Q & A: Ukrainian Baritone Andrei Kymach Speaks About Ukraine & ‘Don Giovanni’

By Francisco Salazar
(Credit: Diana Guledani)

2022 was a year of difficulty for Andrei Kymach. His family were in Ukraine when Russia invaded, beginning a war which has now lasted for over nine months. The baritone immediately spoke out against the war and has continued to use his voice to bring attention to it. In many ways, he has become an operatic hero for Ukrainians.

A 2019 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World winner, Kymach has become one of the world’s leading Ukrainian singers, performing in major theaters including the Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Now he is making another important debut: “Don Giovanni”—one of his signatures—with Opera Australia.

OperaWire spoke to Kymach about his Ukrainian homeland and the effect the war has had on him personally; as well as discussing Mozart and how the music of this preeminent composer relates to today’s society; and Kymach’s hopes for 2023.

OperaWire: I must start by asking you: how are you doing in this very difficult time for your country? How is your family and have you had communication in these past months with loved ones in Ukraine?

Andrei Kymach: My wife and children were within the occupied zone at the beginning of the war. It was the most terrible time of my life since they could have died at any second. It was very dangerous. They were able to leave Kherson only by driving through a minefield, and had to endure many other very dangerous situations. Now they are safe. They survived and that is the most important thing in my life. My parents are still in Ukraine and do not want to leave. We are constantly in touch—as much as possible, that is, because, due to constant bombings, there is often no electricity and no internet.

OW: The world of opera has stood in solidarity with Ukraine. What do you feel when you see these acts of kindness, and what do you feel every time you get up on stage to perform during these times?

AK: I feel this incredible support from the whole world: it helps me to live on, and adds a lot of energy. It also gives me faith in a better future for the whole world. This is an existential war. It is a war of civilizations, it is a war of democracy and freedom against totalitarianism and slavery. That is why the future of the whole world will be decided on the battlefield in Ukraine. For Ukraine and Ukrainians, this war was inevitable, because Ukrainians made their choice in the direction of freedom after 300 years of enslavement. Despite this [history of oppression], Ukrainians have survived and preserved the freedom-loving spirit which has existed in the territory of Ukraine since ancient times. This is why, in the Ukrainian national anthem, we have the words, “We’ll lay down our souls and bodies to attain our freedom.”

OW: Why do you think music is so important at this time?

AK: Opera arose as an attempt to resurrect Greek tragedy. The main idea of ​​Greek tragedy is that the audience, watching terrible tragic moments onstage, feels catharsis. Now more than ever before we need this purification. Now more than ever we need classical music.

OW: You make your debut with Opera Australia in the title character of “Don Giovanni.” Tell me about your interpretation, and how do you see this character. Do you think he is a villain or is he more than that?

AK: Don Giovanni, in my personal opinion, embodies the image of absolute evil; the evil that fights against the light with a darkness that wants to fill the world. He is a fighter against god, who chooses the path of seducing women as the path of his struggle. Family is the basis for the society of the future: it is the future of the whole planet and Don Giovanni wants to destroy this basis, replacing it with false freedom. This becomes, for him, the meaning of his life and existence. He really enjoys this way of life: for him it is a bliss that becomes his religion. For him, such social concepts as duty, honesty, and justice do not exist: he preaches false virtues for humanity that destroy moral guidelines. For me, the main message in this opera is that evil will always be punished, ‘karma’ will do its job, regardless of whether we believe in it or not.

OW: How has your interpretation of the character deepened in the past years?

AK: My opinion of Don Giovanni has changed over the last few years. He has become a more negative character, and maybe it is related to the terrible events that have happened in my country and to my family. Our life experiences affect our worldview. He only pretends that he is a very positive hero, but he is full of falsehoods and deception. Over the years, he has become detached from reality. Throughout the opera he receives signs from fate that hint at the wrongness of his actions, but he perceives everything as a game, and the warnings are delicious morsels that only increase the ultimate degree of his pleasure.

OW: Why do you think Mozart’s music is still relevant today, and what are some of your favorite moments in the work?

AK: Mozart is a genius who, through music, fully reveals the nature of his characters. I especially like the Act 2 Finale of “Don Giovanni,” because there are many possibilities and directions in which to reveal the voice and interpretation.

OW: Tell me about David McVicar’s production and how this is influencing your interpretation. Have you found something new in this production that you did not see before?

AK: This production straddles the line between cruelty and allure. I really like this production: black costumes, black scenery, and it is through interactions with other characters that Don Giovanni’s inner nature is revealed. This production resonates with my vision of this ‘hero,’ and it’s very good that I can combine my personal vision and the director’s vision: it’s unsurpassed.

OW: 2023 is here. What do you hope for this year?

AK: I think that now every Ukrainian wants only one thing: victory!


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