, the Old Gypsy / Aleko (Rachmaninov), Salieri / Mozart and Salieri (Rimsky-Korsakov), Philip II / Don Carlo, Procida / I vespri siciliani, Don Basilio / Il barbiere di Siviglia and Wotan / Der Ring des Nibelungen. He also took part in the first performance of Stenka Rasin by Berschadski.

Following World War II Reizen sang in Soviet satellite countries including Hungary (Budapest) and East Germany (Berlin, Dresden). After retirement he began to teach and in 1967 was appointed a professor at the Gnessin Institute in Moscow. On his eightieth birthday he gave a well-remembered recital and on his ninetieth he sang Prince Gremin at the Bolshoi without any evident signs of either vocal or physical wear; his eventual death was the result of a stroke.

Reizen, who was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1941, 1949 and 1951, was regarded as the successor to Chaliapin: he was certainly the possessor of one of the finest bass voices of the last century. Extremely tall, he cut an imposing figure on stage and appeared in several opera films to great effect.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).

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Role: Classical Artist 
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