Choirmaster and director at the Kyiv National Academic Operetta Theatre Serhiy Nesteruk tells about his six-week experience as part of an international opera festival with the awarding of a Culture Bridges international mobility grant, the importance of this kind of study tour and differences in the approaches of Ukrainians and other Europeans working in this sphere.

Mediterranean Opera Studio and Festival — this is the premier summer opera programme for opera singers and emerging orchestra musicians, conductors and directors. The festival was held in a small town in the Catania region where there is not even an opera house. It's such a quiet provincial town, ideal for study and no tourist traffic.

Mediterranean Opera Studio and Festival offered everything: coaching, vocalist training, orchestral training, master-classes. I came to the programme in my capacity as an assistant director and the directors with whom I worked – Leonardo Catalanotto and Jonathan Santagada — conducted master-classes fully run by assistants of whom there were five, giving us real practical knowledge.

This six-week intensive programme was structured to make the instruction as effective as possible and encourage the development potential of those in attendance.

During the first three weeks all the musicians — singers, orchestra musicians, assistant directors and conductors — concentrated on working on operas for public performance; it was our homework:
— Puccini's 'Madama Butterfly';
— Donizetti's 'The Elixir of Love';
— Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro'.

Already on the first day of the festival as soon as we were all assembled we had our first rehearsal. Everybody already knew their parts about 90% of the way. We were doing three complete productions of three operas in parallel.

Serhiy Nesteruk

And even after those first three weeks of rehearsals we weren't finished but transitioned into the "rehearsal/performance" phase. We performed evenings and the next day went over everything — where somebody's playing was off and we fixed it, rehearsed some more and performed the piece again. We kept that pace up through the second half of the festival, overall giving 23 full concert performances.

The one thing that I clearly remember is how impressed I was with the level of performance by the participants. All the instrumentalists who came to study were young, but despite that they played great. During those rehearsals they played like a professional orchestra with 10 years of experience — like a single organism.

In Italy they work differently and relate to people differently. Because the level of competition is so high they don't stand on ceremony if you mess up. If your performance doesn't suit them they won't work with you and quickly find a replacement because there are so many professionals.

Sometimes, perhaps, that attitude strikes one as a bit hard-hearted, but it boosts the level of responsibility and competitiveness and people relate to it in a much different way than they would in Ukraine. When I work with people who perform that way I immediately sense that their response, their expressiveness is at a much higher level. They're not working and responding out of fear but are putting their ability, their skill, to work.

Following the festival I've already made adjustments to the way I work with a group. During the festival, I observed how the maestros communicated with performers, their attitudes and approaches to the group. In my theatre work I can quickly pub these new methods to the test with the orchestra, the choir and vocalists I work with.

Further development

In January 2019, I'll be flying to London to attend Achim Holub's master-class and competition. This is an opportunity to work with one of the UK's best orchestras - London Classical Soloists. Each participant will lead two concerts lasting at least 95 minutes and connected with the competition.

Achim Holub will be sharing the experience he's gained working for 20 years with musicians and recording companies from all over the world. He'll discuss how to plan out a successful conducting career, how to lead an orchestra and how to produce. Each participant will get personal feedback from Achim and comprehensive career development recommendations.

The event in London differs from the Mediterranean Opera Studio & Festival in Italy, because if everything goes well and my competition performance is successful, then there's a chance I'll be invited to conduct for London Classical Soloists concerts.

What's more, in London I'll be able to meet with the conductor I assisted in Sicily. We've only been corresponding up until now but now we'll have a face-to-face meeting where we can have a concrete discussion about working together.

Photo Credits: Serhiy Nesteruk and MOSF photographer Tai Collins