Donbass Opera

by Giorgio Bianchi

Despite power cuts, a business shutdown, curfews, and near-daily shelling, residents of the rebel-held city flock to the Donetsk Opera and Ballet Theater on weekends in search of respite from the reality of life within a conflict zone. Roughly a third of the theater’s performers fled when war broke out, including key singers and all four of its conductors. A further setback occurred when a wayward missile destroyed the warehouse where it stored most of its stage sets. The opera was forced to close amid heavy clashes on July 2015 before it recruited new staff and restarted operations the following September, around the time that representatives from the Ukrainian government, Russia, and the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Luhansk signed the first Minsk peace agreement, which only briefly halted the fighting. The first performance of the season in October was free to the public, with the auditorium bursting to capacity. Despite the ongoing hostilities and challenging circumstances, audience figures at the 960-seat theater have been impressive since its reopening. In the cloakroom downstairs, camouflage military jackets were hung among civilian furs and overcoats. On December 2015 the Russian opera star Anna Netrebko doned a million rubles (about $18,500) for the Donetsk theater. The rebel leadership is providing exhausted separatist militia fighters with free tickets to the opera as a gesture of recreational relief, and many of them are attending the performances. (text by Giorgio Bianchi).

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