Ukraine’s Odesa Opera reopened Friday after more than four months. With sandbags piled around the entrances, the ornate 122-year-old rococo theater that looks like the top tier of a wedding cake resounded not with air raid sirens but the arias of Puccini, and, of course, the battered but defiant nation’s anthem.
When a country’s 160-year-old official song is called “The Glory and Freedom of Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished,” you know you’re dealing with a people not unfamiliar with hardship. But Russia’s brutality in its assault on its liberty-loving neighbor has still taken its toll in the once-wealthy port city. Though Odesa is peaceful now, just 70 miles to the east, the city of Mykolaiv is enduring the wrath of Vladimir Putin’s frustrated dreams of empire. Farther to the east, residents of Kharkiv brace for the imminent return of Russian tank columns.
Everyone who attended Friday’s performance knew that the first show in months could be the last one ever, that the war could return any time, and that the crimes against humanity inflicted on their countrymen in Bucha and Mariupol could be their fate as well. So how do they sit in a gilded opera house and listen to Turandot?
“At the start of the war the explosions and sirens terrified me, as if I had plunged into some unreality, a World War II movie, but humans get used to everything,” Viacheslav Chernukho-Volichthe, the opera’s chief conductor, told the New York Times. “It is difficult, yet we want to believe in the victory of civilization.”