In Brief. Last Friday, the Metropolitan Opera gave us another example of why – for so many of us – this splendid musical organization plays such an important role in the “community” that many of us belong to.
Despite its size and the Metropolitan Opera Association’s specific cultural function, there are special occasions that bring much pleasure and intellectual/musical stimulation to our lives. And on many of these occasions, they give us much to think about.
Such was the case on February 24th. The date was the first anniversary of the brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. At the Met, we had a very special program: “For Ukraine: A Concert of Remembrance and Hope.”
Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted the Met Orchestra and Chorus, and the program featured Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and Valentin Silvestrov’s “Prayer for Ukraine.” The program – which the Met called “a night of solidarity” – opened with Mykhailo Verbytsky’s Ukrainian National Anthem.
It was a remarkable musical experience, one that enabled some 4,000 people to share their own feelings of hope and remembrance for the Ukrainian people.
For Ukraine: A Concert of Remembrance and Hope
From my particular point of view, I think the experience of each member of the audience was specific and each of us was able to bring forward our own thoughts about what is happening in Ukraine. Last week’s concert was not the first time the Met acknowledged our American citizens’ interest in supporting the people of Ukraine in this horrible crisis. In 2022, within less than three weeks following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Met sponsored “A Concert for Ukraine.” It was made possible by a generous gift from C. Graham Berwind, III, and in association with Lincoln Center and the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations. The concert raised funds through modest ticket prices for all comers which, along with donations, were used to support relief efforts in Ukraine.
This year, on the anniversary of the start of the war, the new concert had an especially appropriate title: “For Ukraine: For Remembrance and Hope.” The title’s theme was built into the filmed remarks of Ukraine’s First Lady, Olena Kiyashko, the wife of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, she spoke movingly about how valuable America’s support is to Ukraine and she graciously thanked all Americans and the Metropolitan Opera for what has been provided for the Ukrainian people. All of the members of the audience felt honored to have her speak to us at this important event, and we felt a very special closeness to her as she spoke.
Additionally there was a common shared response, too, captured in the statement, on the first page of the program: “Throughout the 2022-2023 season, the Met honors Ukraine and its brave citizens as they fight to defend their country and its cultural heritage.” And that idea has been carried through by the many people who have responded to me about how moving the program was, and how wonderful it was to be in our great opera house and hear the splendid music being performed on this occasion. The “rousing” conclusion (as one friend characterized it) to the Beethoven Fifth was mentioned and, in particular, there were several comments noting the stunning and gorgeous reverence of the final selection, Valentin Silvestrov’s “Prayer for Ukraine.” At that point, I think there were not many dry eyes in the audience. Everyone was moved and thankful to be able to honor and remember the people of Ukraine.
For me, one notable fact about the performance was the international make-up of the soloists and many members of the chorus and the orchestra (although the Met, as a distinguished international organization, generally always includes casts and staff members from all over the world). In this concert, not only is Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the company’s Music Director, from Montreal, all four soloists come from somewhere else: Golda Schultz from Bloemfontein, South Africa, with the Met since 2017, Emily D’Angelo from Toronto, with the Met since 2018, and Dmytro Popov from Rubizhne, Ukraine, with the Met since 2016. Vladyslav Buialskyi, from Berdyansk, Ukraine, who sang in last year’s “A Concert for Ukraine,” is currently in his third year as a member of the Met’s Lindermann Young Artist Development Program and made his debut in the full company in 2022 in Eugene Oregon and in Don Carlos.
In my case, there was a brief personal experience that made the occasion even more special: When the chorus was assembled on stage, standing and awaiting the beginning of the concert, the audience, too, waited for the orchestra to begin. And what happened? Just when the first notes of the National Anthem of Ukraine were struck , the entire audience rose to its feet, honoring the people of Ukraine. What a thrill!
As the anthem was sung, I heard next to me a lovely soprano voice singing out. I turned to look and noticed a young woman whose seat was, indeed, next to mine. Then I realized that she was in a seat that had been one of ours since, as it happened, one of our guests at the last minute couldn’t be with us. As I waited for our other guests in the front hall of the opera house, I quickly returned the ticket to the box office, thinking that since the performance was completely sold out, this way someone else could use it.
Hearing the lady next to me, I quickly guessed – since she was singing the anthem in Ukrainian – that she was from Ukraine. Of course we spoke together at intermission, and she told me that she is indeed Ukrainian and all her family is still there. She has lived in New York for twenty years, has raised her children here, and at the last minute decided to come to the concert, hoping she could find a ticket. As she put it, “I simply had to be here.”
So she apparently walked up to the box office just after I had left the ticket, and she was able to use our unused ticket. She was very grateful that I had returned the ticket, thanking me effusively, and even after the concert she repeated how grateful she was that she was able to be at the concert. So once more, the concert was yet again a very special experience. For all of us, and yes, for me too. Very special. I’m so glad we were all there.