STAMFORD – Saturday night’s musical show at Curtain Call featured Broadway tunes, Beatles hits, pop songs from the ‘70s – and an unfamiliar melody that had people catching their breath.
Near the end of the show, Frank Mastrone, a Broadway veteran and creator of the event, asked audience members to stand and told them what they were about to hear.
It was, “State Anthem of Ukraine.”
“There was a collective gasp,” Mastrone said of the crowd at the community theater. “We are in the middle of a historic tragedy, and we’re watching it on television. People are very aware.”
The tragedy began when Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, unprovoked, on Feb. 24. Putin is bombing apartment buildings, houses, hospitals, shelters, and humanitarian convoys.
“It’s barbarism,” Mastrone said. “It hurts humanity.”
In the face of that, the Ukrainian national anthem has become the world’s song. Violinist Darwin Shen and pianist Frank Spitznagel let the melody speak without lyrics in the little theater on Newfield Avenue.
“When it ended, there was silence, and then everyone applauded,” Mastrone said. “I don’t know how the audience knew to do that altogether. Everyone was moved.”
It’s happening everywhere.
Ukrainians are singing the anthem in the tunnels and basements where they hide from the bombings. War protesters are singing it in the world’s capital cities, including Moscow, where Russian security agents haul them off to jail.
In New York, the orchestra and chorus of the Metropolitan Opera performed the anthem before the opening night of Verdi’s “Don Carlos.” At Royal Albert Hall in London, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra began a performance with it.
The world is reacting to the images coming from Ukraine – civilians killed by bombs as they run for safety with their children and belongings. Bombs falling on refugees gathered at evacuation points. Children killed, maimed or orphaned by bombs dropped on their homes.
After the Russians shelled a maternity hospital in the town of Mariupol, a photo of a bloody pregnant woman carried through the rubble on a stretcher ran on nearly every news channel. It was reported Monday that the woman was taken to another hospital where her baby was delivered by Caesarean section. But the baby died. The mother, whose pelvis had been crushed, died 30 minutes later. Her husband and father retrieved the bodies so they would not be buried in the mass graves being dug in Mariupol to accommodate all the dead.
Peter Denkus, who was in the theater audience Saturday night, said he is following news of the war.
“I watch as much as I can take,” he said.
Denkus was so touched by the playing of the Ukrainian anthem that he wrote Mastrone a note on a social media site.
“I read that site but I never post anything,” Denkus said. “That Sunday morning at breakfast, though, I had to do it.”
The show was terrific, Denkus wrote, but acknowledging Ukraine was the highlight.
“Thank you for that, Frank, and God bless you,” Denkus wrote.
Shen, the violinist, said he could feel the audience receiving the music.
“There is only one other time when I felt like I performed something in the impact of the moment,” Shen said. “It was the day after the children and their teachers were killed in the shooting in Newtown. We played “Dreaming” by Robert Schumann, a piece about scenes from childhood.”
The anthem of Ukraine, just one verse and one chorus, was adopted three decades ago, after Ukraine won its independence from the Soviet Union, as Russia then was known.
“The glory and freedom of Ukraine has not yet perished,” go the lyrics, translated to English. “Luck will still smile on us … we’ll live happily in our land. We’ll not spare either our souls or bodies to get freedom.”
The melody was written to be sung, Shen and Mastrone said.
“An anthem is for rallying a nation,” Shen said.
“Music is visceral,” Mastrone said. “This is a spiritual moment.”
Mastrone said he felt compelled to include the song of Ukraine in the theater performance.
“This war is damaging everyone,” Mastrone said. “It’s becoming more than anyone can bear. We have to acknowledge it.”