In Austin, a Rare Ukrainian Opera Takes the Stage


May 3, 2024

Zongheng Zhang conducts the orchestra for the opera Le faucon

Renowned opera soloist Mikhail Smigelski, known for his performances in operas worldwide, unveils his latest venture in Austin, featuring one of the lesser-known gems of the opera world. This Saturday, May 4th, students from the Butler School of Music will perform a rendition of Bortniansky’s Le faucon ("The Falcon"). Smigelski describes Ukrainian composer Bortniansky’s work as an almost "lost opera," noting that "many of Bortniansky’s other operas exist only in fragments."

Soprano Lizzie Marlow in sings on stage with several other singers in the background

Lizzie Marlow in rehearsal as Marine in Le faucon

Though primarily recognized for his Orthodox Choral compositions, Bortniansky’s broader musical oeuvre has languished, largely due to political influences. Despite his status as one of the most performed liturgical composers in Orthodox churches across Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, his instrumental and operatic works have faded into obscurity, eclipsed by the nationalist fervor in Russian music. Le faucon, was composed in a Western style in Italian and French which was the spoken language of Russian aristocracy at that time. As Smigelski puts it, "It's very Italian and French by nature, reflecting the tastes of the Russian noble class at the time."


Despite its comedic nature, Le faucon has endured a surprising political journey. Penned and performed in the mid-18th century, the opera fell into oblivion until the late 20th century, when the Soviet Union resurrected it with a twist, translating it into Russian as a cultural emblem. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine reclaimed the opera, translating it into Ukrainian as a testament to its cultural heritage. Even the upcoming Austin performance carries a subtle political undertone, as Smigelski emphasizes the importance of recognizing Ukrainian composers and their works, particularly those seldom showcased outside Europe or never before in the United States.

Student Zongheng Zhang conducts an opera

Zongheng Zhang conducting during a rehearsal of Le faucon

Le faucon has evolved into a true passion project for Smigelski. Though entirely performed by undergraduate students from the Butler School of Music, Smigelski meticulously oversees every aspect of the production, from staging to tempo adjustments, ensuring a truly unforgettable experience for the audience.

A singer sings in the opera Le faucon

Rachel Fagerberg in rehearsal as Elivire in Le faucon

Le faucon will grace the stage on Saturday, May 4, 2024, at 6 p.m. in Jessen Auditorium, located inside Homer Rainey Hall. Thanks to funding from the Sarah and Ernest Butler Faculty Development Grant, admission is free. While the opera will be unstaged and without subtitles, detailed program notes will summarize the plot for the audience. The performance will remain faithful to its origins, presented in the original French and Italian languages in which it was composed.

Read More News

News Type

Faculty Students Awards & Grants Butler Opera Center Voice & Opera Events