Yesterday I saw the culmination of the project that I had seen in rehearsal earlier in the week. The Ukrainian Art Song Project Summer Intensive presented 21 songs in a linked narrative about losing and regaining inspiration. It was staged in the round in the Temerty Theatre with the piano in the middle of the room and the action taking place all over. Pavlo Hunka directed. Albert Krywolt and Robert Kortgaard shared piano duties and there were eight young singers from Canada, the US and Ukraine.
Sixteen of the songs were by Myroslav Volynsky setting texts by Oleksandr Oles. They completely confirmed my original impression that this is a very fine composer whose lack of any kind of reputation is a bit bizarre. He can write beautifully melodic lyrical material like A Gentle Song; a haunting piece sung with great lyricism by soprano Katherine Mayba. Equally, he can produce something much tougher; shifting into a much more strident and chromatic mode as in Play on, Clown!. It’s an angry, ironic piece; sung yesterday most dramatically by baritone Yurii Hryhorash.
Three composers provided the remaining five songs. I particularly enjoyed a duet by Marko Kropyvnytsky setting Stepan Pysarevsky’s In Search of Destiny. Here, the resonant smokey mezzo of Olenka Slywynska blended beautifully with the rather muscular tenor of Andrew Skitko. Another duet; Mykola Lysenko’s setting of Taras Shevchenko’s The Wide Valley was equally lyrical and just as well sung by Mayba and fellow soprano Teryn Kuzma. The final composer featured was Yakiv Stepovyi whose setting of Shevchenko’s The Cove formed the finale; arranged for the whole ensemble.
The staging was pretty effective and well executed. It’s not easy to act and sing in and around an audience and the ability to link the pieces seamlessly (even with pianist swaps) was pretty impressive. It was quite physical at times too; notably when Mayba, as a sort of angry prophet figure, rather vigorously disposed of Hryhorash. The only downside I think is that, of course, in the round one can’t have surtitles and it’s hard to follow written text and translation and the stage action. Especially when the action is taking place over one’s left shoulder!
One can’t describe 21 songs in detail and the singers I’ve name checked are because I think what they sang epitomised some important aspect of the show. The others were equally fine and I’d happily go see any of them again. For the record they were sopranos Julie Anna Gulenko and Kateryna Khartova and mezzo Alex Beley.
It looks like this is settling in to be an annual event which is great and I’ll look forward to the next one.
Photo credits: A Waller Photography. All are from the show except the group picture which is posed but rather cute.