Famous Opera Singers at Open Air Concerts

It used to be that famous opera singers would never consider singing on an open-air stage.

On July 7, 1990 Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras (better known as The Three Tenors) changed all that. Their first concert was an outdoor performance at the Baths of Caracalla (Terme di Caracalla) outside Rome, Italy. The open air concert was on the eve of the 1990 Soccer (FIFA) World Cup’s first match. 6,000 people attended the performance. Estimates say that another 800 million watched the outdoor event on worldwide TV.

Opera and soccer may appear a strange combination, but in the end it wasn’t. Many applauded The Three Tenors for introducing opera to a very wide audience. Others have criticized them.

Today, many famous opera singers perform in open-air outdoor concerts.

The video above is of an open air outdoor concert of opera and classical music. The concert took place in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine on May 7, 2009.

The soloist is Maria Stefyuk performing Elena’s Bolero from the opera I vespri siciliani (The Italian Verspers) by G.Verdi. She is accompanied by INSO-Lviv Orchestra. Musical direction is by Myron Yusypovych.


Is Maria Stefyuk Really a Famous Opera Singer?

Famous Opera Singer Maria Stefyuk
Famous Opera Singer Maria Stefyuk

Maria Stefyuk was born in the village of Rozhniv near the city of Ivano-Frankivsk on July 16, 1948. She is a lyric-colorature soprano, who gained wide recognition during the Soviet era.

In the video above, she is 60 years old. Her technique and voice control are amazing.

Some highlights from Maria Stefyuk’s operatic biography include:

  • operatic debut as Marfa in The Tsar’s Bride by N. Rimsky-Korsakov in 1975 at the Kyiv Opera House, then part of the U.S.S.R.
  • concert tours of the USA (1975, 1997), Canada (1976), the Netherlands (1976) in U.S.S.R. concert performances
  • concert tours of Japan (1992), Finland (1993, 1994)
  • operatic performances in Russia: The Kirov Opera in St. Petersburg and The Bolshoi Opera in Moscow
  • operatic performances in Germany: The Berlin Opera, The Dresden Opera and The State Opera in Wiesbaden
  • operatic performances in Spain: Opera Comica in Madrid
  • debut at La Scala Opera as Parasya in Sorochinskaya Yarmarka (The Fair at Sorochyntsi) by M. Mussorgsky in 1981, with Riccardo Chailly conducting

Why is Maria Stefyuk Not Known in Western Operatic Circles?

Maria Stefyuk was born, educated and became an opera singer behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union.

After her debut in La Scala in 1981, she was invited back to sing in La boheme. However, she was not allowed to go. This was a time when the Soviet totalitarian regime controlled all aspects of a singer’s life.

Maria Stefyuk recalls it this way:

Maria Stefyuk at La Scala
Maria Stefyuk at La Scala
original image

I was very pleased to be able to sing at La Scala. After all, every singer dreams of this…

Afterwards, I was invited to La Scala to perform in the production of La boheme by G. Puccini.

Unfortunately, I only found out about this 10 years later! The then Goskontsert did not allow me to go and the administration of the Milan Theatre were informed that Stefyuk is ill. That’s what it was like then!

(from an interview published in The Day,
conducted by Tetyana Kozyryeva,
on November 20, 2009


What is Goskonzert?

Goskontsert was the Soviet agency responsible for booking Soviet artists abroad and non-Soviet artists within the Soviet Union.

Today, Goskontsert still exists in Russia. But, it no longer has the monopoly that it had during the times of the Soviet Union. On April 1, 1989, legislation was introduced which allowed competition in the area of booking and planning.


Why Was a Famous Opera Singer Dependent on Goskontsert?

As with any monopoly, the power that Goskonzert had over artist’s lives was often abused.

Harlow Robinson, describes the ironies of Goskontsert in an article “Booking Soviet Musicians Is Not Yet a Bowl of Borscht”, published in The New York Times on May 21, 1989

“When Western presenters would contact Goskontsert to hire specific Soviet artists, they would often be erroneously informed that the performer was ill or booked. Rarely did performers even learn of the foreign invitations they had received.”

This is exactly what happened with Maria Stefyuk.

In that same article Robinson refers to Nikolai Petrov, a pianist, who describes the corruption within Goskontsert.

“…artists are sent abroad not because they are the most talented, but because of their high-placed friends and relatives. If granted the extraordinary privilege of performing in the west, performers not only have to hand over approximately 80 percent of their earnings to Goskontsert and live on a pitifully small stipend, they were also expected to return laden with gifts of perfumes, radios, clothing and even foreign currency for the bureaucrats who had processed the stacks of documents that made their tours possible.”

Maria Stefyuk Performing with Myron Yusypovych
Maria Stefyuk Performing with Myron Yusypovych

Obviously, someone somewhere in Goskonzert had decided that Maria Stefyuk was either “a political liability” or she had not brought back the required “gifts”. By bureaucratic ordinance, Stefyuk was not allowed to pursue an operatic career outside the confines of the Soviet Union.