By Dasha Stokoz, British Council Ukraine

13 March 2024 - 14:30

Kateryna Hordiienko appearing in Opera Aperta's 'Chornobyldorf'. ©

Valeria Landar

The UK premiere of Opera Aperta's award-winning 'Chornobyldorf' was part of the British Council's UK/Ukraine Season of Culture. Here Dasha Stokoz talks to the opera’s composers and the company’s producer about the role their participation in the Season has played in their international work.

The UK/Ukraine Season of Culture 2022-23 our cultural exchange programme was originally designed to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine forced us to reconsider the programme's focus while retaining the original aims of giving a voice to Ukrainian artists and deepening cultural ties and understanding between Ukraine and the UK. We supported more than 40 projects implemented by dozens of partners from both countries. These projects took place mainly in the UK, online and occasionally in Ukraine or other countries. It demonstrated the remarkable resilience and relevance of Ukrainian art and fostered new partnerships that are still developing. 

Following the Season, together with our partner the Ukrainian Institute, we announced a successor programme, UK/UA Creative Partnerships, to support the creation and implementation of fourteen UK/Ukraine collaborations in 2024. Another parallel event that kicked off 2024 was the announcement of the Royal Philharmonic Society Award nominees. The shortlist included the opera Chornobyldorf, created by Ukrainian composers Roman Hryhoriv and Ilya Razumeiko collaborating as Opera Aperta. Inspired by the impact of nuclear power on our world, the contemporary media-opera is a post-apocalyptic fantasy depicting society in the aftermath of nuclear, economic and cultural disaster.  

The opera had its British premiere in November 2022 at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//), where it opened the Ukrainian programme under the Season of Culture. The performance received excellent reviews from critics and the professional community, and it was announced as the winner of the Opera and Musical Theatre category at the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards 2024, held in March 2024 at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. It was praised as “a breathtaking portrait of humanity’s need for spiritual and cultural sustenance in the wake of shattering global events”.

Prior to the awards ceremony, I spoke to Opera Aperta about the role their participation in the Season has played in their international work. 

Did your participation in hcmf// within the Season of Culture influence the project and open new opportunities for you?

Illia Razumeiko: “Participation in the festival and the high praise of British critics was important for the further foreign representation of the opera, in particular, the invitation to the US to the La Mama Theatre for the Prototype festival.”

Olha Diatel, producer of Opera Aperta: “Participation in hmcf// was an important event for better integration into the international professional community. Meeting representatives of other European music festivals, I realised how important it is to be in this network. After all, information about our opera was passed from person to person, and they knew about the performance even without attending the festival. Also, for me, a personal inspiration was communication with one of the first directors of the festival since its foundation.”

Do you maintain the connections you developed during your performances in the UK?

Roman Hryhoriv: “After the British premiere, BBC 3 created an audio recording and a radio version of the opera, which was heard by a wide European audience. We remain in contact with Graham Mckenzie, the long-time director of the hcmf// festival, and look forward to further cooperation in the future.”

When you performed at hcmf//, what did you want to convey to the audience?

Illia Razumeiko: “Our task was to present Chornobyldorf as a holistic work, with all its elements - musical, theatrical and visual - in the specific political situation of 2022, in which Ukrainian landscapes and Ukrainian folklore presented in the opera played a specific expressive and informational role, and were our artistic manifesto of wartime opera.”

Are you interested in collaborating with foreign artists? 

Roman Hryhoriv: “Right now, our company employs exclusively Ukrainian artists. This is due to certain logistical difficulties, as well as the fact that we would like to support artists who, despite the war, have remained working in Ukraine and in Kyiv.”

This interview comes on the two-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine. What kind of support do you and the performing sector in Ukraine require now?

Roman Hryhoriv: “We need money to pay our artists for their work and to buy musical instruments or costumes from time to time. As an independent formation, we don't have any stable state funding, but at the same time, our laboratory has a great responsibility, because now, unfortunately, in Ukraine we are one of the few organisations that actively deals with the genre of contemporary opera and contemporary experimental theatre at the level that is interesting for large European festivals and European audiences.”

What do awards and nominations mean to you? 

Illia Razumeiko: “We have a few awards, I don't think it's a direct indicator of the quality of the performance, but it's probably some kind of recognition.”

Olha Diatel: “For me, pragmatically, prizes and awards are something that helps to increase visibility and draw attention to the work. For example, the history of the international presentation of Chornobyldorf began when the show was among the six best performances in the Musik Theatre Now competition. This contributed to the first foreign presentation, which contributed to the following ones. I hope that the next award will also help to highlight and support the work we do in Ukraine.”

Are you currently working on a new production? 

Illia Razumeiko: “Our next opera is called GAIA-24. Opera del Mondo. We started working on it after the Russians blew up the dam of the Kakhovka reservoir, and the landscapes of Chornobyldorf ceased to exist. It will be premiered in Kyiv and Rotterdam in May 2024. We will be happy to perform this opera in the UK if there is a festival or venue that is interested in this production.”


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