Arts + Culture

Ukrainian Opera Star Makes His American Debut

Leonid Shoshyn, the star of Gulfshore Opera’s 10th anniversary production of Turandot, shares his story and a message of resilience.

BY April 26, 2024
Leonid Shoshyn Turandot
(Photo courtesy Odesa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre.)

It all started with a bet. Years ago, amid the nightlife of Odesa, Ukraine, international opera sensation Leonid Shoshyn sat drinking and laughing with friends. He was a young lawyer then, but he had no passion for the field. Soon, the friends struck up a game and quickly noticed a poster advertising dramatic theater auditions on the wall. The stakes were set: whoever lost the game had to audition. Leonid lost the bet, but he got the role. When he felt the way his heart pounded on stage, the aspiring singer knew he’d found his calling. Now, the dramatic tenor, who’s enchanted audiences from Odesa to Berlin, makes his American debut as the charming Prince Calàf in Gulfshore Opera’s penultimate production of the season: Turandot. The bloody drama follows Calàf’s misguided, spellbound love for the bewitching Princess Turandot, (Shannon Jennings), who forces all suitors to answer three riddles or lose their heads. 

Young, handsome and full of life, Leonid fills his princely role in voice and appearance. His casting was the product of a rigorous international search. When Gulfshore Opera’s founder and general director, Steffanie Pearce, came across the resident lead dramatic tenor at the Odesa National Opera, she was determined to position him in the season-ending performance’s leading role. The process was rife with uncertainty and potential embassy shutdowns.

Ukraine is not the country it was when Leonid lost that fateful bet. It has been 792 days since the tenor’s homeland has known peace and far longer since it has known peace of mind. Prior to the Russian invasion in February of 2022, the light-hearted tenor never looked at the news. He was performing in Germany at the time; a castmate shared the news that Ukraine was under attack. “I’m stressing a lot. I’m not sleeping. I wake up every few hours. I’m exhausted. A part of me is suffering a lot, but I don’t know what to do,” Leonid says.

As we speak of his newfound love of America and rooming with castmate Kenneth Stavert, Leonid tells me his mother is hiding out in Poland after an airstrike the previous day took five lives—two of her coworkers and a few children. He has already lost many friends and family members to the war. It is agonizing and strange, yet he laughs fully when talking about Calàf folly and performing with his rock band back home. “Drones are exploding, rockets are launching, but people are going out and drinking coffee. You cannot stop living,” Leonid says.

When the war began in earnest (many place the beginning of the conflict in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea), Leonid served in combat for eight months. His actions, though heroic, were not the best way he saw to serve his country. Instead, he performs in Odesa’s grand theater and abroad, sharing and preserving the beauty of his culture. Sometimes, air raid sirens go off mid performance, and they huddle in the basement. Sometimes they lose power and sing by candlelight. Sometimes, distant strikes shatter the theater windows with violent waves of wind and debris. Still, the theater stands, and they perform. “People don’t want to stop living. That’s why the opera house doesn’t stop. Art must continue,” Leonid says.

Catch Leonid’s final performance as Prince Calàf, closing out Gulfshore Opera’s 10th season, on April 27 at 7 p.m. in Hayes Hall at Artis—Naples.


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