Leningrad. Day 22

Echoes of Chaliapin, promenade for ``Prince Igor.'' SALAMI for breakfast. Borsch for lunch. But we're not here just to eat. Our group is in the Hermitage Museum today, while a certain amount of the Hermitage is back in the United States. Maybe we're victims of cultural exchange. But the treasures are so many we're not sure what we're missing. Something we almost do miss is an example of the 20th-century Russian art Joan and I keep watching for.

Lo, a modest room of paintings by Wassily Kandinsky, so celebrated in the West, so tucked away here.

Kandinsky's elegant angles and swirls are not my idea of realism, which seems to be the kind of Russian art less likely to be tucked away. But a Soviet teacher here says Kandinsky is a realist, though the realism he seeks is that of inner states of mind and emotion.

``Somehow we prefer realism, but it is a matter of personal taste,'' says another English speaker.

We're at a large exhibition on theatrical history. She has been conscripted to help us by an attendant, an older woman zealous about our welfare.

We realize how little experimental Soviet theater is on display when we come upon an example of constructivism from early post-revolutionary days.

More typical is the all but life-size portrait of the great basso Feodor Chaliapin.

Suddenly I recall the first time I heard that voice, resounding like no other from the grooves of a pre-stereo ``Don Giovanni.''

Here we see Chaliapin as the compleat opera star -- dog, cane, fur-collared overcoat.

Speaking of opera, tonight it's last-minute tickets for Borodin's ``Prince Igor.'' We couldn't bear being in Leningrad and not going to the Kirov Theater of Opera and Ballet.

Now we're in our wooden armchairs. Four tiers of balconies rise splendidly around a chandelier that spirals from a ceiling where cherubs dance.

When the vast, brocaded curtain opens I soon count 150 performers, and more keep coming.

This is grand opera.

Unworthily I wait for the Polovetzian Dances (done by 50 dancers). I want to hear on its home ground the theme that became ``Stranger in Paradise'' for the Broadway show ``Kismet.''

There it is!

At intermission we link arms like many other couples.

Everyone promenades counterclockwise around a large room that looks like gray and white Wedgwood. Ballet pictures in glass cases. An American in the crowd introduces herself by looking at Joan's Talbots dress and saying, ``I tried that on and didn't buy it.''

Roderick Nordell is the Monitor's feature editor. Tomorrow he listens to Bach with a Soviet family audience.

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