For soloist Dmytro Popov, a special concert for Ukraine on Friday at New York’s Metropolitan Opera will be a solemn but essential occasion to remind people that one year on, the war is far from over.
The Ukrainian tenor said the evening will be less of a “performance” and more so a “really good time to remind people that the war is still going on, that we still have to support, that we still have to solve this problem.”
“Otherwise it will happen next time and next time and next time.”
Popov, 42, spoke with AFP in between rehearsals ahead of Friday’s concert of “Remembrance and Hope,” which is cosponsored by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations and Lincoln Center.
The Berlin-based Popov has built a successful international career for well over a decade, taking on some 35 works across major opera houses, including recent performances in London, Vienna and Hamburg.
But he’s faced trying moments over the past year, including when his mother suffered a stroke a few weeks after the invasion and was unable to get treatment due to lack of medicine.
He was eventually able to move his mother to Germany, after Ukrainian forces pushed back the Russian army and critical roads could be reestablished.
Popov said she is doing better now and back in Ukraine near Kyiv.
Life there has achieved a degree of normalcy — normal enough for the opera house to resume performances, at least — although there are frequent sirens ordering shelter every couple of days.
Another low point came in April, when Popov had to perform just after seeing photos of his devastated childhood home in the far eastern Donbas region.
Popov said he’s been feeling “more emotion” when he performs now, but that he must keep it in check in order to work.
The art form necessitates some level of detachment, despite all the hysterics singers conjure to convey opera’s tragic and often unbelievable plots.
“All opera singers have to control our emotions. If we are overemotional we cannot sing,” said Popov.
In April he performed at Covent Garden, and said “it was difficult when I saw photos from my house and my home city that was destroyed day by day.”
“But I came to the stage” to sing, he recalled, saying he must earn money to send it to the Ukrainian army.
– War effort –
Friday will nevertheless be a moving occasion, acknowledged Popov, who will perform as a soloist in Mozart’s Requiem.
He’ll be joined by South African soprano Golda Schultz, Canadian mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo and bass-baritone Vladyslav Buialskyi — a member of the Met’s young artist development program, who is also Ukrainian.
The concert will additionally feature Beethoven’s monumental Fifth Symphony, which was associated with the Allied struggle in World War II.
“Mozart’s Requiem is to remember the innocent victims of the war, and Beethoven’s Fifth is in anticipation of the victory to come,” Met General Manager Peter Gelb said in the official announcement of the concert last month.
The evening will open with the Ukrainian national anthem and conclude with “Prayer for Ukraine,” by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov.
Tickets cost $50, and the Met is encouraging attendees to donate to the Ukrainian relief effort.
For Popov, who doesn’t sing much Mozart, the requiem “is like praying for our souls that died,” he said.
“So many people die every day and every night.”
He will return to the Met in the upcoming revival of “La Traviata,” a Verdi classic, playing Alfredo, a part he has done many times.
Popov sees opera — rather than taking up arms — as his best means to help the war effort, because he can urge support for Ukraine when he travels for his performances in places like Madrid, Paris or London.
He has displayed the Ukrainian flag at the end of performances in those places and others.
“It’s better to be here and be an artist, a high-quality artist, so I can remind everyone that I’m from Ukraine,” Popov said. “Our country really needs some support from the EU and the United States and Great Britain.”