Solomiia Krushelnytska Museum marks 20th anniversary

Solomiia Krushelnytska Street in Lviv is long and narrow, with old stone structures stealing bashful, enviously glances at Kosciuszko Park that proudly displays its expanses up front. There is a memorial plaque by the sculptor Emmanuil Mysko attached to the facade of one such old building at 23 Krushelnytska St. It reads: “The outstanding Ukrainian singer Solomiia Krushelnytska lived here in 1903–52.” To the left, a note says that the Solomiia Krushelnytska Music Memorial Museum is on the second floor.

This three-story stone building was designed by Yakub Krokh and erected in 1884. Krushelnytska bought it for her family in 1903, although she did not stay here frequently because of her tight schedule of concert tours that took her across the world: Italy, Portugal, Egypt, Algeria, Spain, Argentina, the US, and Canada. In 1939, after the death of her husband Cesare Ricchoni, she reunited with her close and dear ones in Galicia and permanently settled in Lviv. That same year Krushelnytska’s home was nationalized by the Soviet authorities, and she was allowed to live in a four-room apartment.

She was a professor at the Department for Solo Singing vocal chair at the Lysenko State Conservatory in Lviv from 1944 until her death in 1952. It should be noted that her professorship could have ended shortly after it started. During yet another anti-nationalist purge she was accused of having no conservatory diploma. Later it was found in the archives of the City History Museum.

While living and working in the Soviet Union, Krushelnytska was unable to receive Soviet citizenship for a long time, despite her numerous formal applications. She remained an Italian national. Finally, after transferring her villa and other property in Italy to the Soviet state, she was granted Soviet citizenship. Her villa was promptly sold and she received a token sum by way of compensation. In 1951 she was conferred the title “Merited Worker of Art of the Ukrainian SSR,” and in October 1952, one month before her death, Krushelnytska finally received the professor’s degree. The celebrated Ukrainian singer died on November 16 and was buried at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv next to the resting place of her dear friend and tutor Ivan Franko.

Stepping inside the Krushelnytska Museum, you find yourself captured by the music and public atmosphere of the early 20th century.

Says the museum’s director Halyna Tykhobaieva: “People visit this museum now not to receive information (there is plenty readily accessible), but because they seek true national identity. This is precisely what they can find here, owing to the interior design created by the artist Orest Skop. There is this memorial atmosphere in all the seven exhibition halls. This museum started functioning in October 1989 as a branch of Lviv’s Ivan Franko Literary Memorial Museum. In the spring of 1991, it became the Solomiia Krushelnytska Music Memorial Museum. In 1995, it became an independent state-run institution. That same year its branch, the Stanislav Liudkevych Memorial House Museum, opened its doors.”

Among the founders and initiators of the Krushelnytska Museum in Lviv were Odarka Bandrivska, the singer’s niece, daughter of Krushelnytska’s older sister Osypa, who managed to preserve her celebrated aunt’s private archives; researchers of Krushelnytska’s creative heritage, among them the noted Kyiv-based art critic Mykhailo Holovashchenko who, back in the 1980s, handed part of his own Krushelnytska-related archives over to the museum (most of these items are permanently on display), and Ivan Derkach, the author of the first book about the singer.

Most of the museum items are originals that date from the turn of the 20th century and deal with Krushelnytska’s opera career. During her lifetime she was recognized as the world’s number one singer. Among her numerous awards and titles is “Wagnerian Prima Donna of the 20th Century.” Enrico Caruso, Titto Ruffo, and Fyodor Shalyapin felt honored to sing with her. Giaccomo Puccini presented her with his portrait, bearing an inscription that read, “To the best and most enchanting Madama Butterfly.”

The Krushelnytska Museum boasts a stock that includes private archives, original photographs reflecting her private and opera life, music, memoirs, writings, personal clothes, opera costumes, posters, concert programs, critical reviews in the press, personal effects, and gramophone records with her voice. There is also the largest existing collection of evidence of Krushelnytska’s life in Lviv at the start of her career, when she attended solo vocal classes by Prof. Valerii Vysotsky at a conservatory run by the Music Society of Galicia in 1891–93. In 1893, she made her debut in Donizetti’s La favorite on the stage of the Skarbyk Theater (now Maria Zankovetska Theater). In 1903, she sang in the City Theater (now Solomiia Krushelnytska Opera and Ballet Theater of Lviv).

In 2008-09, the museum stock was replenished with the second part of Holovashchenko’s precious archives, donated by his son Taras as bequeathed by his father.

Says Iryna Kryvoruchka, the senior museum official in charge of the stock: “To date, our museum has 20,000 items. Apart from the main Krushelnytska stock, we have items related to other noted Ukrainian singers who lived abroad, materials from private archives, and two portraits of the worldwide-known concert pianist Liubka Kolesa and opera and chamber tenor Myroslav Skala-Starytsky, painted in Venice in the 1920s.

“There are also items linked to the noted Ukrainian lyrical dramatic soprano Ivanna Synenka-Ivanytska and Iryna Malaniuk, the most celebrated opera singer of the second half of the 20th century and the brilliant performer of Wagner’s repertoire. The grandson of Modest Mentsynsky, holder of the honorific title Kammersoenger, presented the museum with precious documents about his grandfather’s biography and his grand piano, which is now on display in the Music Salon.

“Another important addition to the music stock are over 2,500 original gramophone records produced by the leading recording companies in the first half of the 20th century from the collection of Lviv’s violinist Yaroslav Hrytsai. We lack enough storage space, so we have to reject individual contributions of archival documents and collections. That was the case with Stepan Maksymiuk, a Ukrainian American who offered to donate the world’s largest collections of records by Ukrainian performers of the early 20th century. Unfortunately, we had to say no.”

This museum lacks both an exhibition hall and a concert hall, which are absolutely necessary. Its branch, the Liudkevych Museum where the composer’s widow Zinovia Shtunder, Ph.D. (Art), works, lacks a keeper.

The Krushelnytska Museum in Lviv is annually visited by an average of 10,000 people. It is known as a cultural center that upholds cooperation with musicians in Austria, Germany, and Sweden. Its Music Salon’s soirees and scholarly readings attract composers, music critics, opera singers, and Krushelnytska’s relatives, including Dr. Arkadii Sodomora (Ivan Franko National University of Lviv), composer Myroslav Skoryk, and Larysa Krushelnytska, honorary director of the Stefanyk Research Library. These people come to partake of the atmosphere in which the celebrated singer lived and worked on more than 50 opera parts, ranging from Madama Butterfly to Aida to Electra to Bruennhilde, etc. The prima donna looks on the visitors from Bohdan Soika’s portrait, which is a true gem of the museum.