One was from Moscow, the other from Kyiv
In February and March of 2014, Russia invaded and subsequently annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. At that time, I was with the Savoy Society of Ottawa that annually presented a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera.
That year’s music rehearsals had finished, and we were blocking scenes for the June production.
Svetlana Komieko, whose parents were musicians with the Bolshoi Ballet, had found us, auditioned and was part of the chorus of Major General Stanley’s Wards in The Pirates of Penzance. We were encouraged to carpool to get to the winter rehearsals. Svetlana lived nearby and we travelled to the production site together. From her, I absorbed information about Russian culture and her musical heritage.
As in all productions, cast members were expected to promote the show by selling tickets, placing posters throughout the city and soliciting ads for the program. One of the cast, a British chap, suggested that the British Embassy might be a good place to start. The Embassy, he said, should at least be made aware that a theatre group existed that produces Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
He contacted the Embassy and was informed that one of the staff there knew of a Ukrainian diplomat’s wife who was eager to become involved in live musical theatre, as she had experienced in Kyiv. Olisia Shevenko also became part of the cast for this production.
Several other members of the cast had been involved with the Montreal West Operatic Society from which the Ottawa Savoy Society was started in 1976. It was also common to hear pronouncements in various sounds of the British vernacular during the rehearsals. Adding a nice touch to the cultural diversity of that year’s cast was the Russian language frequently spoken by Svetlana and Olisia.
When we gathered for a post-concert potluck that June, Olisia Shevenko surprised us with platefuls of delicious Ukrainian perogies known as verenyky.
How could we know at the time that the Russian invasion of Crimea was but an omen of what would befall the Ukrainian population years later? The situation in Ukraine was as grim as it is today. Svetlana, who was now a Canadian citizen, would remain in Canada after the show ended. Olisia told us that she and her husband would be returning to Kyiv.
Today, as missiles are directed at the innocent civilians of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s soldier slaves, I sometimes wonder where Olisia Shevenko is on her life’s journey.
Although I am no longer with the Savoy Society, I still follow their pursuits. Before the pandemic, the Society was scheduled to perform a musical rendition of Trial by Jury at the National Arts Centre. Should that event be rescheduled, you will hear details about it here.