Met Opera marks 1st year of Ukraine war with concert

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This photo provided by Metropolitan Opera, Met music director Yannick Nzet-Sguin leads mezzo-soprano Emily DAngelo, soprano Golda Schultz, tenor Dmytro Popov, and bass-baritone Vladyslav Buialskyi in the National Anthem of Ukraine during "For Ukraine: A Concert of Remembrance and Hope" on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023 in New York. (Evan Zimmerman/Metropolitan Opera via AP)

NEW YORK – Emily D'Angelo made her point with attire before singing a single note at the Metropolitan Opera’s concert to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The 28-year-old Canadian mezzo-soprano walked onto the stage Friday night for the Mozart Requiem wearing a dark skirt covered with white tally marks, like on a school chalkboard: four vertical slashes and a diagonal to close out each set of five. There were 365 in all on the outfit created by Berlin designer Esther Perbandt, one to mark each day of Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II.

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“Although an opera house doesn’t have the offensive capacity of an Abrams tank or an F-16 jet, the Metropolitan Opera is proud to be a powerful cultural resource for Ukraine, helping to lead the fight for artistic liberty against (Vladimir) Putin’s cultural propaganda machine,” Met general manager Peter Gelb told an intermission group that included U.N. Ambassadors Sergiy Kyslytsya of Ukraine and Linda Thomas-Greenfield of the U.S. “We demonstrate the free world’s ongoing cultural resolve to defend Ukraine’s liberty in the face of brutal oppression.”

Met music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted what was titled “For Ukraine: A Concert of Remembrance and Hope,” that also featured Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov and bass-baritone Vladyslav Buialskyi and South African soprano Golda Schultz. With the Metropolitan Opera House bathed in the yellow and blue colors on Ukraine’s flag, and an actual flag hung above the stage, they opened with Ukraine’s anthem, followed with the Mozart Requiem and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and ended with Valentin Silvestrov’ hymn “Prayer for Ukraine.”

“The Metropolitan Opera,” Kyslytsya said, “adopted Ukrainian culture, adopted me, adopted my mission.”

Ukraine First Lady Olena Zelenska addressed the crowd at the start of the evening in a prerecorded video speech.

“You have proven that art can help and save, literally," she said. “I hope that it is on this stage that we will soon be able to celebrate the victory of humanity, of art, of Ukraine, and it will be our common victory."

The Ukrainian singers wrapped themselves in flags during the curtain calls. Tickets were priced at $50, with the Met saying it held the amount lower than its usual prices in the hope audience members would donate large amounts to supporting Ukraine’s war effort.

Gelb dropped Russian artists who refused to distance themselves from Putin from the Met’s roster, most famously star soprano Anna Netrebko.

“It’s a small price to pay,” he said. “To be on the side of right was what’s important. I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror and have known Putin supporters performing on our stage.”

Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov, who withdrew from a new production of Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” at the Met next season, was quoted recently as saying artists should remain neutral.

“My response is they chose a side and they chose the wrong side,” Gelb said. “I feel sorry that he like many other Russians are so misinformed and don’t really understand what’s going on in the world.”

The Met has hired four interns from Ukraine and Gelb plans to add Ukrainian composers to the Met’s commissioning program. His wife, Canadian-Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, will again lead a summer tour of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra. She was back in New York after conducting a Verdi Requiem and Ukrainian composer Viktoriia Poliova’s “Bucha. Lacrimosa” at the Lviv National Opera on Tuesday to commemorate fallen soldiers and victims of Russia’s invasion.

“I felt that I had to go and experience this myself and show Putin that he cannot kill culture, he cannot kill the soul of Ukraine,” Wilson said. “We had to hide in a bomb shelter for the first rehearsal. For the dress rehearsal we were delayed two hours in a bomb shelter. But I didn’t feel any fear -- there was no fear. There was this determination to somehow get through this concert, and it went on beautifully.

"The power stayed on. And there soldiers in the audience, young boys, they were in the first two rows. And when I went to make my bow and people were applauding me, I begun applauding the soldiers. And we all applauded the soldiers. And that’s what the power of music does.”