In the history of the development of Russian theater, the count Nikolay Sheremetev played a significant role: the famous philanthropist spared no expense and effort on the development of his own private theater, which over time was recognized as one of the best in the Russian Empire. Among the actresses who shone on the stage, there was one who won the heart of the count. Serf girl Praskovya Kovaleva was so talented that Nikolai Sheremetev not only bestowed on her the best roles, but also gave her freedom, and then took her as his legal wife.
The story of Praskovya's life is similar to a fairy tale: born into a family of serfs, a talented girl managed to attract the attention of Count Sheremetev and soon become a member of his theatrical troupe. Excellent vocal skills and acting talent - these are the trump cards that were in her hands. And for the art lover Nikolai Sheremetev, they turned out to be indisputable advantages.
The private theater on the Kuskovo estate was founded by Peter Borisovich Sheremetev, Nikolai's father. The heir shared his father's passion for theatrical performances, tried to bring the Amartor troupe to a professional level. The actors were serfs, the count made sure that they had free time for rehearsals, painstakingly dealt with the creation of scenery and sewing costumes. Rumor has it that the level of performances and the luxury of stage design were not inferior to the palace performances.
Praskovya Kovaleva attracted Nikolai's attention as a child. At first she got the episodic role of a servant in the opera "The Experience of Friendship", and at the age of 12 she was entrusted to play the main role in the opera "Colony, or New Village". The audience was delighted with the young debutante, and since then the fate of Praskovya was a foregone conclusion - she forever linked her life with the stage and received the sonorous pseudonym Zhemchugova.
The highest grace on the part of Catherine II can be considered a real recognition of Praskovya's talent: after watching the performance, the empress presented the actress with a ring with a diamond as a sign of admiration for her performance. True, the theater in Kuskovo was going through hard times: after the death of Pyotr Borisovich, Nikolai started drinking, and the very existence of the theater was now in doubt. Then Zhemchugova addressed the young heir on behalf of the entire troupe, and her words had an effect. Nicholas, captivated by her beauty, gradually began to return to normal life, and the theater revived. True, rumors about the serf-favorite of the count quickly spread around Kuskovo, and, a few years later, Nikolai and Praskovya were forced to leave the estate.
They found a new refuge in Ostankino, all the actors and musicians of the theater moved here, a new stage was built, on which Zhemchugova again shone in the main roles. Several years of life seemed carefree, until Praskovya fell ill with tuberculosis. Perhaps it was the illness that influenced the fact that the count decided to give the free family to Kovaleva, and three years later he was married to her in a secret marriage.
Praskovya struggled with tuberculosis for a long time, thanks to her husband's concerns, she even began to feel better, but she had to leave the theater forever. The disease worsened again during pregnancy, and the birth of a son was a death sentence for the mother. Zhemchugova died three weeks later, and Nikolai petitioned Alexander for the recognition of the child. The boy became the last joy of Sheremetev, he took care of him for the last six years of his life. In memory of his beloved wife, he opened a hospitable home, a shelter for beggars and cripples, for which Praskovya asked him when she was dying.
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