“Everyone at the conservatory wondered where I had gone all of a sudden”
This season, the talented young baritone Maksym Nazarenko exchanged Kiev for Amsterdam to join Dutch National Opera Studio, Dutch National Opera's talent development programme.
By now, the opera singers and repetitors who have joined Dutch National Opera Studio this year have already completed six months of the two-year programme. During this development programme, the young talents are guided by a professional team under the direction of renowned soprano Rosemary Joshua. The Ukrainian baritone Maksym Nazarenko, who was selected for the Opera Studio during last season’s open audition, started his adventure at NO&B in September and told us during a corona proof Zoom interview about his experiences and ambitions.
The realisation that he wanted to pursue a career as a professional opera singer came to Maksym when he was studying at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music, the conservatory of Kiev, and received lessons by the well-known Ukrainian baritone Ivan Ponomarenko. "At the conservatory I did not stand out at first and did not achieve very high results. All this changed when Ivan Ponomarenko became my teacher. He was not only a very good baritone, but also a star who performed everywhere. He inspired me enormously, fuelled my love for opera and introduced me to the opera culture."
Still a student
At the moment Maksym is not only a member of the Opera Studio, but also still a student at the conservatory. "When I went to Amsterdam last year for the open audition, I didn't really have any expectations at all. I came here with the idea ‘I will just see what happens’. It came as a complete surprise to me when I found out I was selected for the Opera Studio". However, this surprising turn in Maksym's career caused some confusion at the conservatory. "When I didn't show up at school after the summer, everyone at the conservatory wondered where I had gone all of a sudden. When they read in a Facebook post from DNO that I had graduated, even though I hadn't yet, they were really confused. But fortunately everything has been cleared up and now it is only a funny anecdote. So right now, I combine the Opera Studio with my studies at the conservatory".
In addition to this more than full-time musical career, Maksym, whose native language is Russian, takes English lessons every day. Especially during his first weeks at the Opera Studio, he noticed that such a full schedule can leave a man parched. "In the beginning, all the new experiences and the new language were very overwhelming and when I came home I was so tired that all I could do was crash down on the couch and stare at the ceiling," he laughs. "I also felt a little intimidated by the professionalism and high level of the rest of the group when I just started at the Opera Studio. But now I know that we are a team and that everyone cares about each other and wants to help each other. Now, the high level of the people around me works motivational." Maksym also really enjoys the sessions with, among others, artistic leader Rosemary Joshua. "It is hard sometimes, but the lessons help me a lot in my development. I know that the teachers want to pass on as much knowledge to me as possible and that they want to contribute to my ambition to become a professional".
One of the operas that Maksym hopes will one day be a part of his professional opera career is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. Part of this appeal comes from the realistic nature of this opera. "What happens in the story could also happen in real life. That makes it easier to understand the characters and feel their emotions." Moreover, Eugene Onegin is close to him in a cultural sense. "The Russian culture and the Ukrainian culture are both Slavic cultures, so that is probably why I feel like I can empathise better with the story. With Italian operas, for example, you have to learn a lot about the era, the culture and the traditions before you really understand everything."
The sound of Amsterdam
By now, Maksym has been living in Amsterdam for quite some time. Despite the big differences between Ukraine and the Netherlands, he enjoys living here very much. "I especially like being able to go anywhere by bike. In my spare time, I often go cycling without a goal. The rattling sound that your bike makes when you ride on an uneven surface; that is the sound of Amsterdam".
Text: Rosalie Overing
Photo: Sebastien Galtier