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Aleksey Strelnikov’s Vertep

Russian Academy of Sciences
Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) RAS
“Compozitor – Saint-Petersburg” publishing house
Saint-Petersburg Vertep* Theatre

December 27, 2002 – end of January, 2003.

On December 27, 2002 “Christmas in Kunstkamera” event (to 300 year anniversary of St. Petersburg) took place in Baroque hall.

  • Presentation of book “Russian cants: from Peter the Great to Elizaveta Petrovna” (SPb, “Compozitor”, 2002);
  • Performance “Christmas drama” of Dmitry Rostovsky performed by St. Petersburg Vertep Theatre;
  • Opening of exhibition “Aleksey Strelnikov’s Vertep”

The book “Russian cants: from Peter the Great to Elizaveta Petrovna” (SPb, “Compozitor”, 2002) was created basing on hand-written music compilations that were widely spread in XVII century – documental evidence of Russian music-poetical culture. All cants, psalms and songs are published for the first time from hand-written scripts, most of which are now kept in Russian National library’s funds.

St. Petersburg Vertep Theatre under the guidance of Aleksey Strelnikov exists since 1992. The theatre has 4 performances in its repertoire, in which act about 100 characters. Vertep in traditional culture of Slavic world is a theatre of one plot: evangelic story, narrated using puppets and religious songs.

On December 27, 1702 – exactly 300 years ago – “Christmas Drama” by Dmitry, metropolite of Rostov, an outstanding educator and associate of Peter I , was first performed. On December 27, 2002 performers of St. Petersburg Vertep theatre present “Christmas Drama” of Dmitry Rostovsky in tradition of XVIII century.

Musical material published in “Russian cants” book is used in performance of St. Petersburg Vertep theatre. Troupe consists of choristers creating the world and vertep puppeteer, speaking and acting for all characters. The theater plays in historical halls with natural acoustics.

Vertep presented to visitors of the exhibition has travelled for more that 10 thousand kilometers performing in Russia and abroad. Puppets, as it is accepted in Vertep, are of original author’s work. Puppets from performances “Artaxerxes’s act”, “Parable about Drunkard”, “Anuta”.


* Vertep was a kind of portable puppet theatre and the corresponding type of drama in the culture of East Slavs (Ukrainians, Belarusians and Russians) which presented the nativity scene, other mystery plays, and later secular plots as well. The original meaning of the word is "secret place", "cave", "den", referring to the cave where Christ was born, i.e., the Bethlehem Cave ("Вифлеемский вертеп") in the liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church. It originated in 17th century, coming from the Western Europe via Poland, where it was known as “szopka”, to Ukraine, and finally to Russia.