Kyiv opera house reopens after 3 months : Deceptive Cadence Ukraine's National Opera was built to celebrate Russian opera at the height of the imperial era. Performances were suspended after the war began but have recently re-started.

Kyiv opera house reopens after 3 months

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ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

Earlier today, Ukraine's capital was rocked by explosions. Two missiles exploded just outside Kyiv, hitting a rail yard in the first attacks the city has experienced in weeks. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that more strikes on other targets are likely if Ukraine continues to receive military aid from the West. The war has gone on for months, and while much of it is about military tactics and defense strategy, it's also a war about cultural heritage. As Russian troops amassed on the border with Ukraine last year, Putin gave a lengthy speech about Russia's, quote, "common heritage" with Ukraine. In it, he claimed Ukrainian and Russian are essentially the same language, distinguished only by European powers to undermine the Russian empire. But a trip to the National Opera House in Ukraine reveals a more nuanced history of competing empires, censorship and survival. From Kyiv, NPR's Julian Hayda reports.

JULIAN HAYDA, BYLINE: For almost three months, this grand opera hall sat silent. Only the sounds of distant rocket fire and air raid sirens could be heard at times. But today, the Kyiv Opera Company is back, and they're doing it with a Ukrainian opera.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing in Ukrainian).

HAYDA: They're performing "Natalka Poltavka," a romantic drama in three parts, all sung in Ukrainian folk songs. Nataliya Nykolayishyn plays the title role.

NATALIYA NYKOLAYISHYN: (Speaking Ukrainian).

HAYDA: This is our music. It's very close to us, she tells me. But when the composer, Mykola Lysenko, wrote this opera almost a century and a half ago, Ukrainian music had a much harder time getting its due on stage.

LARYSA TARASENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

HAYDA: The opera's archivist, Larysa Tarasenko, says that the history is bloody, and it's complicated.

TARASENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

HAYDA: Just four years before Russian imperial authorities built this opera, they banned the publication of Ukrainian language books and music, Tarasenko says. Mykola Lysenko, the composer, refused to translate some of his works into Russian, meaning that they wouldn't get performed on imperial stages. The Kyiv Opera, after all, was only the third opera house in the empire after Moscow and St. Petersburg. It was built for Russian aristocracy to enjoy imperial arts. Even Lysenko's Russian contemporary, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, encouraged him to get over his hang-ups on language.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Ukrainian).

HAYDA: Now, more than a century later and after three months of all-out war with Russia, the tide has turned. The artists at the Kyiv Opera have sworn off Russian music.

ANATOLIY SOLOVYANENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

HAYDA: The opera's main director, Anatoliy Solovyanenko, tells me that nobody can separate politics from culture. That's a sentiment that's pretty widely felt among the audience here. After the show, I asked 8-year-old Katyusha if she enjoyed the opera.

(Speaking Ukrainian).

KATYUSHA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

HAYDA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

Yes, she says. It's part of a whole cultural tour her mom has planned around Kyiv after fleeing Mariupol.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Ukrainian).

HAYDA: Kids have to know what their culture is about and what the stakes are, she says. Julian Hayda, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing in non-English language).

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