Usually Hulak-Artemovsky is remembered as the author of the one of the first Ukrainian operas Zaporozhets Za Dunaem (Zaporozhian Cossack Beyond the Danube), however, he not only was an outstanding composer, but also a well-known singer, as well as drama actor. These sides of master’s talent were presented at the gala concert in Kyiv, and the highlight of the night was the debut of bass trio – soloists of the National Opera.
Anatolii Solovianenko, chief director of the National Opera of Ukraine and the initiator of the concert, reminded The Day’s readers that Hulak-Artemovsky became so famous as a composer for his opera Zaporozhian Cossack Beyond the Danube written more than 150 years ago, which remains a sample of classic nowadays. By the way, the royal censors banned the opera on stage for 20 years. The opera was staged for the first time by director Marko Kropyvnytsky in 1884 with the Mykhailo Starytsky troupe. A special place in the artistic heritage of the composer is taken by Ukrainian songs, in particular: “Stoit Yavir nad Vodoiu” (Sycamore Tree over the River dedicated to Taras Shevchenko with whom maestro was friends since 1838), “Spat’ Meni ne Khochetsia” (I don’t Want to Sleep), “Oi na Hori ta i Zhentsi Zhnut” (Oh There on the Mountain the Reapers Reap), etc. Hulak-Artemovsky earned fame and praise of the audience thanks to his unique voice (bass-baritone). In 1838 the talented boy, who at that time studied at the Kyiv seminary, was noted by Mikhail Glinka – he was looking for a singer for the part of Ruslan in his newly written opera Ruslan and Lyudmila. Glinka took Hulak-Artemovsky to Saint Petersburg. By the way, Fyodor Chaliapin, who also came from Ukraine, was named “the best bass of the Russian Empire”! We decided to mark the anniversary of the classic not just to observe formalities but to make it a night that would fully reveal the power of his talent: both as a singer and a composer.
The first part of the concert included musical pieces from Ukrainian and Western classics and starred the vocalist Hulak-Artemovsky (arias and duets from operas Il Trovatore, Barber of Seville, Macbeth, Ruslan and Lyudmila, Prince Igor, Ivan Susanin, and Eugene Onegin). The highlight of the concert was the performance of the three premieres of the Kyiv Opera basses: Serhii Mahera, Taras Shtonda, and Serhii Kovnir. Audience gave ovation to the aria of Don Basilio (“La calunnia”) from Barber of Seville and Gremin (“Love Knows no Age…”) from Eugene Onegin. The special sensation and ovations was caused by the “Song of Karas” from Zaporozhian Cossack Beyond the Danube. By the way, this song, on the one hand, made a very effective end of the first part of the concert, and, on the other hand, became an introduction to the second part of the anniversary night of Hulak-Artemovsky. You should know that the brand “bass trio” can be called a Ukrainian know-how: in 2003 at the diplomatic salon in memory of Fyodor Chaliapin that was organized by the Russian Ambassador to Ukraine at that time Viktor Chernomyrdin, opera singers Taras Shtonda, Serhii Mahera, and Mykola Shopsha performed together for the first time. Their performance was a tremendous success, the diplomats from various countries present at the event had predicted that this triumvirate could compete with the legendary tenors (Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras). However, after the triumph performance the star trio fell apart: Shopsha suddenly died and both Mahera and Shtonda got interesting solo projects, they received invitations to tour around the world. And now, ten years later, Serhii Kovnir successfully entered the company of Mahera and Shtonda. The audience received with great enthusiasm this debut. Who knows, maybe soon this bass trio will prepare a whole program and will perform in stadiums like the famous tenors?
After the entracte the creative show continued with the performance of soloists, chorus, ballet, and the orchestra of the National Opera (conducted by Mykola Diadiura) who played the third act of the Zaporozhian Cossack Beyond the Danube with great enthusiasm. When Karas (Andrii Honiukov) returns home from sultan’s palace he announces to his wife Odarka (Maria Stefiuk) that he is now a Turk and his name is Urkhan. He also tells her that he wants to divorce her and get himself a harem (duet “I will Marry Turkish Women”)… The final of the play turned out the most colorful: Andrii’s (Oleksandr Hurets) patriotic song “Blessed Day, Blessed Time,” enchanting hopak and solemn chorus singing (“There, Beyond the Quiet Danube”).
P.S. The fact that the debut of bass trio was a success can be proven by that after the concert many guests of the night asked the administrators of the theater where they could purchase records of the singers or the video version of the play Zaporozhian Cossack Beyond the Danube. Perhaps, the directorate of the National Opera should revive the tradition, when beside programs and booklets people could buy CDs, books, and photographs of the leading masters of the National Opera: idols of the past and the stars of today.