On a stage 5,000 miles away, he sings for his family in Ukraine
Sometimes lately, when he hasn’t been rehearsing Verdi or Tchaikovsky at the Metropolitan Opera, or practicing Italian with a diction coach on Zoom, bass-baritone Vladyslav Buialskyi pulls out his phone and texts a word : “Mom. ”
The message is for Buialskyi’s mother, who is more than 8,000 kilometers away in her hometown of Berdyansk, a small port city in Ukraine that has been under siege since the Russian invasion began last month. Her mother was unable to flee as she takes care of her grandmother, who is 88 and has difficulty walking. Concerned for her mother’s safety, Buialskyi sends her messages around the clock, waiting for replies confirming that she remains safe and reachable.
“It’s a huge nightmare,” said Buialskyi, 24, who is enrolled in the Met’s prestigious young artist program. “You wake up every day hoping it’s not real, but it’s still happening.”
Since the start of the invasion, Buialskyi has become a symbol at the Met of his country’s struggles. On Monday, when the Met hosts a concert in support of Ukraine, it will be featured in a rendition of its national anthem. He played a similar role last month, at the start of the invasion, when the choir and orchestra performed the anthem before a performance of Verdi’s ‘Don Carlos’. Buialskyi – who was making his debut with the company in a small role that night – was center stage, hand on heart. Ukrainian media later aired excerpts from the performance.
“It was incredibly moving because you could see how much it meant to him,” said Met chief executive Peter Gelb. “The fact that it was such an emotional experience for him made it even more emotional for me and others in the company.”
Gelb said he hoped Monday’s performance of the anthem would “show the world and our audience that we stand in solidarity with Ukraine.”
Buialskyi said he was worried about the attention. But he said he wanted to use his platform to help his friends and family back home.
“I hope this will inspire people not to give up,” he said. “Even though I’m far away, I want to do what I can.”
Buialskyi grew up in eastern Ukraine, along the Sea of Azov, in a city known for its beaches and its port, a hub for coal and grain exports. The only son of an accountant and a driver, he took an early interest in singing. At the age of two, he was imitating television jingles and singing Ukrainian folk songs.
His mother first had visions of sending him to a college specializing in automotive studies, worried about the career prospects of an artist. But she quickly recognized his gift and, at 17, he began studying at the conservatory, practicing standards from the repertoire such as “Largo al factotum”, from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”. His idol was Muslim Magomayev, a pop and classical singer from Azerbaijan.
He came to the Met in 2020 as part of its Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. Program participants play tiny roles in Met productions, and this season Buialskyi stars as a Flemish MP in “Don Carlos” and a captain in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.”
One evening last month, as he was returning to his Washington Heights apartment after finishing his meetings at the Met, he received a call from his mother, who told him she was hearing explosions. He checked news sites and soon realized that Moscow had begun invading Ukraine. Berdyansk is near the Russian border and was one of the first towns to be seized by Russian forces. Some citizens tried to resist the invasion by singing the Ukrainian national anthem, according to news reports.
“I was so scared,” Buialskyi said. “People who aren’t here right now still can’t believe the war is actually happening these days.”
His colleagues at the Met rallied behind him, asking for updates on his family and donating to a crowdfunding effort he started supporting Ukrainian families and soldiers. Russian performers at the Met also reached out, he said, to check on his family’s safety.
Melissa Wegner, executive director of the Lindemann program, said she was impressed with Buialskyi’s determination in the face of difficult circumstances.
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Anna Netrebko. The superstar Russian soprano will not appear at the Metropolitan Opera again this season or next after failing to comply with the company’s request to distance herself from Russian President Vladimir V. Putin following the invasion of Ukraine.
“It really takes my breath away,” she said. “All of us on the program are really a little stunned by what he’s going through right now.”
In his dressing room before a performance of “Don Carlos” last week, Buialskyi scrolled through Ukrainian social media accounts on his phone, watching footage of burning tanks near his hometown. Another young artist on the Lindemann program, Samson Setu, a New Zealand-born Samoan baritone, smiled at him and said, “You are 100% a hero.
In recent days, Buialskyi has had more difficulty reaching his family. When his mother was silent for two days, he got scared and started praying. Her father lives about two hours from Berdyansk, in Melitopol, which also fell under Russian control.
Buialskyi said he was optimistic about Ukraine’s victory. Lately, he thinks back to his childhood and the days when he played football with friends by the sea.
“What I miss the most,” he said, “are the peaceful times.”
He said he was trying to focus on preparing for his big moment at “A Concert for Ukraine” at the Met on Monday. He trained his colleagues in Ukrainian diction and practiced a few lines of the anthem that he will sing for the first time solo:
Our enemies will disappear
Like dew in the sun.
We too will reign,
In our dear country.
Anna Tsybko contributed reporting.