Opera adds comic note to Ukrainian history

The Commonwealth Lyric Theater production from Boston and the local Zorepad Ukrainian Dance Ensemble
Zorepad Ukrainian Dance Ensemble members will dance in the comic opera "Cossack Beyond the Danube" Friday at the University at Albany.
Zorepad Ukrainian Dance Ensemble members will dance in the comic opera "Cossack Beyond the Danube" Friday at the University at Albany.

Big tough cossack.

Fights anyone. Lives for danger. Fears nothing.

Karas, the well-respected warrior in the Ukrainian comic opera “Cossack Beyond the Danube,” will settle for two out of three.

“The only thing he is afraid of is his wife, who physically chases him with a rolling pin and stuff like that,” said Irina Petrik, who will play the vociferous spouse Odarka opposite Kevin Kees’ chief cossack when the opera plays the main theater at the University at Albany’s Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

‘Cossack Beyond the Danube’

WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Friday

WHERE: UAlbany Performing Arts Center, Main Theater

HOW MUCH: $100-$30, $20 with student ID

MORE INFO: www.commonwealthlyrictheater.com

Petrik, a classically trained soprano born in Kiev, Ukraine, said the Commonwealth Lyric Theater production includes 25 musicians who will travel to Albany from Boston. Twenty-five members of the local Zorepad Ukrainian Dance Ensemble will also be on stage; seven Boston-based actors will join Petrik and Kees in speaking roles.

“It’s about a time when cossacks were nationalistic warriors for the independence of Ukraine,” Petrik said.

“The cossacks were in exile in what that time was the Ottoman Empire and is currently Romania; at that time it was Turkey. These freedom-loving cossacks are in exile and despite being separated from their homeland they persevere and keep their traditions.”

Part of the fun is watching Ukrainian culture in song and story. Ukrainian men have traditionally been forceful people. “The wives are the same way and the wives are the only ones who can actually push back at the end of the day,” Petrik said. “They all love each other and it’s a very family-oriented show.”

“Cossack Beyond the Danube” received the Albany date with help from orchestra conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya, with whom Petrik and Kees worked during a recent production of the Russian opera “The Snow Queen.”

Yankovskaya knew “Cossack” artistic director Alexander Prokhorov, who called Petrik and inquired about bringing the show to the Capital Region.

The opera represents a great opportunity for the Zorepad dancers, who range in age from 7 to 19. “You have a live orchestra, the opera itself is a funny piece and it’s something just wonderful to take part in and give children the experience,” said Peter Fil, who directs the troupe with his wife, Adrienne Fil.

All spoken dialogue will be in English, while the singing is in Ukrainian, with the English translation projected onto a background screen.

For Petrik and baritone Kees, acting as man and wife is easy — they are engaged in real life. “So we don’t really have to do much,” Kees said. “I am violently abused.”

Kees is kind of joking. Petrik is not joking when she talks about her reasons for wanting to see the Ukrainian opera performed locally. Russian military intervention in Ukraine has long been in national headlines, and Petrik is saddened to see many things Ukrainian now associated with war.

“I feel this is a chance for American audiences to be introduced to the festive side of our culture,” Petrik said, “that we’re actually fun, we’re actually very strong and our spirit stays strong.”

Categories: Entertainment

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