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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Twenty years later

Ukrainian National Opera soloist Iryna Dats honored as People’s Artist of Ukraine
27 February, 2007 - 00:00

Iryna Dats’s performance in Mykola Lysenko’s opera Natalka Poltavka has sparked mixed feelings in theatrical circles. Since this Lysenko work is considered not so much a genre piece as one that borders on banality, Dats’s choice was obviously quite a risk. Had she sung the part of Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, success would have been a foregone conclusion. Her performance in this role would also have triggered a certain association: she made her debut in this opera at the Kyiv Opera almost 20 years ago.

The choice of Natalka Poltavka was cause not only for a celebration and congratulations for Dats but also for reconsidering several problems.

The first problem is our audience’s attitude to Ukrainian classics. The house was full, which may suggest one of two conclusions: either audiences are fond of Natalka Poltavka or they came to hear Dats. What played a major role here is the revived tradition of billboard productions, where audiences have a chance to see a specific performer rather than performance.

The second problem is that there are no prophets in one’s own country. The performance was led by Kyrylo Karabits. Today this young conductor works at the Strasbourg Opera House and is a guest conductor all over Europe. Karabits sometimes conducts Natalka Poltavka in Ukraine, but you cannot see him in Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, although he is the conductor and producer of this opera. This fact depresses opera buffs, because the orchestra literally comes alive under his direction. You can hear this even in the overture, where theatrical and characteristic images prevail. Karabits is a sensitive and subtle conductor. In spite of his tight schedule abroad, he is eager to perform in his native land for his own audiences.

The third problem is stage direction (Dmytro Hnatiuk), particularly the crowd scenes, dialogues, and interpretation of comical characters. Although Natalka Poltavka’s plot makes it possible to stage a dynamic production if every line is taken into account, the current stage version is obsolete, with actors caring only about themselves. One inadvertently recalls Konstantin Stanislavsky’s idea of the most important task facing actors and his efforts to reform opera performances. His system lives on in theory, but in order to put it into practice one would have to resurrect Stanislavsky himself.

The fourth problem is Lysenko on the stage of the National Opera. Apart from Natalka Poltavka, the current repertory includes the Lev Revutsky and Borys Liatoshynksy version of Taras Bulba, although the theater’s archive has the original score of this opera. This score portrays Bulba not only as a patriot and hero but also as a down-to-earth man with all his doubts, sadness, and pain. The Andrii- Marylka love intrigue is also far more developed. It is high time for a new version of Taras Bulba: this requires reviving the original text, embedding Revutsky and Liatoshynsky’s suggestions, and the strong hand of a composer, who could retouch and put everything together in a logical whole.

The fifth problem is the awarding of titles. More often than not they are awarded too late to those who deserve them and too early to those who do not. Iryna Dats is a happy exception. The singer is now in the prime of her artistic life; she can work, and wants to. She amply revealed her potential today, when she sounded fresh and powerful, delivering beautifully chosen lows and good, strong, highs.

Dats recently demonstrated her love of artistry and the stage in a feat bordering on heroism: she sang the difficult part of Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin when she was seven months pregnant and resumed her stage appearances two months after giving birth to her daughter Ivanna.

Dats combines the fine qualities of a singer, actress, stage director, and teacher. She is also a sincere and kindhearted person, who is always willing to help.

Dats’s plans in the near future include marking the 20th anniversary of her work at the National Opera of Ukraine, as well as a recital scheduled for May 5 at the National Philharmonic of Ukraine.

By Yana IVANYTSKA, special to The Day