An operatic drama in life, as in art

Like many apartments in the old Austrian and Polish parts of the city, our apartment faces a big courtyard. One of the sides of the courtyard faces Doroshenka Street, named for Petro Doroshenko (1627-1698), a Cossack and one-time hetman of Ukraine. The building on the opposite side of the courtyard faces Krushelnystka Street. Krushelnytska Street is named for a world-famous Ukrainian opera singer, Solomiya Krushelnytska, who owned a house at the top of the street from 1903 to 1939. After the Soviets confiscated the house, she lived there in a small apartment until her death in 1952.
We took a tour of the house guided by the museum director and translated by our guides Irina and Luba. It’s a small six-room museum, open by appointment only. Nevertheless, it opens a door onto the brilliant career of a talented and driven artist.
Solomiya Krushelnytska was born in 1872 near Ternopil, one of a number of children from a musical family who put on performances on a special stage their father built in their home. Her father was a bishop. Solomiya made her first public performance in Ternopil at the age of 11. As a young lady, she was engaged to be married, but asked her parents if she could pursue a professional career in music instead. Her mother said no, but her father said yes. She broke her engagement and began one of the most brilliant careers of the early twentieth century. She moved to Lviv to study at the conservatory of music when she was 19 and debuted in 1893 in La Favorita, by Donicetti. Later that year, on the advice of an Italian performer who heard her sing, she moved to Italy to study in Milan.

The museum collection in her apartment features art objects she owned and portraits created of her. It also features posters and playbills from performances she gave in roles such as Salome, Aida, and Elsa in Lohengrin, as well as photographs of her famous teachers and partners, such as Caruso. (See photos of Solomiya Khrushelnytska at It also features costumes from Lohengrin and Madame Butterfly, for example, recreated by students of stage costuming in Lviv.

She was a great friend and interpreter of Puccini. She premiered his Manon Lescaut in Lviv in 1895, and in 1904 made Madame Butterfly famous. Three months before, Puccini had debuted the opera at La Scala to an unfavorable response. He asked Khrushelnytska to help him resurrect it. They worked together for thee months and debuted the result at Brescia, where, finally, it became a hit. Puccini considered Solomiya Khrushelnytska the secret of Madame Butterfly’s success the second time around. She spent more than 10 years traveling the world performing opera, and was especially admired in Argentina.

Our Host City Lviv guide Irina translates the story of how Solomiya saved Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

She married Cesare Ricchoni in Buenos Aires in 1910. They lived in Viareggio, Italy, on the coast just north of Pisa, a location apparently favored by singers of the time for the climate’s beneficial properties for their voices. The town features broad sandy beaches on one side and mountains on the other. Its location makes it easily accessible to Milan, where Krushelnytska sang at La Scala, as well as Florence, Genoa, Turin, Naples and Rome. In 1920, Khrushelnytska gave up performing opera and concentrated instead on giving concert performances. She traveled the world again.  We heard one of her rare recordings and can understand the high praise her performances evoked.

Our Host City Lviv volunteer Luba helped translates the story of Solomiya’s final years in the room where she taught her students and they performed.

Khrushelnytska’s husband Cesare died in 1936 and was buried in Viareggio.In 1939, she decided to visit Lviv. Unfortunately, she was caught in the Second World War, and was never to see Italy again. Her home was confiscated by the Italian government. She tried to leave Soviet Lviv many times, but finally, in 1948, she was congratulated upon being awarded Soviet citizenship, and therefore, she lost forever her opportunity to return to Italy.
Solomiya Krushelytska lived out the rest of her days in Soviet Lviv as a teacher of music. She is buried in Lychakiv Cemetery. The Opera and Ballet Theatre is named for her. Artifacts of her performances appear on the walls of the basement cafe, the Left Bank.



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4 responses to “An operatic drama in life, as in art

  1. Simone Sanfilipo

    I especially enjoyed this story! O Sole Mio!

    • Thanks, Simone. It’s truly amazing how little information got out through the iron curtain. Ukrainians are so very proud of her, as are the Poles and Austrians, who were all in charge here at one time or another during her life. Its hard for everyone to think about how the Soviets essentially caged her for the last part of what had been such a globe-trotting life. (She must have spent an awful lot of time on boats!)

  2. paula

    Amazing story about a very talented and determined woman! I may be inspired to send my children off to study opera 🙂 Such a shame that she was trapped by politics and unable to continue her travels.

    Your writing is so compelling, Leanne. Makes me want to surf the web for opera tickets.

  3. They call Lviv a little Paris, because it is one of the most romantic cities of Ukraine. The city center is so reach on historical and architectural monuments. That is why it is considered to be a perfect travel destinations in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Hotel prices are rather expensive there, but I created a Lviv apartments directory you can find there an affordable apartment according your demands. By the way, if you know more apartments in Lviv, feel free to submit them to this directory.

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