In The Metropolitan Opera Supports the People of Ukraine, my March 4 post, I found it very gratifying to share with readers my pride in the work of the Metropolitan Opera Association.
Many of you agreed with me, and your responses (both to me and at LinkedIn, where I also share these posts) made that clear. They also indicated that many of us are struggling with that difficult question with regard to the Russia-Ukraine war: what can we – as individuals living far from Ukraine – do?
Again, our fine opera company came through for us, for just a few days later Peter Gelb, the Met’s General Manager, and the remarkable team at the Met announced “A Concert for Ukraine.”
So on Monday, March 14, at 6pm on a beautiful spring-like day, some 4,000 of us gathered at the opera house to hear an amazing performance. Ticket prices were reasonable ($50 for each seat, no matter where located in the house, though many of us made additional donation to help the cause). All ticket sales and donations were specifically targeted to support relief efforts in Ukraine.
As we arrived at Lincoln Center Plaza, we could see that much of the front of the opera house was covered by a massive Ukrainian flag, specially constructed by the Met’s staff. As we took our seats, we saw another, this one not quite so large but certainly big by any standards, hanging on the back wall of the stage behind the orchestra and the five huge risers supporting the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. And as the performers and orchestra members (at stage level for this concert and not in the orchestra pit) took their seats, they were all wearing a small pin with blue and yellow ribbons, again calling attention to the national colors of Ukraine.
So thanks to the opera company, this evening we were, indeed, doing something for the people of Ukraine.
In welcoming the audience, Gelb put everyone in the opera house in the best frame of mind by speaking about why we were there and what we were doing. He warmly welcomed the audience, including the many dignitaries in attendance. And he gave a special welcome to Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mr. Sergiy Kyslytsya, bringing about the first standing ovation of the evening (the next one of course was at the conclusion of the National Anthem of Ukraine).
As I said, it was an amazing performance. Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin led the Met Orchestra and Chorus, with several of the company’s finest singers. And as I am happy to record what we heard here, the program was specially chosen for the event and no single piece could have been better selected.
National Anthem of Ukraine
Vladyslav Buialskyi, bass-baritone
“Prayer for Ukraine” by Valentin Silvestrov
Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber
“Va, pensiero” from Verdi’s Nabucco
Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss
Lise Davidsen, soprano
Finale from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Op. 125 (i.e. also known as “The Ode to Joy”)
Elza van den Heever, soprano
Jamie Barton, mezzo-soprano
Piotr Beczała, tenor
Ryan Speedo Green, bass-baritone
As noted before the program began, the concert was recorded and would be heard through radio stations around the world, including the Ukrainian Public Broadcasting Corporation. Online, the concert can be heard through April 1 at the Met’s home page (no login is required). At the beginning of the recording, very touchingly, almost the first thing we hear is Debra Lew Harder, the radio host for the Met’s Saturday (and other) audio broadcasts describing how honored the Metropolitan Opera staff and artists are to be bringing “music of comfort, strength, and hope” to the people of Ukraine.
From my point of view and in terms of what we are trying to deal with as we think about what we, as American citizens, can do to help the people of Ukraine, I want to say a special word about bass-baritone Vladyslav Buialskyi. He is at the Met, currently with the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and this season he is appearing in two productions (Don Carlos and Eugene Onegin). He is from Ukraine.
In last Sunday’s New York Times, a special and very moving article about him was published, an article which clearly made us all more aware of the struggles people like him and his family are going through in Ukraine. In the article (On a Stage 5,000 Miles Away, He Sings for His Family in Ukraine), the young singer talks about the fears he has for his family and how frightened he is when he cannot contact them in one of his frequent telephone calls.
To me, the final part of the article is especially touching because it connects our time together that evening with what Ukrainians are thinking as they sing the National Anthem of Ukraine today. And it was Buialskyi whose solo in the singing of the National Anthem – just four lines – had such a special impact on all of us:
Our enemies shall vanish
Like dew in the sun.
We too shall rule,
In our beloved country
So the concert was, not surprisingly, a very emotional one, for the performers, for the Met’s staff, and for all of us in the audience. And, yes, the music did what it is supposed to do, bring us closer to what we were thinking and feeling about what is happening. In a way, it reminded me of two other events that were similarly emotional (although I did not attend either, of course – seeing them only on film much later than they actually took place).
I’m thinking of – no surprise here – Marian Anderson’s famous concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, when she was not allowed to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington because persons of color were not permitted to perform there. The other such event was Jessye Norman’s singing “La Marseillaise” on Bastille Day in Paris at the Arc de Triomphe in 1989. Both were beautiful and very moving historical events, now captured on film and shown over the years, and even now, years later, neither can be watched without the viewer being moved.
Of course these were different types of occasions, and not at all what we were thinking about on Monday night, but all three events bring back the same types of feelings: we listened (and especially on Monday) because we wanted to, and because we were – in this case, it seemed to me – touched by another emotion that isn’t often expressed in these situations. Love (and in particular as heard in the joyful finale to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9), and especially by the love we all have for fellow members of the human race. It was a feeling of love evident in Monday’s concert that will be, I daresay, for all 4,000-plus of us, a sensation we will never forget.
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