About Town: Joining forces and voices for the sake of art

An array of world class talented artists gathered at the Copenhagen Opera House to give their support to a poignant gala concert dedicated to Ukraine. Children’s voices, Ukrainian musicians in exile and military orchestras joined in

Among the choirboys, the emotions were running high in the corridors of the Copenhagen Opera House on Saturday August 20.

It was not due to inexperience, though. The young singers from the elite choir of Det Danske Drengekor (the Danish Boys’ Choir) were already familiar with the backstages of the Royal Theatre’s venues, where they regularly provide the children’s voices in popular operas such as ‘Tosca’, ‘La Boheme’ or, coming up soon, ‘Carmen’.

But on this occasion, this beautiful end-of-summer evening was quite extraordinary for these boys aged 10-15. While the boys usually sing along, “this time, it was our solo on centre stage: four minutes to shine”, according to maestro Emil Ritter, the conductor of Det Danske Drengekor.

“The extreme outburst of energy to perform one song on this stage is similar to running the 100 metres at the Olympics,” he added.

Art cannot be destroyed
For the second time in less than six months, the lawyer Philip Maury was responsible for bringing renowned Danish and international artists onto the Copenhagen stage to show solidarity towards Ukraine’s destroyed cultural heritage and this tragic war.

Back in March with the war raging in Ukraine, Maury, inspired by a strong impulse of solidarity, decided to rent the Opera House to organise a gala for Ukraine. “Various opera houses around the world were hosting such concerts. I thought we also needed one in Denmark,” he explained.

The great virtuoso soprano Angela Gheorghiu opened the gala with the national anthem of Ukraine and then dazzled the audience with her performance of an aria by Puccini, a repertoire she’s especially known worldwide for mastering in a distinctively unique timbre.

Olga Smirnova performed ‘The Dying Swan’ by Camille Saint-Saëns. The former prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet left overnight the Moscow institution and fled Russia following the invasion of Ukraine to join the Dutch National Ballet.

Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball, both principal ballet dancers with the Royal Ballet in London, Jennifer Wagstaffe and Vincent Gabriel Vernal from Tivoli Ballet Theatre, and Jonathan Chmelensky from Den Kongelige Ballet were also among the performers.

In the Foyer at the Opera House (photo: Sibylle de Valence)

A promise from brother to sister
Amidst these world stars, Maury had a vision of a boys’ choir taking centre stage. “Children are the ones who suffer the most from a war. They symbolise hope for a better future,” he explained.

Det Danske Drengekor sang ‘Kringsatt av fiender’, a song written for the liberation of Norway after World War II. “The lyrics are all about conquering the war with spirit, soul and art. We are warriors in our own moral artistic battle against evil thoughts,” Ritter added.

The symphony orchestra was conducted by the Italian maestro Jonathan Brandini and consisted mostly of female musicians in exile in Denmark, Flyvevåbnets orkester (the Royal Danish Air Force) and Den Kongelige Livgardes Musikkorps (the Royal Life Guards Music Band with the generous blessing of the Queen).

“The armed forces have a long tradition of peacekeeping. They know too well the cost of war,” Maury insisted. “It was such a sight to see the orchestra pit with military uniforms together with civilians synchronising and harmonising their instruments,” he concluded.

During the intermission, Søværnets Tamburkorps (the Royal Danish Naval Force) entertained the audience in the Foyer.

Impressive feats of logistics backstage
All the artists waived their fees so that the money raised from the evening could go to the reconstruction of art destroyed in Ukraine. About 1,000 attended the first gala on March 19, from which half a million Danish kroner were raised. The proceeds of the second gala are not yet known.

Some 50 tickets were donated to Ukrainian families. Kateryna, 12, attended with her mother and their friends who found out about the free entrance through Facebook. She was thrilled when she recognised one of the boys from her class on stage. With Princess Benedikte of Denmark, the Queen’s sister, sitting in the royal box, the young Ukrainian girl enthused in class the following Monday: “You sang for the queen”.

The audience that night gave the performers a rapturous standing ovation. The cheers and roaring applause were not meant alone for the artists, but also for all the volunteers backstage and sponsors that have gracefully shown an extraordinary chunk of solidarity.  

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