The Met Commissions an Opera About Abducted Ukrainian Children

The Metropolitan Opera announced Monday that it had commissioned a new opera about Russia’s abduction and deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children, the latest action by the company to show support for war-torn Ukraine.

The work, which will be written by the Ukrainian composer Maxim Kolomiiets, with a libretto by the American playwright George Brant, tells the story of a mother who makes a long and perilous trip to rescue her daughter, who is being held at a camp inside Crimea.

While the characters in the opera are fictional, the story is based on real-life accounts by Ukrainian mothers who have described making the harrowing 3,000-mile journey from Ukraine into Russian-occupied territory, and back again, to recover their children from the custody of the Russian authorities.

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said the aim was to “support Ukraine culturally in its fight for freedom.”

“I can’t think of a better way of doing that,” he said, “than having an opera that actually documents an aspect of the war that underscores the individual heroism of the Ukrainian people in the face of the most dire and horrible atrocities and circumstances.”

Kolomiiets, 42, a composer and oboist who has written two operas and an array of orchestral, chamber and solo works, said that he felt “a responsibility to create something great and to show something very dignified about my country.”

Brant has been conducting research that will help him write the libretto. Credit…Sylvia Jarrus for The New York Times

“The objective is not only to draw attention to Ukraine but also to shed light on similar situations around the world where mothers endure immense suffering while trying to protect their children,” he said. “I want people to empathize with this pain and use any opportunity they have, at various levels, to prevent this kind of pain from happening.”

Brant, who is known for “Grounded,” an acclaimed Off Broadway play that the Met is also turning into an opera, said that he hoped to “contribute in a small way to Ukraine’s cause as it faces this staggering challenge to its existence.”

Writing and staging new operas takes time. The Ukrainian opera, which the Met hopes will come to its stage by 2027 or 2028, is the latest display of the company’s support for Kyiv. The Met was one of the first cultural organizations to announce after Russia’s invasion that it would not engage performers or institutions that supported President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and it cut ties with one of its biggest stars, the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko.

Since then, the Met has helped create the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, an ensemble of refugees who fled the war and artists who stayed behind, which has led two international tours. The company has also staged concerts in support of Ukraine and hung banners forming the Ukrainian flag across the exterior of the theater.

The opera is being developed as part of a joint commissioning program by the Met and Lincoln Center Theater, which began in 2006.

The idea for commissioning an opera by a Ukrainian composer came during a meeting last year between Gelb and Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska. The Canadian Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, who is married to Gelb and leads the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, was also present. Ukrainian cultural officials spread word of the opportunity and received 72 applications from composers, which were vetted by the Met.

The Met draped the opera house in the Ukrainian flag in February when it held a benefit concert for Ukraine.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Gelb said that the Met had selected Kolomiiets because of his experience in opera as well as his deep understanding of Ukrainian musical traditions. Zelenska praised the project, saying in a statement that “the pain of Ukrainian mothers that the world should hear will be heard.”

Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children has received wide attention, especially after the International Criminal Court earlier this year issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes, saying he bore criminal responsibility for the children’s treatment. The court also issued a warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, who has been the public face of a Kremlin-sponsored program in which Ukrainian children and teenagers have been taken to Russia.

Brant said he had been moved after reading news reports about Ukrainian mothers. The opera will feature workers from Save Ukraine, one of several charity groups helping mothers make the trek to find their children.

“I feel like there’s thousands of stories that could be told and should be told about this conflict, but this one seemed to convey both the scale of the horror that the Ukrainians face and the courage and resilience of its people,” Brant said.

Kolomiiets, who has been living in Germany since last year, said he expected his score would be “gentle, naïve, emotional and even dramatic.” He said that he tries to envision a peaceful and thriving Ukraine.

“The story has a happy ending,” he said of the opera. “And it’s really important for us to have a happy ending right now.”

Anna Tsybko contributed research.

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