Thanks to indefatigable efforts of the UKHO producer agency in the field of contemporary music, the National Opera staged a premiere of the opera Luci Mie Traditrici (“My Betraying Eyes”) by Salvatore Sciarrino. Local music lovers, as well as many representatives of the diplomatic corps, received an unprecedented world-level gift. It was not only a bit unusual, but also a beautiful piece of contemporary music played with careful enthusiasm by UKHO Ensemble conducted by Luigi Gaggero. The four guest soloists – Esther Labourdette (soprano, France), Rupert Bergmann (bass-baritone, Austria), Stephane Olry (tenor, France-Germany), and Michael Taylor (countertenor, Canada) – possess not only impeccable vocal and dramatic skills, but also the uncommon ability to perform the most sophisticated parts of modern scores.
Kateryna Libkind (set design), Olha Listunova (costumes), Svitlana Zmiieva (lighting) created a very integral and breathtaking spectacle worthy of the world’s most respected stages.
I asked the vocalists, who participated in this project, to share impressions of working in Ukraine and of the opera itself.
Esther LABOURDETTE, soprano, France:
“I am in Ukraine for the first time. So, I know only Kyiv and the locations we lived and worked in. Some aspects in the city itself and its people remind me of Armenia which I know a little from my mother’s stories: a lot of small shops, where you can buy everything, a mixture of the old town and modern city, stylish women. The people I met were incredibly openhearted, warm, and sociable in spite of the language barrier, and we often laughed. On the other hand, there can be very unpleasant, even hostile, people in some offices or in the metro – a striking contrast! It is difficult to get an unequivocal idea of a city with so different and intertwining features – pre-Soviet, Soviet, and post-Soviet Kyiv.
“Luci Mie Traditrici is one of the most complicated music projects in my lifetime because this opera is extremely difficult in its musical score, and we had very little time to prepare it. Sciarrino’s musical universe is very subtle, he treats the orchestra as a character, he expresses all kinds of emotions – strikes, impulse acceleration, silence – it does not look like a traditional opera, where the orchestra supports the singer and can be relied on. In spite of this, things went very smoothly, in a creative atmosphere, where even a minute was not lost. We were a united team. A very talented pianist Dina Pysarenko is the mainstay of this ‘enterprise.’ As our work went on, I was gradually being accustomed to my part. Sometimes I felt as if I was a computer – each scene is a file which I change, and whenever the picture was getting blurred, I got back to the score to check the original image.
Stephane OLRY, tenor, France-Germany:
“I am greatly pleased with the work we’ve done in Kyiv. The process was very interesting, and all the people involved in the project were very lovely and professional. All my singer colleagues coped very well with such difficult but beautiful music. I don’t know whether you liked it, but I consider this work a masterpiece.
“Of course, I know the situation in Ukraine and I am deeply concerned about it. But I saw absolutely no manifestations of these difficult moments in our daily routine. The Europeans are looking forward to Ukraine coming back to the European family. It is not a rapid process. It demands that the people of Ukraine show strength and great patience.
“I hope very much that I’ll be able to come back here with new projects. I’d love to take part in putting on a contemporary opera here. I am sure our Ukrainian colleagues will choose something interesting for a project like this.”
Michael TAYLOR, countertenor, Canada:
“My impression of Ukraine was a little marred because I caught a cold due to bad weather and was laid up for about a week. But, in spite of being ill, I noticed that people all around were just nice. In February everything seems gray and cheerless, but people stand out against this gray backdrop (laughs). Whenever I get ready to travel abroad, I usually learn a few conversational phrases. Unfortunately, I failed to do so in Ukraine because there was no time left for other things owing to a complicated material. And your language sounds surprisingly melodious.
“This project is wonderful, albeit complicated, music. It is a rare occurrence that you can take part in something so interesting and difficult at the same time. The orchestra coped with task excellently.
“I would come back here with pleasure – especially with something from contemporary. I heard that Ukraine hosts a lot of interesting festivals in this field, and there are very good oeuvres.”
Rupert BERGMANN, bass-baritone, Austria:
“I’ve been regularly visiting Ukraine since 1997. I was here more than 10 times, but this is the first time I was here for so long – almost three and a half weeks. I can’t speak about the whole Ukraine, but Kyiv is an interesting city worth of being visited. Many good and amiable people and professional musicians met as part of the young art stage (Plivka, Ukhomusic). Everybody was very gracious and, by the way, spoke good English. As I saw the hryvnia fall to less than a third of its value five years ago, I can really imagine that many people find it not so easy to live in a big city, such as Kyiv, where prices in some stores are as high as in London or Paris. I just wonder who can really afford this.
“I sing a lot of contemporary music, but I haven’t known this role before. It is very difficult to sing and remember it, so I had to learn very intensively. When I came to Kyiv in late January, I also had too little time for rehearsals – about three weeks instead of six weeks for this kind of project. The time was full of very intensive work, for which all the necessary conditions were created. We had an excellent team: Luigi Gaggero and Dina Pysarenko on the music part and Katia Libkind and Sasha Andrusyk for making conceptual decisions. Everybody was patient and inspired. It was a marvelous, intensive, and successful time in Kyiv which I will never forget.
“Speaking of our Kyiv project, where there was only one show, I hope we will have an opportunity to present it once more – maybe, not in Kyiv but in some other cities, including outside Ukraine. The work deserves this. Audio and video recordings were made, and there is enough material for good work and promotion.
“We are all looking forward to meeting again.”