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Volodymyr Hryshko, a tenor and ambassador of culture
Volodymyr Hryshko is an opera singer, a tenor of world fame. He sang on stage with Luciano Pavarotti and Montserrat Caballe; he is a recipient of many prizes and awards. One of the awards was presented personally by the Roman Pope John Paul II.
Mr Hryshko is a cultural advisor to the President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko.
He was interviewed by Antonina MALEY.
Volodymyr Hryshko performed in operas staged in Washington DC, New Orleans, New York, Houston, Cincinnati, San Francisco, USA; Frankfurt, Germany; Toronto and Montreal, Canada; Prague, Czech Republic; Lisbon, Portugal; Paris, France, and in the theatres of many other countries. His concert tours took him to the USA, Canada, Spain, Germany, Belgium, France, Japan, Austria, Holland, Hungary and other countries; the singer has performed parts in more than 30 operas; he regularly takes part in international classical music festivals; Mr Hryshko performed on stage together with many great singers, Luciano Pavarotti and Montserrat Caballe included. He is a recipient of many prizes and awards; winner of the Ukrainian national contest Lyudyna Roky (Man of the Year 2005) in the nomination Artiste of the Year.
Mr Hryshko, to what extent is being an advisor to the president compatible with being a singer and a person of a romantic disposition?
Quite compatible. There are people, top professionals in their fields, who help me. My experience and my image of a singer who has been recognized as one of the best tenors of the world, may be useful for building up prestige of this country. I believe that one should use one’s image in promoting culture and contributing to the development of one’s nation’s spirituality — spirituality understood in a broad, “cultural” sense.
As an advisor to the president, what do you mostly focus your efforts on?
I consider it to be my main task to bolster the revival of spirituality in Ukraine. I believe it is important to make it known to the whole world that Ukrainian culture should be regarded as a benchmark of Ukraine’s competitiveness. The events of the “Orange Revolution” helped us clearly see that we are not just a nation that supplies cheap workforce to western countries but rather a nation of a long history and great cultural traditions. I am confident that this country is on the verge of major transformations.
But your involvement in cultural work does not mean that you are going to abandon your career of a singer, does it?
Of course not. Opera lovers want to see me on stage, want to hear me perform. I have turned down several lucrative proposals in order to be able to devote more time to my work as a president’s advisor, but I’m not one bit sorry that I’ve done it. Some time ago a scurrilous rumour circulated that Hryshko was going to quit singing — let me use this opportunity to absolutely deny it.
Evidently, you’ve got very much work to do. Do you have a favourite place you can go to get away from it all and relax?
I sure do. I love the mountains and have a little house there but unfortunately I don’t get to go there often.
How and when did your musical career begin?
I was born into the family of a military man in Kyiv in 1960, in the part of town known as Holosiyivsky. There were five children in our family and my mother could not work because she took care of us, children. My father died when I was eighteen. I was not an obedient child of exemplary behaviour and it horrifies me now to recollect some of my pranks… It was my elder brother Yevhen, a professional accordion player, who introduced me to music when I was seven. I learnt to play the guitar, but best of all I liked singing. At a music school, I was put in the class of guitar playing, but later I switched over to singing. I was sorry for those students who did their music exercises but longed to be playing football with other non-musical kids. I found time for both — music and games, some of which were rather rough. Once, a group of my friends and I knocked out several window panes in my school shooting at them from our slingshots — someone had told us that the windows were to be provided with new glass and we thought, Why not help remove the old glass? We got ourselves into trouble — my participation in the slingshot raid was reported to my father and he, who had to pay for glassing the broken windows, let me know in unequivocal physical terms that I s hould look for other targets next time.
Did your father believe in the Spare the rod and spoil the child policy?
I really would not know, but what I know is that both he and my mother had lived a very hard life… In fact, they met in a German concentration camp during the war. The camp in which they were inmates was liberated by the American troops and after the war they could go to America but they chose to return to Ukraine which was then part of the Soviet Union. Upon his return, my father was arrested by the soviet authorities who mistrusted the former inmates of German concentration camps and he spent some time in soviet prisons and camps. Probably, his heroic war record — he had been a tank crew member — saved him from being executed.
Did you continue your studies at a conservatory?
I did. After the full course of studies, I went on to study at the post graduate courses. By the end of the 1980s, I was confident enough to start taking part in all kinds of international song contests — and I began to win prizes.
Do you have children? And if you do — do you want them to become musicians too?
Yes, I have two children — Volodymyr, 6, and Anna-Stephania, 5. I am not one of those parents who make their children play musical instruments or do what the parents consider best for their children. I let them choose their own way in life. Probably I would like to see them become lawyers, for example.
But why not musicians?
In Ukraine of today musicians who perform classical music are among the poorest. Those who are in pop music do much better but in my opinion pop music is just show business, nothing more.
Are the western audiences much different from the Ukrainian audiences?
The difference used to be considerable — the western audiences who listen to classical music are made up of well-to-do, content people who are prepared to pay a lot of money for the tickets and can afford it. Now, it is becoming popular in Ukraine among the rich people to attend classical music concerts too. It has become sort of fashionable to buy tickets which cost an arm and a leg. Incidentally, in Ukraine some of the western performers are paid for their performances much more than they are paid in the west. I know of a performer who was paid a hundred thousand dollars for the performance in this country.
And what would be the average pay?
Anywhere from five to ten thousand dollars. Tickets for my concerts cost three hundred dollars, as much as they do for Luciano Pavarotti’s concerts.
I know that you prefer to perform arias in their original language. Which languages do you like to sing in best? Do you also speak any foreign languages?
Probably I’m best in Italian and English. And I like best to sing in Italian and in Ukrainian. Once, when Pavarotti and I were conducting a master class, he heard me speaking Ukrainian, and asked, Are you singing or are you talking? For him, my Ukrainian sounded like music, Both Ukrainian and Italian are considered to be the languages best suited for opera singing.
Do you have any roles in opera that you like best?
Yes, I do. It is the part of Andriy from the Ukrainian opera Zaporozhets za Dunayem (A Zaporizhzhya Cossack beyond the Danube), the part of Edgar in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermur, and the part of Herman in Tchaikovsky’s Pikovaya Dama (Queen of Spades).
Do you get nervous before you have to appear on stage?
Sort of. And I am also a bit superstitious. I do believe some things ensure good luck and success. And I say a prayer too. I do believe that God helps me get through particularly difficult parts. One of such parts is that of Ricardo in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera . I do not think there are many singers who can handle Ricardo.
You have a good family, you have good friends, you have received a lot of international prizes and awards, you are recognized as one of the best tenors of the world — but you do not seem to be a person who rests on your laurels.
True enough. I am a student of the Academy of Diplomacy. I want to learn the intricacies of diplomacy and politics. Incidentally, I have a title of an ambassador of culture of the world. And I want to become a full-fledged orchestra conductor too.
Can you recollect a performance which had a special meaning for you?
There have been quite a few of such performances, but, yes, one was particularly special. On that day I had to sing Puccini’s Le Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and in the morning my wife was giving birth to our daughter. I was present at the delivery in hospital, and as I was entrusted with cutting the umbilical cord I thanked God for giving us such a wonderful child. And I was much more anxious and excited than I ever had been before any, even the most difficult performance. In the evening at the Metropolitan I sang particularly well. Incidentally, they played the anthem of Ukraine — in honour of the soloist who had a new daughter born that day.
Photos are from
Volodymyr HRYSHKO’s archive
Volodymyr Hryshko at the age of 13. Kyiv.
The American singer Emma Shapplin
Volodymyr Hryshko and his wife Tetyana.
Volodymyr Hryshko, winner of the Ukrainian
Volodymyr Hryshko on the stage
Ukrainian opera singer Olga Mykytenko
From left to right: President of Ukraine
Volodymyr Hryshko in New York. 1998.