United States Various – ‘For Ukraine: A concert of Remembrance and Hope’: Golda Schultz (soprano), Emily D’Angelo (mezzo-soprano), Dmytro Popov (tenor), Vladyslav Buialskyi (bass-baritone), Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus / Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor). Metropolitan Opera House, New York, 24.2.2023. (RP)
Verbytsky – National Anthem of Ukraine
Mozart – Requiem in D minor, K.626
Beethoven – Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Silvestrov – ‘Prayer for Ukraine’
The Metropolitan Opera commemorated the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine with ‘For Ukraine: A concert of Remembrance and Hope’. Produced in association with Lincoln Center and the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nation, it was broadcast live on the Met’s various media channels and all tickets were USD $50. Patriotism, affordability and two of the most popular works in the classical canon, performed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, combined to create an artistically and emotionally rewarding experience, as well as a sold-out house.
The Ukrainian flag was beamed on the facade of the opera house and dominated the Met’s stage. In the house, it cast a somber, reflective mood that was evident the moment one entered the hall. The only words spoken were those by Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska, who greeted the audience on a pre-taped message in which she thanked the Met and Americans for their ongoing support of the Ukrainian people.
The concert opened with the singing of the Ukrainian National Anthem, a song that has become instantly recognizable to many in the past year. Tenor Dmytro Popov and bass-baritone Vladyslav Buialskyi, both of whom are Ukrainian, sang a verse as a duet. During the final bows, they appeared on stage draped in their country’s flag.
Nézet-Séguin programmed two emotionally powerful works, Mozart’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, to commemorate the war’s onset. The Mozart served as a prayer for salvation and for those who have died in the conflict.
The Fifth Symphony, in contrast, is a celebration of the heroic, composed at a time when revolution and war enveloped Europe and Beethoven was facing the prospect of deafness. Nézet-Séguin and the Met Orchestra transformed it into a triumphant hymn of victory.
Soprano Golda Schultz, mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo, Popov and Buialskyi were the soloists in the Mozart. Exceptional artists all, they nonetheless were outshone by the Met Chorus. One seldom hears a chorus so fine sing the work. The thundering sound of the men in the opening measures of the ‘Confutatis’ was wondrous, but even more so was the shimmering sound of the women singing ‘Voca me cum benedictus’ a few moments later.
The Mozart also afforded the opportunity to hear the Met’s Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. Restored during the summer of 2022, the instrument, which has nearly 1,300 pipes, was installed during the construction of the ‘New Met’ in the mid-1960s. The Met is the only one of New York City’s major concert halls with an actual pipe organ, which is a rare find in opera houses.
Nézet-Séguin has immersed himself in Beethoven in recent years – full cycles of the symphonies with the Philadelphia Orchestra in both Philadelphia and New York, as well as a recording with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. With the Met Orchestra, he achieved an emotional depth in the Fifth Symphony that was certainly due to the context in which it was being performed. If the Mozart had been the chorus’s opportunity to shine, the Beethoven was the same for the orchestra.
Under normal circumstances, the concert would have ended with Beethoven’s triumphant strains resounding through the hall and the ensuing roar of the audience. That indeed did transpire, but these are not normal times. The Met Chorus reappeared on stage to sing Valentin Silvestrov’s ‘Prayer for Ukraine’. The eighty-five-year-old composer lived in Kyiv from 1970 to 2022 but now resides in Berlin.
‘Prayer for Ukraine’ was written in 2014 in response to the Maidan Uprising in November of the prior year. Over 100 people died in clashes with the government after taking to the streets to protest then-president Viktor Yanukovych’s choice not to sign an agreement that would have integrated the country more closely with the European Union. A month after protests began, Yanukovych fled the country, parliament voted to oust him and new elections were held.
The text of ‘Prayer for Ukraine’ reads ‘Lord, protect the Ukraine. Give us power, faith and hope’. Seldom rising above a whisper, the luminous sound of the Met’s sopranos hovered above the wordless accompaniment of the other sections. It was as haunting as it was lovely.