Ukrainian Musical Drama

In spring 1919, while working at the newly established Taras Shevchenko First Theater of the Ukrainian SSR, Les Kurbas also began working at the Ukrainian Musical Drama (Ukrmuzdrama). This company – the first Ukrainian opera theater – was formed on the initiative of director Semen Butovskyi in spring 1919, under the auspices of the People’s Commissariat for Education. Most of the creative leadership had worked with Kurbas at the Young Theater.

Stepan Bondarchuk, Kurbas’s student and colleague at the Young Theater, became the director of the newly formed ensemble. Dancer and ballet master Mykhailo Mordkin headed up the choreography group, and Anatol Petrytskyi, who had designed the sets for several productions at the Young Theater, was the chief artist. Les Kurbas would later cross paths with several other key figures from Ukrmuzdrama, such as composer Yakov Stepov, who was the head of the music and art department. In 1920 they were part of the famous circle that would gather at Heorhii Narbut’s home.

As Stepan Bondarchuk wrote, “The main forces at the Young Theater, seeing nothing good in the future of the drama theater, passionately begin organizing a Ukrainian opera where they seek to comfort their creative souls.” The best creatives in Ukraine at that time were involved in the organization of the opera. Actors L. Sobinov, Stefanovych, Lytvynenko, conductor of the Zimin Opera Bahrynovskyi, the famous mime Mykhailo Mordkin, painter Anatol Petrytskyi and directors Kurbas and Bonch-Tomashevskyi were all involved in the productions of Lysenko’s The Drowned Maiden and Moniuszko’s Halka.

The theater, which existed for about three months, performed at the Second City Theater on Oleksandrivska Street (today Mykhailo Hrushevskoho Street, the premises were not preserved). The theater opened on July 28, 1919 with Mykola Lysenko’s The Drowned Maiden, directed by Mykhailo Bonch-Tomashevskyi and (according to Stepan Bondarchuk) Les Kurbas. The conductor was M. Bahrynovskyi, the stage designer was Anatol Petrytsky, and the leading roles were played by O. Kulykovskyi (Mayor), M. Lytvynenko-Volhemut (Maiden), S. Butovskyi (Levko).

The premiere of the ballet Arabian Nights by Mikhail Mordkin took place on August 19, 1919, with music by Louis‑Albert Bourgault‑Ducoudray and Josef Hüttel. Les Kurbas danced for the first and last time, performing the pantomime role of the Shah.

The next premiere at Ukrmuzdrama was to be M. Lysenko’s Taras Bulba, directed by Les Kurbas and designed by Anatol Petrytskyi, but Denikin’s Army entered Kyiv on August 31, 1919 and the performance did not take place. The theater ceased to exist and Kurbas’s plan to direct Moniuszko’s opera Halka (conductor B. Kossak, artist Oleksandr Khvostenko-Khvostov) never came to fruition.