The Shevchenko Days witnessed a significant event: concerts starring prima donna Viktoriya Lukyanets with Roman Kofman’s Kyiv Chamber Orchestra to packed houses at the National Philharmonic Society of Ukraine and Lviv’s Solomiya Krushelnytska Opera and Ballet Theater.
The first part of each concert was made up of German, Austrian, and Ukrainian composers, including Reinhold Gliere’s F Major Soprano Concerto No. 82 that had not been performed in Ukraine in the past decade for a variety of reason. The second part was dedicated solely to Ukrainian music. Her audiences were thrilled by Lukyanets’ interpretation of Iryna Kyrylina’s Prayer (based on Psalm 143). Old-timers probably still remember her spectacular debut with this composition at the Ukraine Palace in 1989. She was fresh from Kyiv Conservatory and performed with the National Radio and Television Children’s Choir directed by Tetiana Kopylova. She sang to a huge audience even without a microphone, something totally out of character at the Ukraine Palace, considering its acoustic problems. They had tried to prevail on her not to take the risk, but she did and emerged triumphant. That concert would be remembered by music aficionados as one of the best ever performed at the Palace. This time the singer demonstrated not only a broad vocal range, but also dramatic talent. Perhaps some in the audience believed that her repertoire was a bit sad that time. “This program reflects the current state of my soul,” admits the singer. “I miss my native Kyiv very much; I miss my parents and friends, as I see them quite seldom, unfortunately. It is only when living abroad that one realizes that homesickness is not just a word. A singer must be cosmopolitan; I must use my art to familiarize my audiences with Ukraine, for many will tell you that Kyiv is a city somewhere in Siberia.”
Viktoriya has a colorful singular timbre and uses it with true mastery. Usually she performs not only lyrical pieces; she is very convincing in her dramatic repertoire. She has a lot of publicity and with reason, as she has contracts with numerous leading operatic companies across the world: Britain, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the United States, and Japan. Her previous concert in Kyiv took place last fall. Below the singer tells about her current realities away from Ukraine, creativeness, and prospects of the operatic art.
I live at an insane rhythm. This season is packed tight, there are contracts for the next two years. I wonder if I’ve spent two weeks at home. Last fall, after Odesa, Kharkiv, and Kyiv I had to sing as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata at the Deutsche Opera in Berlin, the very second day. Then on to KЪln, so I returned to Vienna literally hours before the New Year, as I had to sing Rigoletto’s Gilda on December 30 in Bonn. I sang the leading part in Lucia di Lammermoor in Pisa, by way of an audio session before the Italian tour and in between rehearsals I had to fly to London to perform in a new Covent Garden version of La Traviata. Then there were several solo concerts in Switzerland, Italy, and Germany. Honestly, I prayed for surviving the crazy schedule. Right after Kyiv I’m going to the Andervin Theater to perform the Viennese Waltz in a gala concert (Riccardo Muti is staging Mozart operas). They are preparing a premiere of Ginevra di Scozia by Simon Mayr, a German Italian composer, for the New Theater in Trieste (incidentally, he was Donizetti’s professor for eight years). The opera was composed 200 years ago and has never been staged. I will sing as the Scottish Queen Ginevra, an extremely sophisticated vocal part. I will have to show all of my vocal range in three arias. I was a soloist with the Vienna State Opera for several years. The management liked and profited from the arrangement, as I was always handy. And the situation turned out like the one with the National Opera of Ukraine when the administration saw me as just a young up-and-coming singer. It took me quite some time and effort to decide to strike out on my own. I realized I was taking a big risk, but time showed that I made the right decision; to become a star, one has constantly to expand one’s repertoire, work with different stage directors and conductors. I think that every performer should try a different school. I got in touch with foreign impresarios and they offered interesting contracts all over the world. My name appeared in the Western press and this must have prompted the Vienna Opera’s management to offer me the higher status of a guest star in certain performances. Thus, I perform in fifteen renditions of Verdi’s La Traviata (June-September-October). There are interesting offers from the Metropolitan Opera and Tokyo New Opera, yet nothing by way of joint projects from the Kyiv company. In fact, Petro Chupryna told me in a private conversation that no one had struck my name from the company staff lists and they were waiting for me to return. Well, if there are new productions and I can find a gap in my schedule, I will be glad to perform in Kyiv. You see, I simply have no idea when this could happen. My schedule is too tight.
Some vocalists prefer to take a timeout, so they can get their sleep out and have regular hot meals. That’s not for me. Shortly before a performance I try to speak less to spare my vocal chords. Sports — swimming, jogging, gymnastics — help me keep in shape. This also strengthens my voice. I think that a performer, besides good vocal characteristics, must also look wonderful. Many sopranos turn into overweight matrons and that’s the reason for their failing careers. Even when a woman like that demonstrates a strong and beautiful voice people in the audience find it hard to identify her with the young and graceful heroine. Also, you cannot afford to relax. No one bothers to give a soloist any training. Every singer must come to a rehearsal with his or her part firmly memorized. Those that can’t fit into the pattern are dumped and replaced by others. It takes character and willpower to survive all this and prove that you are the best. In my current tours I rely on my experience and what I learned from my teachers; they taught me to balance my resources. When I work on a new part I do everything myself and then, after I think it’s ready, I take several lessons from a professional operatic concertmaster at the company where I am to perform the part. This allows me to make the role more expressive and concept- oriented. And at times it seems to me that my name Viktoriya helps me overcome hardships; it simply implies my being victorious. Every time I visit Kyiv I also visit my professor Ivan Palyvoda. To me, he is like a tuning fork and a severe judge at the same time. Unfortunately, Yelyzaveta Chavdar, my other professor, is no longer alive. I think my current success would make her happy.
I consider myself lucky because I can work with many different musicians and singers. My latest partner was Marcello Alvares. We met in Vienna where we sang in La Traviata and then went on an Italian tour together. He is of Argentine origin and has a magnificent powerful tenor. Music critics say he is Luciano Pavarotti’s replacement. A Japanese patron offered us joint concerts in Tokyo. They are scheduled for 2002.
I will never forget my debut at the Teatro alla Scala in December 1995. I thought even the walls were saturated with music. It was there I met the top tenor of the twentieth century, Luciano Pavarotti. He sings with his soul and this is what makes him so strong. Critics describe his voice as sun-bright and bewitching.
I watched Placido Domingo as my partner in Meyerbeer’s Le Prophete and when conducting La Traviata. I have noticed that the more significant a personality, the simpler this person is in everyday life. Luciano and Placido make no big thing of their world fame. They don’t put on airs. They would be the first to approach me with a word of encouragement during rehearsals and I would immediately feel better; the strain would disappear. And having them as partners during the performance made me feel as safe as a stone wall.
I met Dmytro Khvorostovsky at the All-Union Vocal Contest and then we did not see each other for over ten years. We met again last season in Germany and performed together in The Barber of Seville at the Munich Opera. It is very important to be on common ground with your partner. If you are, you make a team and then complete dramatic identification is possible and the performance turns out well.
HOME AND FAMILY
Sometimes I find it hard to combine work and private life. The family suffers, of course; they see me very seldom. When I come home I notice that my daughter Dariya has grown. She is twelve and a half. She studies in an Austrian high school, attending a Ukrainian Sunday school. She has mastered three languages and she takes music and vocal classes. She must have inherited my husband’s and my love for classical music, so if she decides to become an operatic singer we won’t object. I enrolled in the Gliere College of Music [in Kyiv] at 14, and Ivan Palyvoda was my teacher. “You know, Vita, I have a boy. He is in the army and he has such a beautiful voice!” he told me once. “You must meet one of these days.” I met Yuri at the College’s Hall of Columns on November 13. He started singing and I fell in love. It was love at first sight. Yuri waited for me to grow up for five years. He helped me with my music classes and I think it was our mutual interest in music that made our marriage solid and harmonious. My husband [Yuri Kokozei, a singer, worked for the Bandurist Choir of Ukraine, taught at the Conservatory’s Vocal Department — Auth. ] literally dedicated himself to my career, so I owe him a great deal in that way. He is still very helpful. He has been teaching vocal arts in Vienna for the past several years, and singing in the State Opera’s choir. Well, we now live in Austria, not Ukraine, so we have to settle and live in normal conditions. We rented an apartment for a long time, and three years ago we took a bank loan and now have a house. I decided to have a place where I would want to return after concert tours. To me, home is a place where I feel well, where I have an interesting job. Impresarios call sometimes to say I have to be at a rehearsal or concert the following evening. But I take my car and it’s just a couple of hours’ ride.
My parents and brother Andriy are still in Kyiv. He is 23, a musician (drums) and laureate of two international contests. He started playing with the National Philharmonic in the third year at the Conservatory. Alla Maksymivna, my mother, says she has three children: me, Andriy, and the magazine Pochatkova shkola [The Elementary School] where she has been editor-in-chief for the past 29 years.
FAVORITE OPERATIC PARTS
Violetta in La Traviata proved a fateful operatic part. It was my debut at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, KЪln Opera, Covent Garden, and Vienna State Opera. For me, Violetta is more than a role, but a living being. I am fond of Elvira in The Puritans, Gilda in Rigoletto, and the title part in Lucia di Lammermoor. I first appeared on the Ukrainian National Opera’s stage as Marfa in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Czar’s Betrothed and then at the Bolshoi in Moscow. In the West, I sing music which is probably not that popular in Ukraine. It is called bel canto and requires an incredibly refined vocal technique.
THE OPERA’S FUTURE
Opera is an eternal art. I don’t agree with those saying it is meant only for the devotees and elite. One just has to love music and singing and start by familiarizing oneself with classical music and compositions that are easier to comprehend; hear different performers, go to different renditions. In fact, dramatic renditions are being simplified in the West. A great many directors discard crinoline, costumes, and archaic stage props. The new opera turns out more dynamic, modernized. It spares the frills, the costumes are simple yet functional and easy to wear, so the performer can concentrate more on dramatic identification and vocal characterization. Take the recent rendition of La Traviata at the KЪln Opera. Gunther Kremer, the stage director, asked me to use very little makeup and let my hair down. I wore a light black dress and a snow-white pantsuit. This brought my heroine closer to the modern reality. And we found a new plastique approach, so everything would look more natural, not just theatrical. So far as I am concerned, opera is love for life.