“Why should a country at war waste time bothering about opera?” says Gerald Malone in Engelsberg Ideas. Because it’s a struggle to “assert its national identity, that’s why”. Within days of the Russian invasion, Vasil Vokun, director of Lviv Opera House, decided his venue was “a dog in this fight”. Unperturbed by air strikes, he has continued to stage performances as usual, albeit with a few adjustments – the audience is limited to 300 people, as that’s the capacity of the “hastily constructed” underground air-raid shelter. “London’s West End grit in the Second World War Blitz springs to mind.”
I planned to attend a performance of When the Fern Blooms, a folkloric faerie tale by Yevhen Stankovych, in October, but the “resumption of random missile strikes” led me to cancel my trip. Vokun was “clearly miffed”. The “grimly determined” director would never cop out as I had. The “heartbeat of a nation” can be measured in many ways, but one guarantor of vitality is a willingness to “defend at all costs a heritage, tradition and culture” and prevent it being “steamrolled by aggression”. The musicians at Lviv Opera have proved they have that willingness “in spades”.