This conversation with Mariana Bodnar – Ukrainian singer (soprano), musical theater actor-vocalist, soloist of the National Operetta Theatre of Ukraine– is divided into two parts in a way that reflects the way our lives have been divided. The first part of the conversation took place in a café near the theater, during a peaceful time between rehearsals. The second part was recorded today, in the middle of a war. We left the attacked city of Kyiv and have together evacuated to a small town in Western Ukraine.
Tanya Vasylkevych: How did you become part of the National Operetta theater team?
Mariana Bodnar: I became an actress at the National Operetta after I came to the audition—I started as an opera singer. My first role was as a gypsy in the operetta Maritza. However, I later started playing in musicals and drama plays. Now in the theater, I have leading roles of Morticia Addams in the musical Addams Family, Sweet Sue in Sugar (Some Like It Hot), Venticelli in the drama Amadeu, Prophetess in the musical Dorian Gray, Moskalytsya in a cognominal mystical drama, and others.
TV: How did you start singing?
MB: How does it start… Well, I didn’t sing and didn’t even think about it when I was a child, since I had neither voice nor ear for music. I wanted to go to music school to study bandura (Ukrainian, plucked string folk instrument) and subsequently wasn’t accepted due to these reasons. Then someone advised my mom to [let me] try violin classes. I learned to play the violin and I guess it really helped me in developing my ear. Then happened a real turning point in my life. When I was 15, my parents and I traveled to Bulgaria for a vacation. And there at a disco party, I heard Celine Dion’s then very popular hit “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie Titanic. From that moment I couldn’t sleep peacefully. I got hooked and at that moment decided that I want to sing!
At school, I had an amazing English teacher who organized English song festivals. I was so insecure and shy, but I offered to sing this Titanic song for her. Classmates were shocked. I had never sang before, so I had to perform a piece of a song to prove I could… And it was 5 minutes of glory for me at school – we won that festival. Since then, I have performed at school concerts and other hometown events quite a lot.
TV: I know that you were educated in Rome. How did you come up with this idea?
MB: After that, it was a long, long way to my musical life. Firstly, I studied at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” in Kyiv and received a Master’s degree in Culture Studies. I then had quite a prominent career in international journalism and soon after was invited to work in the Information Service of the President’s Administration of Ukraine, but decided to leave it for music and opera. I can’t always catch where some ideas come to me from, but I felt that I should go to Rome and study there. Some 6th sense. The theme of music in my life appeared periodically. I returned to it again and again, but could not choose it as my main path in life. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend my life doing paperwork. I have a free, creative spirit and I felt the need to get rid of unnecessary webs and I decided that it should happen in Rome–maybe because there is a stereotype that Italy is primarily associated with opera singing. And it turned out to be the city I was meant to go to. So, in 2008 I dropped everything when I was accepted to the “Conservatorio Santa Cecilia” in Rome where I studied baroque singing with Sara Mingardo.
There, I met my husband, studied with great teachers, singers and coaches, took part in masterclasses with great Devia, Dessi, Moser, and studied various singing techniques from classical “Bel Canto” to “Estill Voice Craft”. For me, it was a happy and enjoyable time. It was hard to believe that I lived in Rome, a place which I only read about or studied in the courses on art at University. Since that time Italy is my great love! After finishing studying there, I continued my studies in Vienna, Austria.
I am a classical singer who loves opera, but as soon as I become a singer in National Operetta I’ve become acquainted with musicals and I adore them as well. Real passion!
TV: What roles do you dream about?
MB: Speaking of the role of my dream, I really would like to perform Morticia Addams somewhere on Broadway or in Europe! That would be just fantastic since at Kyiv stage I do it on a very high-quality level. So, fingers crossed! Besides that, I dream about the role of Roxie Hart from the musical Chicago. It really suits my voice and nature. Moreover, there are many more musical songs and roles I love and would love to sing somehow on stage.
TV: Speaking of The Addams Family musical, what is it like to play Morticia Addams?
MB: On the one hand, I have some qualities in common with her–. I am serious, honest, concrete, and sincere. I like everything to be in order (a bit of a perfectionist), I always appreciate openness and hate fakeness and pretending. On the other hand, this role was quite a challenge because I speak very fast and do everything quickly, while Morticia is very slow and phlegmatic – not an easy task for me. So I had to study to become very restrained, calm, refined. Besides, I needed to deeply lower my voice, make smooth movements as if flowing above the surface, and speak slowly and fluidly as if singing.
I have been studying how to achieve this manner for a long time. I watched all the movies and cartoons to create my own character. The director taught us to work alone and with the partners, reminding us every day that this is a family show, and constant interaction with each other is very important. So by the end, we formed a wonderful cast. I learned how to work with a partner, to pay attention to his responses and not only to words, and everything worked perfectly. Morticia’s most popular line n the show is, “Life is a tightrope, my child, and at the other end of it is your coffin.” People always cheer for it. It resonates with everyone and is designed to remind people that life is fragile and this is a fact. So stop a little, where are you running? Life is terribly short, take time to enjoy it, at least for a while!
AND TWO WEEKS LATER:
On February 20, we performed the drama Moskalytsia based on the play by Maria Matios at the National Operetta of Ukraine, in which play the leading role. Afterward, the audience told me that it felt like I was playing it for the last time, and on such a high note. And that’s exactly what happened. The last play before the war started was Moskalytsya. Very symbolic. (Moscal woman, moscal – *ethnic slur for Russians by other Slavic nations.)
For some time, Ukraine was kept under tension since every day we were informed of a very possible Russian attack on our territory. It was supposed to be on February 16th but was postponed for a while — the air was just filled with a sense of threat and danger. That evening I played my role and cried. I felt such the terrible pain, sadness, and reality of the story I was telling on stage–one about war, fear of occupation, struggle, guerrilla warfare, self-protection from the invaders, and helping other people—all things that in a few days we would feel in real life all over again as if an old wound had been opened again.
Also, at that time we were already in the final stage of preparation for a new wonderful performance, The Ball, by the Italian production team Matteo Spiazzi and Katia Tubini. I hoped so much that we would still have time to present it. Everything was ready and the anticipation of the premiere was such a special feeling, and the show was so incredible. But the day before the premiere, it all started. The War. In the morning, at 4 a.m. while we all peacefully slept and waited for a new meeting on stage, we found ourselves under bombing.
My husband and I were already prepared for the evacuation long before that day, so we hastily put everything in the car and left, not knowing if we will ever return. Sadly, I left my dad’s paintings (my dad, Yuriy Bodnar was a famous artist from Ukraine who died a year ago) but I really believe I will be able to go back soon. We went to the suburbs of Kyiv first, hoping to wait there. But that area, Gostomel, Stoyanka, Bucha, Irpin, became the epicenter of the battle. Explosions, fighter jets overhead, panic, fear, despair – that’s in a few words what I felt. It was the first day of the war. Our new reality. That’s why we decided to go further, to Western Ukraine. Endless roads in traffic jams. People started leaving homes, moving to the west of the country or abroad. Despite numerous invitations and offers of shelter in various European countries, I could not think of leaving Ukraine. I am not a refugee, I am on my own land. We have an incredible nation, fantastic armed forces. I am proud to be Ukrainian and I believe that we will win. Therefore, the primary fear and panic I felt were replaced by pain and anger for the inhumane acts that Russia commits every day towards Ukraine and its civilians, women, children, and the desire to help somehow—with all I can, wherever I am.
So, like most people in Ukraine who are not at the forefront, I began to volunteer, transferring money to the Armed Forces, organizing the evacuation of friends, giving clothes, food, and everything necessary to the army and refugees, and even making Molotov cocktails. And of course, we all are fighting as part of the Internet Army–we are spreading true information about what is really happening in Ukraine wherever possible in the world, but especially in Russia. And in the pauses between all of that, we constantly scroll the news for updates, and every time my heart aches with pain. However, we believe we will win, please support us and stand with Ukraine!
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.
This post was written by Tanya Vasylkevych.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.