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National Taras Shevchenko Opera House of Ukraine

Despite its comparatively short history, the National Taras Shevchenko Opera House of Ukraine won recognition far beyond the country’s borders. Distinctive and imaginative interpretations of musical heritage and contemporary works, highly harmonized orchestra and choir, talented soloists and artists as well as glaring traditions of great originality allowed the theater to reach the acme of skills and come to the front of the present-day musical culture of Europe.

It was not until 1867 that a permanent company in Kyiv was organized to become one of the best in the Russian Empire alongside with the theaters of St. Petersburg and Moscow. The play by Olуxiy Verstovsky The Ascold’s Grave that told about the legendary past of Kyiv was the debut of the troupe. Further creative achievements of the Kyiv’s opera house were primarily connected with composer Mykola Lysenko, the genius of Ukrainian music. It was in 1847 that his opera The Night of Christmas directed by M. Starytsky first sounded in Ukrainian.

During the starting years the theater’s repertoire had been expanded mostly owing to the Russian composers: A Life for the Tsar and Russlan and Ludmilla by Michail Glinka; Mermaid by Alexandr Dargomyzhsky; Maccabeus by Anton Rubinstein, etc. which was the indispensable condition for the existence of the musical theater. Nevertheless, the European classical operas translated in Russian had been a success staged at quite high artistic standard. Those included The Barber of Seville by Gioacchino Antonio Rossini, The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Der Freischutz (The Free-Shooter) by Karl Maria von Weber; Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti, as well as works by Giuseppe Verdi that followed one by one and much loved by the Kyivites.

During the life of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, his operas Oprichnik (1874). Eugene Onegin (1884), Mazeppa (1886) and The Queen of Spades (1890) were staged in Kyiv. Directly with participation of the authors, opening nights took place of the Aleco by Sergei Rachmaninov in 1893 and Snegurochka (Snow Maiden) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1895.

Since 1897 the ballet troupe became the integral part of the Opera Theatre.

In fire that Opera House caught in 1896 one of the best musical libraries and collections of costumes and scenery were lost. Into the 20th century, however, the Kyiv’s Opera Theater arrived within the new premises erected from the design of Viktor Shreter. Its greatest achievement was the stage: one of the biggest in Europe it was equipped to match the latest advance of the time.

During the first decade of the 20th century the stage witnessed the most prominent Ukrainian and Russian performers. World opera celebrities gladly toured in Kyiv. The leading world papers informed the public about the extraordinary events in the music life of the day mentioning new productions in Kyiv of The Valkyries by Richard Wagner, Yanek by Vl. Zhelensky, Sadko by Nikolai Rymski-Korsakov, and Mephistopheles by Arrigo Boito.

The efforts directed at Ukrainian statehood during 1918 to 1920 roused the revival of national culture, in particular of the musical one. For the first time on the stage of the Kyiv Opera House the Tchaikovsky’s opera Cherevychky (The Boots) sounded in Ukrainian. In 1925 the reorganization of the whole opera art took place with the performances played in Russian before were to be enacted in Ukrainian, all the opera companies were restructured into opera and ballet troupes.

The measures resulted in the first ballet created dedicated to Ukrainian theme: Pan Kaniovsky composed by Mykhailo Verykivsky (1931), and later of Lileia by Konstiantyn Dankevych.

In the repertoire of the Kyiv’s Opera Theater operas appear with the fable suggested by the Ukrainian history: Taras Bulba and The Night of Christmas by Mykola Lysenko; Zaporozhets za Dunaiem (Zaporizhian Cossack beyond the Danube) by Semen Hulak-Artemovsky; Karmeliuk by Valentyn Kostenko; Duma Chornomorska (Black Sea Meditation) by Stephan Pototsky; Berkuty (Golden Eagles) or Golden Hoop by Borys Liatoshynsky.

The brief period of ukrainization in the sphere of culture early in the 30s of the 20th century ended with a crushing defeat of intelligentsia, a row of fabricated legal proceedings and awful sentences passed on numerous outstanding cultural workers that were accused of ‘Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism’. The Kyiv Opera House also failed to pass the ordeal. Almost every dancer of the ballet group that brought the Gold Medal from London in 1935, the first international award of the theater, found themselves in concentration camps.

During the post-war years a new generation of vocalists: Borys Hmyria, Larysa Rudenko, Yelizaveta Chavdar, Dmytro Hnatiuk debuted on the theatric scene in Kyiv, while Lilia Herasymchuk, Anatoliy Bielov, Mykola Apukhtin, Yevhenia Yershova, Olena Potapova joined the ballet stage.

In 1951 and 1969, the Theater was the participant of the Decada (ten days) of Ukrainian Literature and Art in Moscow. Although the actions were more political than artistic actions, the Company proved its high standard of performance. It demonstrated many new productions, in particular, the magnificent ballet Marusia Bohuslavka by Anatoliy Svechnikov with Lilia Herasymchuk dancing the leading part, and opera Bohdan Khmelnytsky by Konstiantyn Dankevych that despite the audience delighted and high critical assessment satirred serious political accusation of the performance authors and producers of ‘failing to correctly understand the national policy of the USSR’.

Productions of the operas Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky, Prince Igor by Aleksandr Borodin (1952) and Kateryna by M.Arkas (1956) were the landmarks for the Theater. The new production of the Sergei Prokofiyev’s opera War and Peace (1956) had immense success in Kyiv being hailed by critiques as the best interpretation of the work.

Starting from the 1950s the Kyiv Opera Theater is much oftener referred to as the company of stars. At international competitions Elizaveta Chavdar (in Budapest and Berlin); Bela Rudenko, Yevhenia Miroshnichenko, Volodymyr Timokhin and Andriy Kikot (in Toulouse); Mykola Kondratiuk and Nadia Kudelia (in Vienna) all were victorious.

During the subsequent years victories by the vocalists and ballet dancers from Kyiv become traditional at the most prestigious competitions in Moscow, Toulouse, Sophia, Rome, Tokyo, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, Warsaw, Athens, Madrid, and Budapest with virtually no contest taking place without participation and winning prizes by the actors of the Shevchenko Theater.

One may call the triumphant performance of the ballet troupe in Paris in 1964 a genuine artistic breakthrough towards Europe. The team showed three presentations: Pakhita by Ludwig Minkus, Francesca da Rimini by Peter Tchaikovsky, and Lieutenant Kije by Serhiy Prokofiev, as well as concert program that were all performed with overcrowded houses. The ballet soloists Iraida Lukashova and Valeriy Parsiehov won the Grand Prix, highest prizes of the festival, as well as Anna Pavlova and Vaclav Nijinsky awards, while the Kyiv Ballet received the Gold Star, the highest decoration of the French Dance Academy.

The years of 70s to 80 passed in the luster of brilliant talent of the theater’s chief conductor Stephan Turchak (the National Contest of Conductors bears his name). In the plays directed by him, unique voices have fully blown of Gizela Tsypola, Maris Stefyuk, Halyna Tuftina, Anatoliy Solovyanenko and others. Under him, the Kyiv Opera toured the Western Europe many times over.

From 1992 to 2000 Anatoliy Sheker (1935 – 2000), one of the most celebrated Ukrainian choreographers, headed the ballet troupe of the National Opera Theater of Ukraine. It is with this name that the achievements of the Ukrainian ballet of the last three decades of the 20th century are linked. Besides presentations of the classical Swan Lake and The Nutcracker by Peter Tchaikovsky, Raimonda by Glazunov and Coppelia by Leo Delibes he stage directed the production of numerous modern plays, in particular, Lileia by Dankevych, Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian, Olha by Yevhen Stankovych, Legends of Love by A. Melikov thus introducing dance polyphony and choreographic score symphony unfolded. His presentation of the ballet Romeo and Juliet done in 1971 fails to leave the stage for more than thirty years; shown in many different countries it was marked by the UNESCO medal as the best interpretation of Prokofiev’s work.

More and more frequently, the names of the theatrical performers of Kyiv appear on the playbills of playhouses abroad. Anatoliy Kocherha and Victoria Lukyanets are singing today on the most prestigious stages of Europe. With triumph perform Volodymyr Hryshko in the Metropolitan Opera House and New York City Opera, Mykhailo Didyk in Helsinki, Moscow and Detroit; Iryna Dvorovenko dances with one of the best American ballet companies, while Ivan Putrov is with the Covent Garden Theater. Olexiy Ratmansky is at the head of the Danish Royal Choreographic troupe, and Denys Matviyenko is the soloist of the ballet troupe at the Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Theater in St. Petersburg.

Lately, the Kyiv Opera House troupe’s performances were listened to and watched with admiration in Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada, the USA, Mexico, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Japan, Poland, Hungary, Austria and Holland.