ODESA, Ukraine — In a nation at war, and a city aching for some semblance of normality, the Odesa Opera reopened for the first time since the Russian invasion began, asserting civilization against the barbarism unleashed from Moscow.
The performance on Friday in the magnificent Opera Theater, opened in 1810 on the plateau above the now shuttered Black Sea port, began with an impassioned rendering of the Ukrainian national anthem. Images of wheat swaying in the wind formed the backdrop, a reminder of the grain from its fertile hinterland that long made Odesa rich but now sits in silos as war rages and global food shortages grow.
“In case of sirens, proceed to the shelter within the theater,” said Ilona Trach, the theater official who presented the program. “You are the soul of this opera house, and we think it’s very important to demonstrate after 115 days of silence that we are able to perform.”
Odesa has been generally quiet in the past few weeks, but just 70 miles to the east — in the port city of Mykolaiv, where President Volodymyr Zelensky paid a visit Saturday — Russian shelling forms a daily onslaught. That Russian President Vladimir V. Putin covets Odesa — as a port critical to Ukraine’s economy, as a city long part of the Russian and then Soviet empires and as a cultural symbol — is no secret.
If the cobble-stoned, tree-lined boulevards of the city suggest calm, it is a fragile quiet that could be broken at any time. But then Odesa — its history a procession of triumph and trauma as borders shifted, the Holocaust enveloped it and cycles of boom and bust followed one another — has always lived for the moment.
The theater — a rococo palace of gold braid, red Lyonnais velvet, chandeliers and mirrors — was about a third full as a result of security restrictions. Viacheslav Chernukho-Volich, the Opera’s chief conductor, led a performance that included a duet from “Romeo and Juliet,” and arias from “Tosca,” “Turandot” and from the Odesa-born composer Kostiantyn Dankevych.