NEW YORK – Vladyslav Buialskyi spoke to his mother from Berdyansk, a Ukraine seaside town, and told her not to listen to him take the stage at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night.
With electricity out because of Russia's invasion, he didn't want her wasting power for the Internet stream.
With three huge yellow-and-blue Ukraine flags draped across the front of the house, the Met held a benefit for the under-attack nation. The concert began with the 23-year-old Ukrainian bass-baritone as soloist in front of the Met orchestra and chorus and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starting the 90-minute program with Ukraine's national anthem.
Buialsky struggled to hold back tears, and tapped his heart.
“It was so emotional and powerful. In some moments it was so sensitive and hard to not show my emotions,” he said later. “I'm so grateful to the theater, to all the people who helped to do this.”
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations, was introduced from the parterre level and received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of about 3,600. Tickets sold out within 10 minutes last week at $25, and additional money was raised in online donations.
Met general manager Peter Gelb, who last week dropped star Russian soprano Anna Netrebko from future performances over her failure to condemn Russia President Vladimir Putin, also received a standing ovation.
“Members of the Metropolitan Opera company stand in solidarity with the proud Ukrainian people, so strong in the face of such injustice, destruction and death,” Gelb said in remarks from the stage.
The concert was broadcast on radio world-wide, including on Ukrainian public radio.
Norwegian Lise Davidsen, ascending to the rank of opera's top stars, gave an emotional account of Strauss' “Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs)." She filled the hall with her silvery, soaring soprano, bringing some tears to the audience when she sang of “O vast, tranquil peace” in “Im Abendrot (At Sunset)."
Principal horn Erik Ralske's solo in “Frühling (September)" was haunting, and concertmaster David Chan's impassioned violin solo between the second and third verses of “Beim Schlafengehen (When Going to Sleep)" will long be remembered.
Thrown together with one primary rehearsal of the orchestra and chorus together on Monday afternoon and using singers currently in New York for Met productions, the concert showcased the Met chorus and chorusmaster Donald Palumbo. Everyone on stage wore a yellow and blue ribbon.
The anthem was followed by “A Prayer for the Ukraine,” a choral work by a Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and an unusually solemn “Va, pensiero,” the chorus of Hebrew slaves from Verdi’s "Nabucco.”
After Davidsen, soprano Elsa van den Heever, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, tenor Piotr Beczała and bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green joined for the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the “Ode to Joy” — last performed by the Met with conductor Arturo Toscanini on April 13 and 18, 1913. All four were vibrant under Nézet-Séguin's baton, with Green sounding especially booming at the front of the orchestra, positioned over the usual pit.
Buialsky, a member of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, has been with the company since 2020 and last visited Ukraine in December and January.
He was about to telephone his mom when she called him first.
“It's a bit cold there,” he said. “I told her try not to use the phone as much as you can.”
He didn't have to teach the chorus Ukraine's anthem, which they also sang before Verdi's “Don Carlos” on Feb. 28, the night Buialsky made his Met debut as a Flemish Deputy.
“They already knew it," he said.