What does the besieged Ukrainian nation most urgently need? Weapons? Humanitarian aid? International war crimes investigators? A performance of Rossini’s comic opera, The Barber of Seville? The answer is probably all of them – and opera isn’t the least necessary item on this list.
On Saturday, the kyiv Grand Opera reopened, after only the third significant hiatus in its history, with a production of Rossini’s opera buffa. Performances will be given on weekday afternoons, with the public retiring to the basement in the event of a bombardment.
The history of Ukrainian culture is one of struggle and challenge; its spirit embodied by the great national poet and champion of independence, Taras Shevchenko, after whom kyiv Opera is named. At the very beginning of the current conflict, music became a symbol of resistance. In Odessa, staff and performers gathered to surround the city’s neo-baroque opera house with tank traps and sandbags.
But the music continues. The morale-boosting properties of popular music are widely celebrated, but classical music strikes a different place in the heart, offering not only solace or a brief respite from fear and destruction, but the promise of a future in which the clamor of war will be quieted, while the harmonies remain.
The fragility and power of performing arts in times of conflict have a particular resonance: the midday concerts presented by Dame Myra Hess at the National Gallery during the Second World War; the desperate 1942 Leningrad premiere of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony, given while the city was under siege, by starving musicians wrapped “like cabbages” in layers of clothing to keep them from shivering; the Haydn string trio played in 1993, still in a besieged city, by the Sarajevo String Quartet – reduced to three members after the death of their second violinist, Momir Vlacic. Interrupted by a bomb that fell so close that the viola player’s desk was knocked over, the trio’s leader, Dzevad Sabanagic, stopped, then raised his bow, and the music continued.
In kyiv too, the opening begins. Rosina, Bartolo, Figaro and Count Almaviva sing their sublime tangle of amorous confusions, proving once again that, as journalist and author Ed Vulliamy writes in his memoir on music and conflict, When Words Fail, “the many devastations caused by war do not turn off the music”.
Talk to plants
In 1988, Prince Charles’ admission, “I speak with pleasure to plants and trees and I listen to them”, was widely derided. But in 2009, RHS research proved he was always right. Ten tomato plants were read from excerpts from The Day of the Triffids, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The tomato apostrophized by Darwin’s great-granddaughter Sarah was the winner, beating the top man-fed runner-up by two decisive thumbs.
It’s not just plants that benefit from a herbaceous one-on-one: Rebecca Pow, Minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said talking to plants about its garden had helped her to overcome her grief after the death of her husband. recent death. So, as the Chelsea Flower Show gets underway, what better time than to find some foliage and chat?