Culture In Depth, 24/11/2020

Female Portrait on Orchestra Background

A conductor is an unusual profession and always attracts interest. But if we talk about a woman in this profession it is twice as interesting. We aren’t going to rise gender equality issues as a conductor has always been considered a “men’s” job. We just tell about a woman who creates music, filling it with her energy, aesthetics and worldview. So today we are making a portrait of Victoria Ratsyuk, the conductor and producer of the Kharkiv National Opera and Ballet Theater “Skhid Opera.”

When I spoke to Victoria, I realized that music has chosen her, and not vice versa. So, both consistently and expressively she walks a difficult but incredibly exciting creative path.

Early memories

The artist recalls that since the moment she began to realize herself at the age of two, the most magical event for her was the acquaintance with a huge unusual object from which the charming music sounded – the piano. “I perceived this miracle as a living being and each time, I was touchingly anticipating meeting him. The instrument was magical and magnetic for me,” Victoria shares her childhood memories.

Choosing a career

The fact that her family was very musical helped the future conductor a lot: although her father worked as a railway worker, he sang in the choir of the railway administration where he was a soloist.

Her mother worked in surgery, so she wanted her daughter to follow in her footsteps. When Victoria’s mother said that she could bring more important benefits to people as a doctor, Victoria always answered that mother treats the body while she heals souls with music. The goal is similar but the methods are very different.

Still, both parents respected Victoria’s choice and helped with advice.

Education and teachers

Victoria chose a profession by vocation. There are many roads in life, but there is only one way. While studying at the Uzhhorod Music college and then at the National Academy of Music of Ukraine, she developed three professions: choirmaster, opera and symphony conductor and producer of a musical theater.

This set of professions is invaluable for a creative person. It opens up possibilities to combine knowledge of vocals with the skills of an opera conductor and the producer’s understanding of the author’s musical scores and harmoniously embody the creative idea on stage.

Victoria warmly remembers her teachers and is grateful to them for every minute spent on her professional training. She has special thanks for Marta Benyak, Tetiana Greenstein, Ivan Sopko, Mykhailo Krechko, Roman Kofman, Yuriy Simonov, Volodymyr Lukashev and Olena Sakalo.

Starting career

Mrs. Ratsyuk graduated with honors from two faculties of the academy and the rector Oleh Tymoshenko offered her the position of conductor and teacher at the Opera Studio of the National Academy of Music of Ukraine. This became a new interesting page in her life. The Opera Studio gives the opportunity to young opera singers to acquire creative skills because it is actually a full-fledged theatre, which has everything they need for the creative process: a large hall with an orchestra pit and proper lighting, choir, orchestra, ballet, decoration and costume department.

Victoria worked in the Opera Studio for twenty years bringing up many future opera stars whom she is proud of: Andriy Bondarenko, Yevhen Orlov, Vitaliy Palchykov, Ulyana Aleksyuk, Bohdan Volkov, Olha Bessmertna, Olena Tokar, Susana Jamaladinova (Jamala), Olga Dyadiv, Tetiana Zhuravel, Olena Arbuzova, Yulia Safonova, Yulia Tkachenko and many others.

Olga Bezsmertna as Iolanta

“Ricochet” ensemble

The ensemble of new music called “Ricochet” became a new career stage for Victoria Ratsyuk. The ensemble aims to promote outstanding samples of music of the 20th-21st centuries and to stimulate the creative activity of contemporary composers. Its basic composition includes a flute, clarinet, two violins, viola, cello and piano, however the author’s design can be expanded by other performers. Now it is a legendary ensemble of new music with extensive performing experience and a repertoire of contemporary Ukrainian and foreign composers.

Since its inception, the ensemble has performed more than 300 concerts in Ukraine and is a regular participant in the most famous festivals of Ukraine such as KyivMusicFest, KharkivMusicFest, Kyiv Premieres of the Season, Youth Music Forum, Two Days and Two Nights, Contrasts, Kharkiv Assemblies, Contemporary Music, DonCult, GogolFest.

The ensemble collaborates with Gaudeamus Contemporary Music Center (the Netherlands), Donemus Publisher (the Netherlands), Pro Helvetia (Switzerland), the Embassy of Austria in Ukraine. Among the other outcomes, this led to a number of concerts of contemporary Dutch and Swiss composers in Ukraine.

Creating the Lady Kamerata chamber orchestra

Victoria organized the Lady Kamerata chamber orchestra when she worked in Kyiv in 2018. When she moved to Kharkiv she could not take the whole orchestra with her that’s why she came up with the idea to create such an orchestra in Kharkiv.

Lady Kamerata Kharkiv

In October 2020 the creative team gave two concerts on the stage of the Kharkiv National Opera and Ballet Theater “Skhid Opera.”

Influence by worldwide famous opera singers on the artist’s creativity

Collaboration with such opera superstars as Montserrat Caballe and Jose Carreras influenced her creative upbringing, the formation of artistic worldview and musical taste.

Personal acquaintance with such outstanding musicians as Gidon Kremer, Vladimir Spivakov, Aleksandr Knyazev, Vadim Repin, Liana Isakadze, composers Giya Kanchelli, Myroslav Skoryk, Yevhen Stankovych as well as slightly younger but quite experienced composers S. Pilyutikov, S. Poleva, A. Zagaykevych, M. Pavelek and others left a trace in the shaping of her musical worldview and performance.

Participation in music competitions

Since 2011, the artist has represented Ukraine at the World International Competition “NEUE STIMMEN” in Germany. “Thanks to our cooperation, every year I am able to follow the trend of the needs of European theaters and new names, young talented opera singers who shine on European stages,” says Victoria.

Cooperation with overseas music professionals

The musician’s long-term collaboration with the director of the Salzburg Opera Festival Evamaria Wieser, ex-director Brian Dickie, and acquaintance with the director of La Scala Theater Domenico Mayer and other opera personalities benefit her because such experienced managers who really understand creativity can always teach and implement unsurpassed music projects.

Memories about working abroad

Cooperation with opera houses, philharmonics and orchestras of the Czech Republic, Brazil, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Poland gave Victoria invaluable professional experience, as well as incredible impressions and emotions. Victoria shares with our readers two episodes from Brazil and Germany.

“Brazil is a country with beautiful nature, smiling people with a warm welcome and humanity. However, there was a downside: it is impossible to play dramatic music with such happy, joyful musicians. Tchaikovsky’s planned The Sixth Symphony had to be replaced by The Fourth. I could not evoke drama in their souls in any way. They said that they only cry on soap operas and when the Brazilian football team loses. And the rest of life is happiness!” recalls Victoria.

Germany is quite a different story. First, it is a country of high culture and organization. Victoria loves Germany and she is especially grateful for the experience of self-organization she gained there. The artist recalls that she enthusiastically conducted the Beethoven Orchestra of the Bonn Theater. This orchestra played everything perfectly, as the composer wrote. It’s very important for the conductor, as he or she has to give an interesting and clear interpretation, without violating the author’s idea of musical content. Before the concert, the artist visited the Ludwig van Beethoven Museum and saw the room where he was born. This added special inspiration.

How does information society influence the creative process?

Reflecting on how rapidly the creative process in the opera house and communication between artists, spectators and artists change, Victoria Ratsyuk notes that we live in an information society, our brain has increased the accumulation of information, and everyone is free to choose the quality of content. That is, creative people today are united by interests.

How has pandemic changed the world in general and the music world in particular?

There is another very sensitive aspect now, both for humanity in general and for musicians, in particular – the world coronavirus pandemic. This is a strong test for humanity as the world may never be the same again. The artist believes that there will be a strong breakthrough in culture and art.

One of the strongest human emotions is the desire to be happy, to have faith in the future, to feel protected. Music and theater both give people these feelings. This was proved by Skhid Opera’s open-air concerts. They caused strong emotions not only among the public but also among the musicians.

The most prominent Victoria’s performances on the Kharkiv stage

Victoria put on “Pagliacci” opera by R. Leoncavallo and “Iolanta” by P. Tchaikovsky as a producer and a conductor and Christmas concerts “Christmas Night” and “Unusual Symphony Concert” as a conductor on the stage of the Kharkiv Opera Theater. Besides, Victoria conducts repertoire opera and ballet performances.

The musician is proud that thanks to her performances on the Kharkiv stage she introduced the audience to world-class opera stars – Olga Bezsmertna (Ukraine-Austria), who brilliantly performed the role of Iolanta, and Lilly Yorstad (Norway-Italy), who was unsurpassed in the role of Carmen.

Victoria can’t decide on her favorite Kharkiv production. Apparently, it still lies ahead.

Future plans

Victoria Ratsyuk is a dedicative and creative person, so, despite tough times of pandemic and quarantine restrictions, has lots of ideas for future performance.

“I always have a lot of ideas, sometimes I even drive them out of my head, and they stubbornly come back, as if they were waiting for their time. I often have to give up ideas so that they don’t hold me and benefit others.

“I am working on an opera that should become a world premiere, but I will keep it in secret now,” Victoria admits.

Appreciative audience wish the artist the realization of creative ideas and they hope to see her wonderful performances very soon!

Text: Tetiana Tanchuk

Photo: Victoria Ratsyuk, Oleksandr Shakhmatov