Arias in the throes of war: Ukrainian companies crowned at 'Opera Oscars'

By David Latona

MADRID (Reuters) - Two Ukrainian opera houses were awarded this year's "Opera Oscar" for offering up mellifluous cadenzas and virtuosic trills amid power cuts and artillery blasts on their country's territory - allowing audiences to evade, if only for a few hours, the war outside.

In recognition of their "outstanding work in challenging circumstances", the opera theatres in the Ukrainian cities of Lviv and Odesa jointly clinched the Company of the Year prize at the International Opera Awards ceremony held on Monday in Madrid's Teatro Real.

"We came from cities where streets are dark, but our souls are full of light .... Our music now is buzzing with generators everywhere, but this is the music of our survival, of our life," said Oksana Taranenko, stage director at the Odesa National Opera, as representatives of the two companies accepted the accolade to a standing ovation.

Both theatres resumed staging productions after they were forced to suspend performances when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The jury celebrated their "courage and resilience for continuing to perform despite the dangers and depredations unleashed by the war."

Monday's event, hosted by BBC presenter Petroc Trelawny, marked the first time the ceremony had been held outside of London and its return to live performances after pandemic disruptions.

Spectators at the 19th-century Teatro Real, whose company won the top award last year, were serenaded by its in-house orchestra and chorus as well as some of the world's top singers.

In a nod to the host city, Mozart, Verdi and Puccini were accompanied by pieces from opera's Spanish cousin, Zarzuela, a musical theatre genre born in Madrid that combines elements from popular music and traditional dance.

Samoan tenor Pene Pati bagged the Opera Magazine Readers' award, the only one decided by popular vote instead of a jury.

Italy's Daniele Rustioni earned the Conductor prize and British cantatrice Nardus Williams was crowned Rising Star. Soprano Sabine Devieilhe and baritone Stephane Degout, both French, won Female Singer and Male Singer, respectively.

The awards were founded by British philanthropist Harry Hyman in 2012 to raise money for a charity that provides bursaries to aspiring operatic talent.

(Reporting by David Latona; Editing by Aislinn Laing and Bradley Perrett)