February 26 2010

Chicago Tribune article
August 7, 1992

American Gets Calling to Bring Opera on Christ’s Life to Russia

by Carey Kinsolving

Basso Jerome Hines of New York’s Metropolitan Opera was strolling around Red Square in Moscow last summer when he had an inspiration. He said he felt God telling him to bring his opera based on the life of Christ to the famed Bolshoi Theatre.

When Hines returned to the United States, he called Patrick Kavanaugh, director of the 500-member Christian Performing Arts Fellowship in Washington, D.C. Last month Kavanaugh carried Hines’ dream to Moscow with prayers, albeit strong doubts.

“Quite frankly, I didn’t think this was going to come off,” Kavanaugh said. “I was already aware that the Bolshoi had refused the Metropolitan Opera. In the theater’s 200-year-old history, operators had never allowed an American opera to come in.”

At first, Kavanaugh’s calls were greeted skeptically. Even efforts to get a ticket to a performance at the Bolshoi failed.

Finally, Kavanaugh called Vladamir Oielen, a music critic and publisher of a Christian newsletter who had once been a schoolmate of the Bolshoi’s director.

Soon, doors began to open. Two days later, Kavanaugh was watching an opera at the Bolshoi from the director’s personal box with the director at his side. At a meeting with Bolshoi officials, Kavanaugh explained that his company wanted to perform the opera for free. When he added that all the performers, including Jerome Hines, would donate their time, skepticism grew.

“The raised eyebrows took care of the translation problem,” Kavanaugh said. He said he sensed that Bolshoi officials were trying to “size up this supposed capitalist who was not making any money on the deal.”

After the shock subsided, Kavanaugh and Bolshoi officials signed an agreement for two performances of Hines’ 1952 opera, “I Am the Way.” They are scheduled for July 5 and 7, 1993. On July 4, Kavanaugh plans to perform Handel’s “Messiah.”

Kavanaugh said about 100 Washington-area performers will make the Moscow trip.

Kavanaugh finds irony in the Russians’ acceptance of an opera based on the life of Christ. Back home, the director of a Washington theater had rejected the production because he felt it might offend his patrons. Yet, Bolshoi officials said that they wanted the opera precisely because of its spiritual nature.

Performing at the Bolshoi will be new for all the performers except one. During the height of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, Premier Nikita Khrushchev led a standing ovation for Hines’ title role in “Boris Godunov.”

Hines said composing “I Am the Way” was a life-changing experience for him. It compelled him, he said in a recent interview, to read the Bible deeply for the first time.

“I’d swept through the Bible years before to say I had read it, but had not made much of a dent in it. But in writing the opera, I was concentrating a lot on the Gospel of John, which is a pretty potent book.”

In his autobiography, “This Is My Story, This Is My Song,” Hines chronicles his search for God. “I had always been led by my intellect and, in a fashion, I worshiped it,” he wrote.

“Now I was about to learn to be led by God himself – by his revelation. I discovered that Jesus Christ is a reality… living today – in my heart!”