Almost a year since Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine, the Royal Opera Chorus and more than 130 London-based Ukrainians are preparing for a performance at the Royal Opera House’s iconic home in the heart of Covent Garden.
The public performance will take place on Thursday 16 March 2023. It will be the culmination of more than two months of choral workshops in which Ukrainian participants will work with artists from the Royal Opera House to learn about traditional Ukrainian music and explore a set of opera choruses that are suitable for amateur singers.
The performance will draw on the lived experiences of those displaced by the war, showcasing the resilience of the Ukrainian community and the power of the arts to bring people together in the face of unimaginable adversity. Many of the participants in the project have found the collective experience a rare opportunity to connect with the wider Ukrainian community in London and the Southeast. In doing so, they have enriched the Royal Opera House’s own musical repertory by providing space to discover and explore the rich history of Ukrainian choral music.
Anna Vlasenko, a Ukrainian participant currently displaced by the war, said:
‘When the war began, I lost my will to sing. When I saw this project, there was an immediate spark of joy – to know that I could possibly be amongst fellow Ukrainians and the much-respected Royal Opera House Chorus. The first rehearsal made me very emotional. I even cried at some points, realising how much I missed the feeling of music vibration going through my body.’
The project was initially open to 45 participants, but – due to overwhelming interest – was expanded to include more than 130. Workshops are being led by William Spaulding, Chorus Director at the Royal Opera House, and are being held at both St Paul’s Church (also known as the Actors Church) in Covent Garden, and at the Royal Opera House itself.
William Spaulding, Royal Opera Chorus Director, said:
‘The heroic fortitude of those plagued by the scourge of war inspires us all. With this project we hope to fulfil one of the great promises of art: to create meaning in the face of hardship.’
The project is being supported by The Cathedral Choir of Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family – London’s largest Ukrainian Church – as well as by Ukrainians in London, an organization directly supporting Ukrainians in the capital.
Taisiya-Oksana Shchuruk, another Ukrainian participant currently displaced by the War, said:
‘I can’t remember the last time I felt so connected through art not only to other people but to my country. All these wonderful voices around me just make me want to try harder and learn this song from the scratch, as fast as I can. I can’t describe how powerful singing together is.’
Jillian Barker, Director of Learning and Participation at the Royal Opera House, said:
‘We are honoured to collaborate with members of London’s Ukrainian community as we approach a difficult landmark in the war. What has been clear is that art truly unites communities and particularly in times of great difficulty. Singing alongside the Royal Opera Chorus,the project is building a sense of community spirit in a way that only music can.’
The project is part of the Royal Opera House’s wider commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion. In March 2021, we announced a series of fundraising initiatives in support of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. This included two fundraising performances – a concert led by Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv, and a gala featuring Royal Ballet dancers, which have to date raised more than £450,000.
These performances were accompanied by other symbolic acts of solidarity: lighting the Royal Opera House in the colours of the Ukrainian flag; playing the Ukrainian national anthem before performances; and sharing a special recording of the Ukrainian hymn Prayer for Ukraine, performed by members of The Royal Opera Chorus.