Enrico Copedè is the CEO of Opera Production, a company that deals with classic music productions, primarily focused on opera and ballet. Born in Livorno, Italy, he has been living in Kryvyi Rih, the city of President Volodymyr Zelensky, for several years. Despite Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Copedè has not only stayed, he has continued to work in the war-torn country, staging musical performances by Ukrainian national theatres in Italy and abroad. Copedè spoke to Kyiv Post about his work in and with Ukrainian theatres.
What led you to become a producer of opera and ballet in Ukraine?
I’ve been working in the field of opera for 47 years, initially as an agent for opera singers and, in recent years, as a producer of opera and ballet performances. Together with my partner, Maestro Carlo Antonio De Lucia, an opera director and former impresario, we founded Opera Production to leverage our experience in organizing co-productions between opera theatres worldwide. We have worked all over the world, from New York to Tokyo, Brazil to South Korea, China to India.
We have also produced operas that have never been performed. For example, last year, we staged the world premiere of an unpublished opera by Ottorino Respighi, Al Mulino, in Trieste. And this year, we produced the original version of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, which had never been performed. We presented it in Japan last month, and in December it will be at the Livorno Theatre, Mascagni’s hometown .
I was brought to Kryvyi Rih by my Ukrainian wife, Hanna, and through her, I discovered this wonderful land and its people. I decided to stay here even during the period of the Russian invasion because I feel a strong connection to the Ukrainian people. I continued to work thanks to my previous collaborations with the theatres in Dnipro, Lviv, and Odesa. With my partner, we sought to help these theatres and create new projects.
What are some of the most memorable musical projects you have worked on in Ukraine?
I fondly remember, before the Russian invasion, for the opening of the season at the Teatro Verdi in Trieste, we brought to the Odesa Opera House: sets, costumes, technical staff, some soloists, dancers, and 40 members of the choir. They joined forces with the chorus from the Trieste Theatre to perform both Turandot and Aida, directed by Katia Ricciarelli. I consider it a wonderful experience for Italian and Ukrainian choristers to sing together and get to know each other.
Are there any differences for a music producer working in Italy compared to Ukraine?
Italy is unique for opera. It has a different system, not only from Ukraine but also from almost all of the rest of Europe. In Italy, there are no permanent opera companies. In Ukraine, theatres have a group of salaried soloists, while in Italy, soloists are hired for each production. Having salaried soloists tends to lead to a more varied repertoire for them, singing roles that may not suit their vocal abilities. It changes the programming system.
In Ukraine, much more is produced than in Italy, where for a title that is performed, only a few shows are staged, and then it is put into “storage” and very rarely revived. Here and in much of Europe, there is a tendency to repeat a title many times during the year and in the following years. This leads to amortization of set and costume expenses. Throughout the year, Italian theatres do about a third of the shows produced here.
In Ukraine, there is practically a performance every day. This requires a system of sets that need to be quickly assembled and disassembled to make room for other shows. Rarely, do you see constructed sets that need four to five days to be assembled and as many to be disassembled; painted backdrops and scenic props are used more. In short, a different mentality when approaching the “premiere.”
In the Ukrainian theatres I work with, I find the willingness of almost all staff and artists to listen and collaborate. This is not the case in the majority of other European theatres.
How do you manage to work in times of war? Have operatic theatres and concert halls remained open?
We are able to work, thanks to the theatres and their directors who have never stopped producing, except for the first months of the invasion. Some artists have chosen to leave, but not many. Certainly, there are many more difficulties, sometimes due to a lack of electricity and alarms. However, I’m not talking about the eastern part of Ukraine, where the situation is undoubtedly much worse than in Odessa or Lviv.
How have you had to adapt your work to the ongoing conflict situation?
If you spend most of your life travelling around the world, you have to adapt to everything. Today, the internet is very important. Even after the invasion, it has almost always worked and has solved some problems. The most difficult task was to convince Italian friends who kept telling me to leave that despite everything, I preferred staying here. I immediately saw the will of the Ukrainians to resist and continue the fight. I don’t feel like leaving, and, in fact, I’m even convincing some of my artist friends to come here and create new projects.
What importance does working in these challenging times hold for musicians and theatre staff in Ukraine? Do people still go to the theatre?
Everyone has to do their part and try to have their own goals. For those involved in music, continuing to rehearse, sing, or perform means telling the enemy that we will never lose. We don’t get demoralized. We are here, and here we stay. And I see that the audience responds very well. In fact, I see that theatres strive to schedule shows for children and the elderly. The audience is there and participates. It would be important during this period to have new ideas for even more ambitious projects that involve the audience and the city even more.
You work with important opera theatres in Ukraine: Odesa, Lviv, and Dnipro. Despite the geographic distance from your home, the Odesa Opera House is the one you work with the most. Is it a coincidence, an artistic choice, or better professional conditions?
I don’t work with the theatre in Kyiv, but I work with the others. Why this preference for Odesa? First of all, I was born in Livorno, by the sea. I miss it a bit. Then, I find that Odesa and its theatre are more international, with more potential even compared to Kyiv. Also, the people who work in the theatre are extremely helpful; they try to solve any problem, from the smallest to the largest. Despite having worked in many theatres, it is very difficult to find such availability. I have to thank the General Director, Nadiya Babich, who is always available to help us, and Maestro Igor Chernetski, who always follows our productions with great professionalism, both in Odesa and abroad.
With so few resources to invest in music, how important is the contribution of private individuals and foreign countries friendly to Ukraine?
It is very important. The theatre should become a meeting point for the city and its citizens. It should attract them not only with opera or ballet performances but also with other initiatives, new ideas. To do this, sponsorships and donations are needed. For the theatre, it is already difficult to plan the minimum required with the few resources they have, so the commitment of those who have the means, both private individuals and institutions, is necessary. Some countries are already helping theatres. For example, the Japanese government has a particular focus on Odesa and its theatre. There are contacts with Japanese institutions and companies that are yielding concrete results. Italy is also moving in this direction. There are ongoing projects that I hope will come to fruition.
What projects are in the pipeline for the near future?
The Odesa theatre has accepted, as it did last year, our project to include the opera La Bohème in December 2023, on the occasion of the approaching centenary of Puccini in 2024. And I hope that the Committee for the Puccini Celebrations will confirm our contribution, for the second year. The Honorary Consulate of Italy, inaugurated on Sep.7 in Odesa, has already promised us its patronage for this event. Next year in December, we have the project to perform two Puccini operas, never performed in Odesa: Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica. We will need the help of private individuals, institutions, and above all, an agreement with the theatre management. The project has already been presented to the new director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Ukraine, Carlo Colonnella. I also had a meeting with the Italian Ambassador Pier Francesco Zazo to present him with this and other projects, which was very cordial. This is very encouraging. We are moving in many directions. Despite the ongoing conflict, the ideas and the collaboration of Ukrainians are not lacking.
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