Society

National Opera of Ukraine was a means of Russification of Ukrainian culture?

Why do the columns of the National Opera of Ukraine have the names of Russian composers covered in gold? Such a question was raised by the theater archivist Larysa Tarasenko, who due to the lockdown has more time to study historical sources. According to her, this way it was made sure that the new building of the Kyiv City Theater erected in 1901 confirms that the history of the permanent opera in Kyiv, then the provincial city of the Russian Empire, began in 1867 as a “Russian opera”, unlike previous periodic Italian seasons.

Since then, operas of Russian composers have been performed in the theater, and all operas of the European repertoire have been translated into Russian. “Kyiv literally pulled the tsar’s permission to open a permanent opera – the first in the province!” – writes Larysa Tarasenko. She recalls that after the suppression of the Polish uprising in 1863 and the emergence of the Valuev Сircular, which forbade printed Ukrainian editions, Russification of the region was actively carried out.

In 1890 the newspaper “Kievskoe slovo” wrote: “The South-Western Territory, Polonized in the 60s, needed Russification and the founders wanted to see it in opera as one of the means of Russification”. So, nowadays, the columns of the Kyiv Opera feature the names of composers Alexei Verstovsky, Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Serov, Alexander Dargomyzhsky, Pyotr Tchaikovsky (however, he is of Ukrainian origin and spent a lot of time in Ukraine – ed.), Anton Rubinstein, Alexander Borodin, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Anton Arensky and Eduard Napravnik.

Archivist Tarasenko notes that this list does not have the name of Sergei Rachmaninoff, who was underestimated by contemporaries. Mykola Lysenko had no chance at all: he was too pro-Ukrainian for this. The monument to this prominent composer was erected on the Theater square only half a century after his death.

Pictures: from the photo archive of the National Opera of Ukraine (inside) and by Alisa Kulii (outside)

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