Ukraine’s National Opera reopened on Saturday afternoon, with caviar, sparkling wine and the conviction that, even as Russia’s military makes advances in the country’s east, returning to aspects of life as normal is an act of defiance.
Men and women in military uniforms joined an elegant crowd for The Barber of Seville, the comedic opera by the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini about a caper to capture the heart of a beautiful young woman, Rosina.
“Performing in this show felt like coming back to life,” said Olga Fomichova, a soprano who sang the part of Rosina, as she clutched a bouquet of white roses after the performance. “It was like my first performance all over again.”
Saturday’s show was sold out. The National Opera has more than 1,300 seats, but could sell only 300 tickets, the number of people who can fit in the coat check, which doubles as a bomb shelter. The upper levels of the opera, and their elite boxes, sat empty.
Air raid sirens wailed several times before the afternoon performance, but were quiet for the duration of the show.
Restaurants and stores have slowly reopened in recent weeks. And now, residents say, it is time to return to the theatre.
“It is a symbol that Kyiv, which was surrounded — and surrounded by killing fields — has reopened its cultural institutions,” said Lt Maksym Butkevych, an audience member who came for the day from his military barracks. “It is a kind of promise that we will prevail. Life will go on, not death.”
Some men in army fatigues chuckled when two of the main characters began jousting with light sabres in the second act. While a philharmonic festival opened on Friday in the western city of Lviv with a mourning requiem, Anatoly Solovyanenko, the Opera’s artistic director, said the wartime season at the National Opera would avoid heavy productions.
“People have enough drama in their lives every single day,” Solovyanenko said.
Yulia Solovyenko, a 24-year-old audience member, said the production was “a message to the rest of the world that we did not give up”. Yulia Solovyenko said she had fled Ukraine to nearby Moldova during the most brutal fighting around Kyiv, and had dreamed of “wearing a beautiful dress, putting on makeup and feeling good”.
Many people wore cocktail dresses and sipped from glass flutes the sweet sparkling wine popular in this region. As the crowd delivered a minutes-long standing ovation, outside the theatre, Russians were taking control of the Azovstal steel plant in the decimated city of Mariupol.
Lieutenant Butkevych said in spite of what was happening elsewhere in the country, it was right for the residents of Kyiv to gather and celebrate.
“It is important not to forget that this is what we are fighting for,” Lieutenant Butkevych said. “We want people to celebrate when they feel like celebrating. We did not fight for mourning and tragedies.”
(New York Times News Service)

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