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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

The Unsinkable Ukrainian Brunnhilde

1 April, 2003 - 00:00

The National Music Academy of Ukraine has hosted a literary-musical soiree to commemorate the great Ukrainian singer Solomiya Krushelnytska and present a CD with her records.

There were many books, scholarly monographs, and critical essays written about the famous operatic prima donna’s creative work. September 23, 2002 marked the 130th anniversary of her birth. Onstage, Solomiya Krushelnytska was an unmatched actress and great singer. Most renowned singers dreamed of performing together with her. The audience adored her. Her contemporaries’ memoirs describe how after Krushelnytska’s triumphal performance, excited admirers unharnessed the carriage she was riding in and brought it to the singer’s house by themselves. Krushelnytska was always a Ukrainian patriot, stressing that she was native of Halychyna (she was born in the village of Biliavintsy, now Ternopil oblast). Many celebrities were in love with the singer, including famous bass F С dor Chaliapin. Some excerpts from their letters to each other were read out at the soiree.

“For Krushelnytska art was always the main thing,” author and director of the composition Sophiya Maidanska stressed. “The singer long deprived herself in personal life for the sake of the stage. She worked painstakingly to perfect her vocal skills.” She graduated from the Lviv Conservatory majoring in voice and piano. In 1893-96, she was on her probation period in Milan, mastering the belle canto school. She performed on the world’s leading operatic stages in Warsaw, St. Petersburg, Paris, Naples, Rome, Milan, Cairo, etc. Krushelnytska’s vast repertory included sixty roles. She was correctly considered one of the best performers of Verdi, Wagner, and Moniusko. Our famous prima donna was nicknamed the Ukrainian Br Я nnhilde. It is hard to believe these days, but at that time many singers refused to include Wagner’s compositions in their repertory, claiming that they spoiled one’s voice. Solomiya was among the first to appreciate the German maestro’s talent and his innovations in the fields of harmony and orchestration. Her dramatic talent and unique soprano rescued Giacomo Puccini’s Cio-Cio-San. The premiere in which Krushelnytska did not take part was literally ripped to pieces by the critics. The composer was desperate. He turned to the Ukrainian singer, aware that only her skill that could expose the subtle lyricism and pathos of his opera’s plot. Krushelnytska’s appearance in Cio-Cio-San was a complete triumph. Now the opera has become one of the gems of world classics and is staged in many countries. The Poles called her “our Miya.” When Krushelnytska signed a contract with La Scala, they arranged a grandiose farewell party for her in Warsaw, presenting the singer a laurel garland of gold. Never in her long life onstage did Solomiya disappoint her fans.

At the summit of her operatic glory she left the theater and went into chamber music. Performing abroad, she propagated Ukrainian music, always including it into her solo concerts. Krushelnytska’s dream that never came true was to sing in Kyiv. The authorities of that day would not allow her to do this, although she visited Ukraine quite frequently. She had concerts in Ternopil, Lviv, Chernivtsi, etc. Mykola Lysenko arranged several Ukrainian folk songs for Krushelnytska, which she executed brilliantly. “It’s a shame the world does not know our music,” she wrote in one of her letters to the composer.

The singer spent her last years in Lviv. After her husband’s death in 1939, she returned to Ukraine. When the war began, she could not evacuate because of a broken leg. The singer endured the hardships stoically, always remaining her energetic self. She taught at the Lviv Conservatory until her death in 1959. The singer was buried in Lviv’s Lychakiv cemetery.

The concert at the Kyiv Conservatory featured compositions from Krushelnytska’s repertory and some of those she liked to listen to. They were performed by young singers Viktoriya Chenska, Oksana Hayevska, Tetiana Hanyna, Oksana Yarova, Stefaniya Dovhan, viola player Yaroslav Tkachenko, et al. And in the final part of the concert Krushelnytska’s own voice resounded: Margarita’s aria from Boito’s Mephistopheles and Viktor Matiuk’s song “Homeland” written specially for her, with which she always finished her performance.

A double CD album Solomiya Krushelnytska was also presented. For a whole decade Andriy Kochur, director of the Hryhory Kochur Literary Museum, has thoroughly collected the materials for it. He had to face many difficulties in terms of organizing and financing. There is an old disc, Solomiya Krushelnytska, issued by Melodiya in the former USSR, but its quality leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, Krushelnytska’s cooperation with recording companies was not very active. From 1902 to 1912 she recorded only thirty compositions: arias from operas, romances, and folk songs. According to Mr. Kochur, in addition to working in the archives, he had to turn to both domestic and foreign collectors, swapping Krushelnytska’s records for musical rarities. For instance, the singer’s archive is at Yale University and the library’s director demanded $100 for every record. Ukrainian diaspora in the United States lent its assistance. In part, Stepan Maksymiuk has been very helpful. Four Ukrainian songs sung by Krushelnytska in 1928, “Sheep, My Sheep,” “Through a Vineyard,” “Oh Where Are You Going,” and “White Geese,” were found. They were recorded with the participation of the Hutsul Folk Instruments Orchestra. The album also includes the singer’s last records. In 1951, she was already 79, but her upper register still amazes the audience: it is difficult to believe that somebody could still sound so good.

The first disc of the album is made in retro style: one can clearly feel the gramophone sound on it. This was what the then sponsors wanted. In creating the second part, new technologies were used, and unwanted sounds were removed.

The CD is a wonderful gift for music lovers and all those interested in Ukrainian culture. The album was sponsored by the International Renaissance Foundation, Ukraine Incognita Foundation, and private persons. The project’s executors are directors of the Hryhory Kochur Literary Museum, Mariya and Andriy Kochur. The circulation of the album is rather modest, only 1000 copies for each part. The price, 50 hryvnias, is a little bit expensive, but true admirers of classic musical will find it.

By Tetiana POLISHCHUK, The Day