At the beginning of the 19th century, Odessa already had a theater that was not inferior to the best European models at the time. It was built on the initiative of the mayor, a prominent statesman, Duke Armand de Richelieu, who is still called “Duke” by the people of Odessa. Despite many worries – trade, military, construction – Richelieu knew that Odessa – a city of multinational and multilingual. So the best thing that could unite people was music.
The building of the first city theater was designed by the Italian Francesco Frapolli, significant changes in the plan were made by Tom de Tomon. On February 10, 1810, the theater was inaugurated. It was a snow-white building facing the port. There were 800 seats in the hall (at that time 12.5 thousand people lived in the city). 44 chairs were installed in the boxes of three tiers, behind which in a large semicircular space another 700 spectators could enjoy the performances standing.
The memoirs stated: “The hall of the old theater was three-tiered, with seventeen lodges, and the gallery was under the very ceiling, so low that the audience almost touched it with their heads. There was no chandelier, it was hung later. The hall was lit by candles, ie chandeliers with five candles attached to the outer walls of the lodge. The candles were greasy and wax. The stage was lit by large oil lamps. There was no lighting at all in the gallery, so the light of the hall and the stage seemed to those sitting in the gallery simply dazzling. The theater had its own special, specific smell from the soot of candles and women’s perfume”.
On the opening day of the City Theater, S. Vyazmitinov’s one-act opera The New Family and J. Knyazhnin’s vaudeville “Mourning, or the Consoled Widow” were staged by the troupe of actor and entrepreneur P. Fortunatov. Regular performances began in 1811 after concluding a contract with the dramatic troupe of Prince O. Shakhovsky. The repertoire of that time included comedies, tragedies, vaudeville and comic operas. However, 11 years later, Russian troupes stopped their performances and the City Theater began to dominate the Italian opera. Entrepreneurs G. Montovani, then J. Zamboni, G. Buanavolio and others received a monopoly on productions. The opera repertoire of the first City Theater included productions by G. Rossini, W. Bellini, D. Chimaroza, G. Donizetti, and G. Verdi. The Odessa audience applauded Catherine Amatti, Arriga and Angelica Catalani, Giuseppe Marini, Catherine Patti-Barilla, Josephine and Teresina Brombilla, Ponti del Armi, Alde Bianchi. It was here, for the first time in modern Ukraine, that such well-known and popular operas as G. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti’s Love Drink, and Puccini’s Longing were performed. In 1873, the City Theater was completely destroyed by fire. “The picture of the flames breaking out and raging in the wild was truly spectacular. The columns rolled down the square, as if chasing the audience that came to watch the fire”, wrote the author of the book “Old Odessa” Alexander Deribas. Only ashes remain from the City Theater.
The construction of the new theater was entrusted to the famous Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer – the authors of the magnificent theater buildings of many European cities. The project created by them was perfected by Odessa architects – Alexander Bernardazzi, Felix Gonsiorovsky, Yuri Dmitrenko and others. Construction lasted three years and was completed in September 1887.
On October 1, 1887, the audience filled the hall for the first time. On this day, the orchestra under the direction of Odessa composer G. Lishin performed a solemn cantata, and the dramatic troupe of the first entrepreneur of the renovated theater I. Cherepennikov showed a scene from Pushkin’s drama “Boris Godunov” and the third act of O. Griboyedov’s comedy “Woe from the Mind.” The new theater impressed everyone with its splendor. “Everything here is so new for Odessa, so elegant, convenient and comfortable, so rich! ..” – wrote the newspaper “Odessa News”. Impressive and technical equipment – the theater was the first building in the Novorossiysk region with electric lighting and steam heating, the stage was equipped with the latest theatrical equipment.
Until 1919, the theater existed as a private entertainment institution run by entrepreneurs. Four years after the opening of the new building, the enterprise was headed by the artist of the Imperial Theaters I. Grekov. Within a year, he decided to include Russian opera in his repertoire. A. Rubinstein’s “Demon” and P. Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades” began to prepare for the production. From 1894 the chief conductor of the theater became J. Pribik, who was the musical director of the theater for forty years – until 1937. In the Soviet years, he was one of the first to receive the title of Honored and then People’s Artist of Ukraine, the title of Hero of Socialist Labor. From the first days of its existence, the theater became the center of social and musical life of Odessa. As Mykola Bogolyubov noted in his book 60 Years at the Opera House, “Both Russian dramas and Italian opera performances were staged in the theater. And there was not a single famous singer in Western Europe who did not sing at the Odessa Opera House. “ The heyday of the theater came in 1897-1900, when the institution was run by singer and entrepreneur O. Sibiryakov. L. Tetratsini, M. Battistini, and M. Solovyov’s dramatic troupe toured in Odessa.
From 1903 the enterprise was led by the singer M. Lubkivska. In 1905 she organized a tour of the famous Italian baritone T. Ruffo. Along with him in several performances – “Eugenia Onegin”, “Demons” and others – arias were performed by Italian tenor J. Anselmi and Polish soprano J. Vaida-Korolevych. Khoma (Tomasz) Nizhynsky, the father of the world-famous dancer V. Nizhynsky, was the director and performer of dances in those years. He created ballet numbers for the operas “Carmen” and “Life for the King”. Pupils of the Warsaw Choreographic School took part in the performances. The theater did not have its own ballet troupe. In 1923, prima ballerina Kateryna Pushkina, a graduate of the St. Petersburg choreographic school in the class of O. Preobrazhenskaya, and Remislav Remislavsky organized choreographic schools, whose students joined the ballet troupe of the theater. In the same year, the famous choreographer Robert Balanotti became the leader of the ballet team. His first production was “Swan Lake” by P. Tchaikovsky (premiered on December 7, 1923). Balanotti himself played the part of Prince Siegfried, and Odette-Odile was danced by Pushkin. Over the next two years, the audience saw performances of “Grasshopper”, “Coppelia” and an extraordinary interpretation of the ballet “Corsair”.
The second serious fire in the Odessa Opera House occurred on March 15, 1925, after J. Meyerber’s opera The Prophet, as a result of careless handling of fire. The flames damaged the hall, destroyed the stage, scenery and costumes. The music library and the curtain on which the artist F. Lefler painted a scene from “Ruslan and Lyudmila” were damaged. But a year later, the theater resumed performances, the stage received new technical equipment, two reinforced concrete curtains were equipped, which, if necessary, cut off the stage from the auditorium and office space. The new decorative curtain was made according to the sketches of the famous theatrical artist O. Golovin. After the October Revolution, the opera house became state-owned, and in 1926 received the status of “academic”. In those years, Alexander Pirogov, Platon Tsarevich, Yuri Kiporenko-Damansky, Ivan Alchevsky, “Ukrainian Chaliapin” Ivan Patorzhinsky, Maria Litvinenko-Wolgemut and many others shone on the stage. The repertoire included “Ruslan and Lyudmila” by M. Glinka, “Mermaid” by O. Dargomyzhsky, “Prince Igor” by O. Borodin, “The Queen of Spades” and “Mazepa” by P. Tchaikovsky, “Aida” by J. Verdi, “Faust” by Sh. Gounod and “Carmen” by J. Bizet. Along with Russian and Western European operas, the works of Ukrainian authors – “Taras Bulba” and “Natalka Poltavka” by M. Lysenko, “Zaporozhets over the Danube” by S. Hulak-Artemovsky were heard from the stage. Operas appeared on Ukrainian plots – “Sorochyn Fair” by M. Mussorgsky, “Shoes” by P. Tchaikovsky. The first Soviet operas were staged – “Silent Don” by I. Dzerzhinsky, “Shchors” by B. Lyatoshynsky, “Battleship Potemkin” by O. Chishko and others. During World War II, some creative workers were evacuated to Almaty. Most of the artists moved to Krasnoyarsk, where they joined the staff of the Dnipropetrovsk Opera and Ballet Theater. The troupes of artists repeatedly went to the front, where they gave about 150 concerts.
The first work to strengthen the foundation of the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater began in 1955, after it became clear that the building was sagging, and cracks appeared in its supporting structures. Then a unique technology of so-called “silicateization of the soil” was used: due to a large number of specially drilled holes, about 6 million liters of liquid glass were poured into the foundation. The work lasted around the clock, but did not interfere with the performances. During solidification, the glass turned into a monolith with a volume of more than 15 thousand cubic meters. In November 1956, it was announced that the settlement of the building had stopped. In 1965, the restoration and partial reconstruction of the theater began, both outside and inside. In two years, the masters restored and improved everything – from the mosaic floor to the nails of the XIX century. 4 million Soviet rubles and 9 kilograms of gold leaf were spent on the work. The booklet, published before the opening of the opera house after the next restoration in 1965 – 1967, included 28 opera and 24 ballet performances. New performances were born here, whole epochs changed, which took place under the influence of outstanding creative leaders. Wonderful musicians, singers and dancers worked here. Conductors – Mykola Pokrovsky, Yaroslav Voshchak, David Sipitiner, Gennady Provatorov, Boris Gruzin, Boris Afanasyev. Choreographers – Vakhtang Vronsky, Mykola Tregubov, Igor Chernyshov, Natalia Ryzhenko and Viktor Smirnov-Golovanov, Leonid Lavrovsky, Oleg Vinogradov, Henry Mayorov. The fame and traditions of the theater were continued by outstanding singers – Raisa Sergienko, Ninel Tkachenko, Galina Polivanova, Galina Oleynichenko, Mykola Ogrenych, Yevhen Ivanov, Lyudmila Shirina, Alisa Dzhamagortsyan, Taisiya Moroz, Anatoliy Boyko, Anatoliy Kapustin, Volodymyr Tarasov. Vasilieva, Vasyl Navrotsky. Ballet dancers Alla Rindina, Iryna Mykhaylichenko, Volodymyr Kaverzin, Silvia Walter, Elvira Karavaeva, Natalia Barysheva, Svitlana Antipova, Viktor Novytsky, Mykhailo Petukhov, Vira Volkova, Valery Mykhailovsky, Valentyna Hryshukova and many others delighted the audience.
All efforts to strengthen the fundament of the theater in the middle of the twentieth century, as it turned out, only slowed down the destructive processes. The building, built on sedimentary rocks, continued to collapse. In the mid of 90s of the last century, it`s condition was considered catastrophic. In 1996, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine decided to carry out major repairs and allocated funds for this purpose. The work was expected to be completed in four years. However, due to insufficient funding, the reconstruction was delayed for 10 years. During this period, the foundation was re-strengthened (this time with 1,800 piles driven to a depth of 14 to 18 meters), the roof was covered, the facade and the surrounding area were renovated. The rear stage, tablet, modern lighting and sound equipment, heating system, a new fire curtain and much more have also been reconstructed. The current technical equipment of the theater meets the latest requirements. The location of the seats in the hall eliminates the presence of so-called “blind” seats, and the beautiful acoustics allow you to convey to the audience even a whisper from the stage. Successful completion of large-scale and unique works was possible not only with the help of the government, but also with the active participation of Odessa enterprises, donations of statesmen, public organizations, entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens of Odessa, including those living in other cities and countries. During the reconstruction of the theater in 1996-2007, the opera troupe gave performances on the stages of existing Odessa theaters, performed at international festivals. The theater’s artists and orchestra have toured extensively in Italy, Spain, Korea, the United States, China, Lebanon, Cyprus, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, Greece, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
In 2007, on the opening day after the reconstruction, the Odessa Academic Opera and Ballet Theater was awarded the status of “national”. The theater’s repertoire impresses with a variety of opera and ballet performances, concert programs. A special place is occupied by works by Ukrainian composers – the opera “Zaporozhets on the Danube” by S. Hulak-Artemovsky, “Katerina” by M. Arkas, “Viy” by V. Hubarenko, modern ballet “Fate” by J.Gomelskaya , classical operas and ballets of outstanding masters: P. Tchaikovsky (“Swan Lake”, “The Nutcracker”, “Iolanta”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Queen of Spades”), J. Verdi (“Aida”, “Rigoletto”, “Ball masquerade”,”Nabucco”, “La Traviata”, “Troubadour”), G. Puccini (” Tosca”, “Bohemia”, “Madame Butterfly”, “Turandot”), F. Chopin (“Chopiniana”) and others. In recent years, the theater’s repertoire includes more than 40 new creative and artistic projects, including: “The Queen of Spades”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Eugene Onegin” by P. Tchaikovsky, “Nabucco” by G. Verdi, “Turandot” by G. Puccini, G. Donizetti’s “Love Drink”, K. Khachaturian’s “Chipollino”, “The Emerald City” to the music of composers of the 18th-20th centuries, L. Minkus’ “Don Quixote”, “Secrets of the Viennese Forest” to the music of J. Strauss and G. Mahler , “Masquerade” by A. Khachaturian, “Carmen” by J. Bizet, “Don Juan” by V.A. Mozart, “Tannhäuser”, “Lohengrin” by R. Wagner, concert program “Wagner’s Universe” and many others. Every year, the theater successfully hosts the art festival “Velvet Season at the Odessa Opera”, which aims to promote Ukrainian and world classical art and confirm the authority of our city as the cultural capital of southern Ukraine. International recognition of the popularity of the Odessa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater were invitations to numerous tours in Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, USA, Japan, China, Belarus, Moldova. The theater tries to ensure the continuity of generations, educating talented young people. The opera and ballet troupes of the Odessa Theater are in such a creative tone that allows to solve complex professional problems and offer the fruits of their activities to the audience both on its famous stage and on the stages of the world’s leading musical theaters. The theater continues the best traditions of European opera and ballet, which organically fits into the modern cultural context. Masters of opera and ballet, who have the titles of folk and honored artists, performed on the best stages of Western Europe. Young performers now continue this tradition, conquering the world’s leading concert venues with their talent. Most of the opera and ballet soloists of the theater have won famous international competitions in Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Spain, Germany, Russia, Portugal and Japan. The orchestra unites the best representatives of the orchestral elite and talented young musicians. During the years of active creative life the orchestra of the Odessa theater became one of the leading opera orchestras of Ukraine and the world. The orchestra’s large repertoire includes masterpieces of domestic and foreign musical heritage: K. Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, J. Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem”, Beethoven’s 9th symphony, works by R. Wagner and R. Strauss, opera-ballet “Viy” by V. Hubarenko, ballets “Firebird” and “Holy Spring” by I. Stravinsky, etc. The theater choir can be called one of the best opera choirs in our country. He is distinguished by high professionalism, artistry and dedication. The choir is involved in the entire opera repertoire and concerts of the theater, performing works in Italian, English, French and even Old German and Old French. Theater is a living organism that is in constant search of new creative ideas. It contributes to the formation of new aesthetic priorities in opera and ballet. The theater not only satisfies the needs of society in classical art, but also forms the audience’s taste, allows the public to get acquainted with the best achievements of world musical theater. Public acquaintance with this content is one of the main tasks of the theater, through which the state carries out its social mission in the field of culture.