About the theatre

The history of the National Opera of Ukraine commenced in 1867 when numerous petitions addressed to the government yielded the creation of a regular opera troupe in Kiev, which was then one of the significant centers of the empire. The first music theatre appeared beyond the empire’s capitals – Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In general, the artistic traditions in Kiev can be traced back to the remote past. We know this from the epic cycle where the acrobats and skomorokhs (wandering artists) who performed in the court of prince Volodymyr the Great are described. The amateur theatre of the Kiev-Mohyla Academy students was very popular among the Kiev citizens in the 17th and 18th centuries. Music concerts were not an unusual thing too. In 1805 (1803 according to other sources) in the place where nowadays the Ukrainian House stands and where Khreschatyk starts appeared a building which became the center of the Kiev cultural life at once. It was Kiev’s first City theatre (built by an architect Andriy Melensky) that could seat 470 people. Its playbills mainly invited the citizens to visit drama plays. Later the operas performed by wandering Italian troupes became common, which helped the people of Kiev to discover the works by Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Cherubini and Donizetti. This theatre was also where the Kiev audience first witnessed professional ballet performance. The first City theatre building served until 1851, when it was deconstructed. In 1856 the second City theatre (project by Ivan Shtrom) was built at the crossroads of Volodymyrs’ka St. and Kadets’ka St. (now Bohdana Khmelnytskoho St.). Not only drama plays were staged there, but also operas and ballets. However, the latter two were rare, which could not satisfy the intellectual and esthetic needs of a big city. This was the reason for contemplating a question of building a city opera house. The crucial factor that led to the creation of the city’s regular theatre troupe was the huge success of two seasons of Italian opera which were the big start for the establishment of regular music plays in the city on the banks of Dnipro River.

Ferdinand BergerIn summer 1867, Kiev saw the establishment of the first Russian regular opera troupe headed by a former singer and impresario Ferdinand Berger – an outstanding theatre craft manager. He asked many talented artists to join the new theatre. The City Council allocated the City theatre to the troupe. The 27th of October according to the Julian calendar or the 8th of November according to the Gregorian calendar became a celebration day for Kiev citizens and a historic date of Ukrainian culture. It was the day when Kyiv Opera raised its curtains for the first time! Askold’s Grave by O. Verstovskyy was the troupe’s debut staging and it turned out to be an unprecedented success. In the first years of its existence the theatre extended its repertoire with works written mainly by Russian composers: A Life for the Tsar, Ruslan and Lyudmila by M. Glinka, The Mermaid by O. Dargomyzhskyy, The Maccabees by A. Rubinstein and The Power of the Fiend by A. Serov. However, the troupe didn’t neglect the European classics and performed The Barber of Seville by G. Rossini, The Marriage of Figaro by W.-A. Mozart, The Marksman by C. Weber, Lucia di Lammermoor by G. Donizetti and a succession of operas by Verdi, who became the favorite composer of Kyiv audience, on a considerably high level. The theatre steadily gained popularity among the opera lovers and drew the composers’ attention, which can be confirmed by P. Tchaikovsky’s great interest in his plays being staged particularly in the Kyiv Opera. The Oprichnik by Tchaikovsky was staged in 1874 and the composer came to see it himself. In the following years of his life Kyiv Opera staged Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades and Mazepa. Among other opera authors who visited Kiev premieres were S. Rachmaninoff (Aleko, 1893) and N. Rimsky-Korsakov (The Snow Maiden, 1895). In 1874 the theatre staged the first national opera ever – The Christmas Night by M. Lysenko. It was a brave step taken by the composer and the troupe, as the Ukrainian language then was allowed neither in literature, nor on stage. The Christmas Night was staged there again in 1903. Mykola Lysenko conducted the play himself.

On the 4th of February 1896, after the morning performance of Eugene Ohegin by P. Tchaikovsky the theatre building caught fire. The fire spread in a matter of seconds and in a few hours the City theatre constructed in 1856 according to the project of architect Ivan Shtrom was burnt down to cinder. The fire devoured one of the Russian Empire’s best music libraries, costumes and sceneries of many plays. But Kiev could not exist without an opera house of its own. For a certain period of time the plays were performed on the stages of Bergonie's Theatre (now the National Theatre of Russian Drama named after Lesya Ukrainka), Solovtsov's Theatre (now the National Theatre named after Ivan Franko) and even on the arena of the famous Krutikov's Circus, where Feodor Chaliapin performed during his first visit to Kiev.

Meanwhile the city Council forced by demands of society announced a competition for the best project of the new opera house. Victor Shreter, an academician, won it. His creation is a fascinating ensemble of the Neo-Renaissance exterior and functionality. Viktor Shreter made sure that the building is convenient for both the artists and the audience, while offering its visitors exquisite interiors that are a fusion of classic style and so-called Viennese modern widely used in the majority of big European cities.

The theatre three-circle hall could seat 1683 people. After the reconstructions that took place in 1935 and in 1988 this number was reduced to slightly more than 1300 due to the extension of the orchestra pit and the removal of inconvenient seats. On the 16th (29th) of September 1901 the ceremonial opening of the new opera took place. It featured performance of Wilhelm Harteveld’s cantata Kiev, written exclusively for the occasion and A Life for the Tsar by M. Glinka.

In the first decade of the 20th century the audience of the Kiev Opera witnessed the most outstanding Russian and Ukrainian singers of the time: Olexandr Miszuga, Olena Petlyash, Platon Tsesevych, Kateryna Voronets, Mykhailo Medvedev, Klara Brun, Olexandr Mosin, and Oskar Kamionsky. World opera stars also performed there eagerly. Among them were Mattia Battistini, Maria Galvani, Adelina Padovani, Lina Cavalieri, Titta Ruffo, Giuseppe Anselmi, Gemma Bellincioni, Leonid Sobinov, Regina Pinkert, Maria Gay, Celestina Boninsegna, Caesar Formaki, Olimpia Boronat, Adam Didur, Yanina Vayda-Korolevych. The opera troupe made new staging of A Life for the Tsar, Prince Igor, Boris Godunov, Mozart and Salieri and The Mermaid for Fyodor Chaliapin 1901-1902 tour.

In 1897 a ballet troupe of the theatre was established, which allowed to broaden the playbill and to enrich the performances with dancing and divertissements. The troupe was headed by a famous Polish choreographer Stanislav Lenchevsky. It is worth mentioning that the two most prominent ballet dancers of the 20th century – Vaslav Nijinsky and Serge Lifar (head of the Paris Grand Opera) were born in Kiev.

In the beginning of the 20th century, when Kiev saw its unprecedented prosperity, Kiev Opera had a special place in the social life of the citizens. World War I and the Civil War of 1917-1921 were hard times for the troupe. A new page in the history of the theatre was opened. The struggle for independence of Ukraine in 1918-1920 commenced the revival of the national culture, including music. In 1919, on the stage of the Kyiv Opera, that was considered Russian, there began preparations for the first Ukrainian language performance of Tchaikovsky’s Cherevichki ever. The newly created Ukrainian music drama theatre was busy with the staging of Lysenko’s Utoplena. However, after the downfall of Ukrainian People’s Republic all the artistic innovations aimed at national culture establishment were aborted. There appeared claims demanding closing of the theatre because it offered a genre alien to the proletarians. The opera troupe was saved due to the colossal efforts of numerous artists, including the Russian singer Leonid Sobinov, who was the head of the theatre for some time.

In the 20’s the theatre art in Kiev came back to life. In 1925, driven by a short-lived wave of nationalization, the theatre underwent a reorganizing process. The plays which were written and always performed in Russian were translated and performed in Ukrainian. New operas based on Ukrainian history appear one after another: Taras Bulba and The Christmas Night by M. Lysenko, Zaporozhets za Dunayem by S. Hulak-Artemovsky, Karmelyuk by V. Kostenko, Duma Chornomorska by S. Pototsky, Berkuty (Zoloty Obruch) by B. Liatoshynsky. This short period of culture liberalization ended up with a total extermination of Ukrainian intelligentsia later in the 30’s. Nevertheless, the troupe was able to keep the main program that included highly artistic opera and ballet classics which featured performance by outstanding artists – singers Maria Lytvynenko-Volgemut, Oksana Petrusenko, Maria Sokil, Yuri Kyporenko-Domansky, Mykhailo Donets, Mykola Chastiy, Petro Bilynnyk, Ivan Patorzhynsky, Borys Hmyrya, Mykhailo Gryshko, Andriy Ivanov, Viktor Boryschchenko, ballet soloists Antonina Vasilyeva, Olexandra Havrylova, Volodymyr Preobrazhensky, Olexandr Berdovsky, Antonina Yarygina.

Substantial reorganization took place in 1934, when Kiev became the capital of Ukraine. Numerous soloists of Kharkiv Opera joined the theatre troupe, along with choir singers, orchestra musicians and ballet dancers.

Kiev Opera received status equal to that of the biggest theatres of the USSR – Moscow Bolshoy Theatre and Kirov Theatre in Leningrad. The troupe could boast of the most eminent conductors, stage directors, decorators and choreographers of the time – Ariy Pazovsky, Antin Rudnitsky, Volodymyr Yorysh, Mykhailo Kozytzky, Volodymyr Dranishnikov, Veniamin Tol’ba, Yosyp Lapitsky, Volodymyr Manziy, Leonid Zhukov, Anatol’ Petritsky and many others. On the 5th of March, 1939 on the occasion of Taras Shevchenko 125th birth anniversary the theatre was granted with an honor to bear his name.

The 1940-1941 theatre season was finished with Othello by G. Verdi on the 15th of June, 1941. Meanwhile the air was trembling with premonition. The Great Patriotic War broke out. In autumn a big group of theatre actors were evacuated first to Ufa and then to Irkutsk, where disregard daunting difficulties they continued working. Not only did the troupe perform the plays of their current playbill, but it also staged new ones, including the newly-written Naymychka by M. Verykivsky based on Shevchenko’s works. It must be mentioned that the occupation government did pay attention to the Kiev Opera. Named as The Great Kiev Opera, it started performing again on a regular basis in 1942. The plays were visited by both German occupants and Kiev citizens. However, the latter were not allowed into the stalls.

The return from evacuation to the home stage was marked with the premiere of Naymychka by M. Verykivsky. The theatre was able to overcome all the post-war difficulties and quickly renewed regular performance and expanded the repertoire. The post-war years were marked by the emergence of the new generation of singers – Larysa Rudenko, Elyzaveta Chavdar, Dmytro Hnatyuk. The ballet troupe was joined by Lidiya Herasymchuk, Anatoly Belov, Mykola Aptukhin, Yevheniya Yershova, Olena Potapova. Revisited Ukrainian and world’s operas were premiered. Kiev ballet evolved to a whole new level, being headed by renowned choreographers – Sergiy Sergeev, Vakhtang Vromsky. The repertoire was expanded with several new plays – Lileya by K. Dankevych, Romeo and Juliet by S. Prokofiev, Spartacus by A. Khachaturyan etc. The premiere of Lisova Pisnya by M. Skorulsky was an outstanding art event. The project of staging all the plays by M. Lysenko was supported greatly by the artists. The new stagings by the Shevchenko Kiev Opera helped to discover talented conductors (Veniamin Tolba, Kostiantyn Simeonov, Oleksandr Klimov), directors (Mykola Smolych, Volodymyr Manziy, Volodymyr Skliarenko), painters (Anatol Petritsky,Anatoliy Volnenko, Oleksandr Hvostenko-Hvostov) and many others. In 1964 Kiev ballet took part in the International Classical Dance Festival, which was held in Paris. The troupe was honored with the highest award of the Paris Dance Academy – The Golden Star. Iraida Lukashova and Valery Parsegov won the Anna Pavlova and Vaclav Nijinsky. In a few years the lead soloists of the Kiev Opera Tetyana Kayakina and Valery Kovtun achieved the same success. The first tour of the Kiev ballet in Paris, which featured such stars as Mykola Aptukhin, Valentyna Kalynovska, Veanira Kruglova, Olena Potapova, Alla Havrylenko and Eleonora Stebliak became an art event which resonated with the whole Europe. Since the 50’s the Kiev Opera has been bearing a star status. From year to year the troupe was joined by numerous prominent vocalists. Such singers as Dmytro Hnatyuk, Mykola Vorvulev, Zoya Khrystych, Galyna Sholina, Valentina Lutchenko, Vasyl Tretiak, Mykola Kondratiuk, Volodymyr Tymokhin, Kostyantyn Ognevoi, Yuri Guliaev, Sergiy Kozak, Klavdiya Radchenko, Liliya Lobanova, Taisiya Ponomarenko and Vladlen Hritsyuk made history of the Ukrainian opera art. Yelyzaveta Chavdar, Bela Rudenko, Yevheniya Miroshnichenko, Volodymyr Timokhin, Andriy Kikot, Mykola Kondratiuk and Nataliya Kudelya are international contests winners.

The 70’s and the 80’s were lighted by the bright talent and energy of the theatre’s head conductor Stefan Turchak. The International conductors contest is named after him. Gisela Tsypola, Mariya Stefyuk, Galyna Tuftina, Anatoliy Solovianenko, Anatoliy Mokrenko, Yevdokiya Kolesnyk, Lyudmila Yurchenko, Valentyna Kochur, Volodymyr Fedotov, Oleksandr Vostryakov, Oleksandr Zagrebelny, Viktor Trishyn, Mykola Kirishev, Bogdan Gnyd, Vladylen Grytsyuk, Georgiy Krasulyua, Valentyna Reka, Andriy Ishchenko and Volodymyr Hurov were able to use the potential of their unique voices in plays Stefan Turchakconducted by Stefan Turchak. In the following years, Lidiya Zabilyasta, Svitlana Dobronravova, Anatoliy Kocherga, Valentyn Pyvovarov, Ivan Ponomarenko, Roman Mayboroda, Viacheslav Luparov, Hryhoriy Hrytsyuk, Mykola Shopsha, Oleksandr Dyachenko, Mykola Koval, Stepan Fitsych, Ihor Borko, Viktoria Lukianets, Tetyana Anisimova, Tetyana Kuzminova, Oleksandr Hurets and Volodymyr Kuzmenko joined the troupe and shone on the opera stage. The most remarkable soloists of the ballet troupe were Alla Lagoda, Tetyana Tayakina, Lyudmyla Smorgachova, Raisa Khylko, Hanna Kushneryova, Tetyana Borovyk, Iryna Zadayanna, Valeriy Kovtun, Mykola Pryadchenko, Viktor Yaremenko, Tetyana Beletska, Sergiy Lukin and Yevhen Kosmenko – all of them famous for contributing a lot to the Ukrainian choreography.

S. Turchak was accompanied by Dmytro Smolych, a stage director and Fedir Nirod, a stage designer, both equally talented and referred to as people, who made the monumental stagings of the 60-80’s possible. Lev Venedictov, who became the head choirmaster of the theatre in 1972, can be also credited as one of the main contributors to the theatre’s success. In fact, he took part in the staging of every single play of that period. Oleg Ryabov (conductor) and Iryna Molostova (stage director) also left their footprint in the theatre’s history. Molostova made her own interpretation of Shostakovich’s Katerina Izmailova – which was considered the best one by the author himself. Volodymyr Kozhukhar was the chief conductor of the theatre in 1989-2011 and he did his best to enrich the artistic palette of the National Opera. The repertoire was expanded with such masterpieces of the opera and ballet art, as Mazepa, Nabucco, Turandot, Faust, Gioconda, Aida, Lohengrin, The Queen of Spades, The Golden Hoop, The Love for Three Orages and also with a number of plays that were never staged before – The Night Before Christmas by Y. Stankovych, The Fantastic Symphony based on music by Berlioz, Volodymyr the Baptist, The Frescos of Sofia Kiyvska etc. Ivan Hamkalo, a conductor, has also staged several plays (mostly Ukrainian classics) in the National Opera. Among them is Anne of France, a wonderful opera by A. Rudnytsky.

The participation in prestigious music festivals of the last decade (Paris, 1991; Strasbourg, 1993; Madrid, Las-Palmas, 1995; Avignon, 2000; Budapest, 2001) is the result of splendid artistic work of the theatre, where the experienced performers combine their skills with the giftedness of the young artists – Olga Nagorna, Angelina Shvachka, Olga Mykytenko, Iryna Dats, Oksana Dyka, Tetyana Piminova, Andriy Romanenko, Petro and Pavlo Priymak, Dmytro Popov, Serhiy Mahera and Taras Shtonda. Anatoliy Shekera, one of the most well-known Ukrainian choreographers was the head of the theatre’s ballet troupe in 1992-2000. He staged Romeo and Juliet by S. Prokofiev, Spartacus by A. Khachaturyan, Olga by Y. Stankovych, The Legend of Love by A. Melikov, introducing the audience to the dance polyphony and symphonic richness of choreographic score. The new wave of talented dancers grew up under his supervision – Olena Filipyeva, Tetyana Beletska, Hanna Dorosh, Iryna Brodska, Tetyana Holyakova, Yana Hladkyh, Natalya Lazebnikova, Anastasiya Matviyenko, Denys Matvienko, Maksym Chepyk, Yevhen Kaigorodov, Maksym Motkov, Hennadiy Zhalo, Dmytro Klyavin, Serhiy Sydorskiy, Artem Datsyshyn, Andriy Hura,Viktor Ishchuk, Yaroslav Salenko and others. Viktor Yaremenko was the art director of the National Opera in 2000-2011. His work can be characterized as expressive, dynamic and innovative towards modern choreography. His staging of Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov, Raymonda by Glazunov and The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart is still performed with a great success. Many operas and ballets of the last decade use sets designed by Mariya Levytska.

Being a distinctive artistic individual, she inherited the best set design traditions of her predecessors. Performances of high artistic quality are also being created by staging conductors Ivan Hamkalo, Mykola Dyadyura, Allin Vlasenko, Oleksandr Barvinsky, Oleksiy Baklan, Herman Makarenko, Kyrylo Karabyts, Alla Kulbaba, stage director Volodymyr Behma, choreographers Viktor Litvinov and Aniko Rekhviashvili.

In 1992 the Kiev Opera became the National Opera of Ukraine. The theatre continues to fulfill its primary cultural mission – to spread the beauty and greatness of the opera and ballet art and to contribute to the Ukrainian and world’s culture. The recent seasons in the Opera were successful. The new stagings were considered as important events in Ukrainian cultural life and proved that the artists have a great performing potential. The last decade saw the premieres of operas Turandot and Manon Lescaut by G. Puccini, Macbeth, The Masked Ball and Don Carlos by G. Verdi, Norma by V. Bellini, Love Potion by G. Donizetti, Aleko by S. Rachmaninoff, Cinderella by G. Rossini, Iolanta by P. Tchaikovsky, Moisey by M. Skoryk, Yaroslav the Wise by H. Mayboroda, Boyarinya by V. Kireyko, Natalka Poltavka by M. Lysenko – the most sophisticated masterpieces of the opera art. The ballet troupe staged Raimonda by O. Glazunov, Suite in White by E. Lalo, The Marriage of Figaro by W. Mozart, Daniela by M. Tchemberji, Master and Margarita based on music compilation, Zorba the Greek by M. Theodorakis, The Master of Borysthene by Y. Stankovych, The Caprices of Fate by N. Paganini – M. Skoryk, The Temple Dancer by L. Minkus.

The artistic director board of the theatre is as follows: Petro Chupryna – General Manager, Mykola Dyadyura – Chief Conductor, Anatoliy Solovyanenko – Chief Stage Director, Aniko Rekhviashvili – Chief Choreographer, Mariya Levyts’ka – Chief of Scengraphy, Bohdan Plish – Chief Choirmeister (has recently substituted Lev Venedyktov). The stage now belongs to the new generation of stars, including opera singers Lyudmyla Monastyrska, Liliya Hrevtsova, Serhiy Pashchuk, Mykola Shuliak, Nataliya Nikolayishyn, Harry Setian, Kateryna Strashchenko, Susanna Tchakhoyan, Volodymyr Open’ko, Viktoriya Chens’ka, Hennadiy Vashchenko, Mykhailo Kirishev, Serhiy Kovnir, Bohdan Taras, Olga Fomichova, Alla Poznyak, Dmytro Kuz’min, Vyacheslav Bazyr, Oleksandr Boiko, Dmytro Hryshyn, Lesya Alekseeva, Ihor Mokrenko, Dmyto Aheev, Ihor Yevdokimenko, Andriy Maslakov, Serhiy Skochelyas; ballet soloists Nataliya Matsak, Denys Nedak, Tetyana Lyozova, Kateryna Alaeva, Kateryna Kukhar, Olga Kifyak, Tetyana Andreeva, Takita Sinobu, Khrystyna Shyshpor, Ihor Bulychov, Yan Vanya, Olha Holytsya, Kateryna Kozachenko,Oleksandr Stoyanov, Ruslan Bentsianov, Iryna Borysova, Vadym Burtan, Serhiy Klyachin, Serhiy Lytvynenko, Yulia Trandasir, Kateryna Chebykina, Andriy Pysarev, Dmytro Chebotar, Yelysaveta Cheprasova, Kostiantyn Pozharnytsky, Nabuhiro Terada, Kateryna Khanyukova, Oleksandr Shapoval, Lesya Makarenko-Sevostianova and others. The Ukrainian opera and ballet art is famous in the whole world. The National Opera of Ukraine succeeded to integrate into the world’s music life, which can be attested by regular tours and participation in international contests.

Vasyl Turkevych, Honored Artist of Ukraine