Established in the summer of 1867 by Ferdinand Berger (? – 1875). Berger succeeded in inviting many talented singers, musicians, and conductors, and the city council (duma) had offered the newly created trouppe to use the City Theatre (constructed in 1856, architect I. Shtrom) for their performances. Officially, the theatre was named the City Theatre but was most commonly referred to as the Russian Opera. The day of the first performance, November 8 (October 27 old style), 1867 was made a city holiday. The performance of the opera Askold’s Tomb by Alexey Verstovsky was the troupe’s debut. The initial success is attributed to the vocal talents of that time of O. Satagano-Gorchakova, F. L’vov, M. Agramov but also to the captivating plot taken from some principal pages of the ancient history of the city.
Early performances were mostly Russian operas, including Ruslan and Lyudmila by Mikhail Glinka, Rusalka by Alexander Dargomyzhsky, Maccabees by Anton Rubinstein and The Enemy’s Power by A. Serov, as well translated European operas including The Barber of Sevile by Rossini, The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, The Magic Archer by Weber, Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti, and also operas by Giuseppe Verdi, which became the favorite of the Kievites.
On February 4, 1896, after a morning performance of Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky, a fire erupted from the unextinguished candle in the theatre. The fire consumed the whole building within several hours. One of the largest musical libraries in Europe along with numerous costumes and stage props of many performances were lost during the fire. After the fire of the City Theatre, the troupe performed on other stages for several years, including Bergonie’s Theatre (now the National Theatre of Russian Drama named after Lesya Ukrainka), Solovtsov’s Theatre (now the National Theatre named after Ivan Franko) and even on the arena of the famous Krutikov’s Circus.
After the fire, the City Council had announced the international competition to design a new building for the Opera Theatre in Kiev. The winning proposal was by Victor Aleksandrovich Shreter. The exterior was designed in Neo-Renaissance style and had accounted for the needs of the actors and the spectators. The interior was redesigned in a classical style and called Viennese Modern. However, his greatest achievement is considered to be the stage – one of the largest in Europe designed to the latest engineering standards.
On September 29 (September 16 old style), 1901, the solemn opening of the new premise of the theatre took place with a performance of cantata Kiev by composer Wilhelm Hartweld (1859 – 1927) and a presentation of the opera Life for the Tsar by M. Glinka.
In the first decade of the 20th century, the Kiev Opera Theatre attracted the most outstanding Ukrainian and Russian singers, including O. Petlyash, P. Tsecevich, K. Voronets, M. Medvedev, K. Brun, O. Mosin and O. Kamionsky and famous opera stars from the West often came on tours. Several unusual for the time performances took place on the stage: Die Walkure by Wagner, Sadko by Rimsky-Korsakov and Mefistofele by Boyto.
As Kiev began to grow and with the conclusion of World War I, the Kiev Opera occupied a special place in the USSR and the world. The Kiev Opera Theatre was considered to be one of the most prestigious in Ukraine and Russia.
During the intermission of a performance on September 1, 1911, Dmitry Bogrov killed Prime Minister Peter Stolypin.
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