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A resident opera company was created in Kiev as late as in 1867, becoming, alongside the Moscow and Saint Petersburg theatres, one of the Russian Empire's best.
An impulse to the creation of a permanent theatre was provided by the successful 1865–1866 Kiev tours of Italian opera companies. The company worked in the City Theatre's building constructed in 1856 to a design of the architect Ivan Strom.
The first season was opened with Aleksey Verstovsky's opera "Askold's Grave". Soon after, the Theatre staged Mikhail Glinka's operas "Ivan Susanin" and "Ruslan and Lyudmila". The premieres of the operas "The Oprichnik" (1874), "Eugene Onegin" (1889) and "The Queen of Spades" (1890) were attended by the author — Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
In 1893, Sergey Rachmaninoff attended the Theatre's premiere of his opera "Aleko", whereas in 1895 Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov was present during the premiere of his opera "The Snow Maiden".
In February 1896, after a matinee performance of "Eugene Onegin", a fire broke out, destroying the building of the City Theatre; after this, a competition for the design of a new building was announced. This competition was won by the design of the Russian architect Viktor Schroeter. Construction works on the site of the old Theatre started in 1898.
The Opera House's auditorium included stalls, tiered stalls, a dress circle and four upper circles that seated 1,650 people (the stalls seated 384); the total volume of the Theatre was almost 100,000 cubic metres (around 3,500,000 cubic feet) and the area of the rooms was 40,210 square metres (around 430,000 square feet).
Initially, the Theatre's main entrance featured Kiev's official coat of arms, which borne an image of St. Michael the Archangel, the city's patron saint; however, on the insistence of Kiev's metropolitan Theognostus, who considered theatres to be sinful establishments, the coat of arms was replaced with an allegoric composition: heraldic griffins holding a lyre as a symbol of music art. The building's facade was decorated by busts of the composers Mikhail Glinka and Aleksandr Serov and the poet Taras Shevchenko, which were presented as gifts by artistes of the Saint Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre.
Besides operas by Russian composers, the Theatre staged operas by Giacomo Puccini, Richard Wagner and Jules Massenet and also the operas "The Drowned Maiden" (1903) and "Nocturne" (1914) by Nikolay Lysenko.
When the communists took power in Ukraine in 1919, the Theatre was nationalised and renamed the Liebknecht State Opera Theatre (after Karl Liebknecht, a German communist); in 1926, it received the name of Kiev State Academic Ukrainian Opera House (its performances were in Ukrainian); and in 1934, when Kiev received the status of Ukraine's capital, the Theatre became officially known as the Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1939, the Theatre was named in the honour of Taras Shevchenko, a famous Ukrainian poet.
In the 1930s, a project of a "socialist redesign" of the building of Kiev's Opera House was discussed: there were plans of endowing the building with characteristic features of the new "proletarian style". However, the actual redesign was limited only to a removal of the busts of the Russian composers and to adding a two-storey block of rehearsal rooms to the rear side of the building. During those years, the Theatre's repertoire included Boris Lyatoshinsky's operas "The Golden Ring" and "Shchors", Modest Mussorgsky's opera "Boris Godunov" and others.
During the Second World War, the Theatre was evacuated to the city of Ufa, then to the city of Irkutsk, before coming back to Kiev in 1944.
During the post-war years, the Theatre's repertoire was enlarged with works of Soviet composers: among many outstanding achievements, one should specially mention the production of Dmitry Shostakovich's "Katerina Izmaylova", which was awarded with the Shevchenko State Prize (1975).
At various times, the Theatre employed famous artistes such as the conductors Natan Rakhlin and Stepan Turchak, the vocalists Boris Gmyrya, Zoya Gayday, Mariya Litvinenko-Wolgemut, Oksana Petrusenko, Larisa Rudenko; even Fyodor Chaliapin performed at the Theatre.
In 1983–1988, a major redesign of the Theatre's building was done. Significant modifications were made to the backstage part of the building, which allowed increasing the number of rehearsal rooms and dressing rooms; a special chorus classroom was set up. The stage was also made larger, 20 meters (around 65 feet) deep and 27 meters (around 90 feet) high. The total area of the stage became 824 square meters (around 8,870 square feet). During the redesign, the ancient organ was also replaced with a new one, custom-made by the Czech company Rieger-Kloss. The orchestra pit was also refurbished, to accommodate as many as 100 musicians. After the redesign, the area of the Theatre building increased by 20,000 square metres (around 215,000 square feet). The number of dressing rooms doubled and several new rehearsal rooms appeared.
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