Kristine Paseka interview

13 September 2023
She dreamt of a music career in the UK, but on the advice of a teacher, she went to study in Maastricht. Meanwhile, she has been living here for three years and with great pleasure. Next month, she will perform in her new hometown with the Nederlandse Reisopera. 
What makes Maastricht so beautiful? This city is small enough to be cosy, but big enough to be accessible by public transport.
'At first, I found it hard to grasp how I had suddenly ended up in the Netherlands.(laughs). I am originally from Latvia, my father is Ukrainian. I grew up in a multilingual family, we spoke Latvian, Ukrainian and Russian at home, but my homeland is Latvia, that's where I grew up and also attended high school. My dream was to study music. Ever since I was 5 years old. The instrument I had doubts about, once I started with piano, eventually it became singing.  But music was immediately an important part of my life, I wouldn't even know what else to do.
 

I lived for a year in Tenerife (Canary Islands) with my parents. A rather important turning point in my life because I went to an English-speaking school there. I learnt English fluently and it became my big dream to study in 'the UK' one day. When I graduated from high school, I applied to several universities to study in the UK, I was accepted for a bachelor's degree in Bath. Towards the end of this study, it started to become clear to me that I could not pursue a Masters in Bath. I did not get a scholarship, did not find the right teacher.

My teacher at the time, the Latvian soprano Sonora Vaice, recommended a professor in Maastricht, the Belgian tenor Axel Everaert. I travelled to Maastricht, auditioned and was accepted. This all happened in 1 days’ time. '

So suddenly you were moving to Maastricht. What did you do, where did you start?

'I have been living here for over 3 years now and I have been extremely lucky. A friend on Facebook saw I was in Maastricht and he immediately sent me a message. He also lived here as a Latvian and he asked if I needed help with job or housing search. So I didn't have to look for help, it was offered to me. That could already be a good tip: ask other Expats, they help each other. 

Of course, I also joined the Expat Centre Maastricht Region. Three years ago, I applied for the first time as a student and after that I've walked in for help with the tax letter and most recently for help with translating my contract and starting up as a freelancer. I definitely know where to find you guys if I need you.'

So an opera singer works freelance?

'Yes, the Dutch Reisopera works with freelancers. If I remembered correctly, the Dutch State Opera is the only place in the Netherlands where you can get a full-time work contract. I sing in the choir so I actually work for Concensus Vocalis. You have to deal with a lot of co-productions in this world. 

You also always work with a very international company. When I was still singing with the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, I had an Italian director, the teacher was Lebanese/Polish, the choreographer was German. The choir included Americans, British and Germans, Latvians, French, Lebanese and people from Japan. You learn lots of languages, but the main language is English.

You keep running in to each other in different parts of the world. This also makes the world seem small. '

With such an international job, there is little reason to learn Dutch?

'Indeed, in my job I don't need it, but I do live here so I would like to learn it. I want to work on that anyway. It also seems like a form of respect to me. I would personally like it if people who move to my country also try to speak the language. I have already tried some on Duolingo and actually Dutch is not that complicated grammatically. I do think it sounds strange though. You hear so many other languages in it and I find that confusing.'

You like living here?

'Definitely! Just as much as there are difficult moments when you feel homesick, for example. Although I realise very well that I wouldn't be able to ground myself in my homeland because I have simply become different. Here I feel more myself, yet here I am also different, not a local.

Professionally, I would never want to work anywhere else than in the Netherlands. You are very direct and I like that. Small talk is nice, but I prefer not to waste time. I like it when people just tell me what's what. That also prevents misperception. If you sing in an audition here, an opinion is given without fuss. You also get to hear it directly. You don't have to guess or worry or waste time on 'overthinking'. It's really not like that everywhere, especially in my home country, and at such times I am immensely happy that I get to work here and build my career.'

That sounds like it all went very easily..

'As a student, it all went very smoothly. I found something in the sublet through Maastricht housing and that was fine. 

Things did go wrong when I graduated. That was during the Corona period. That summer I travelled home for a while, but in the autumn I had to be back in Maastricht for auditions, so I couldn't find a place to live anywhere. In the end I had to live in the house of a friend of a friend for a month just to have a roof over my head during that audition period. The auditions went well but the month was up so I still didn't have a place to live. That was a real low point! I then finally travelled back home in November and continued searching remotely. Fortunately, I found something at the end of December and was still able to live in Maastricht. 

I mainly searched on social media in groups for expats. Although of course you had to be very careful there with scams. Still, I also didn't have much faith in those websites where you had to pay to register. I only had the budget for a room, but those are usually reserved for students and of course that wasn't me anymore.

Main thing I learned about that experience, which was a hard pill to swallow, is that I was expecting to get the help and understanding from people who claimed to care but in reality it turned out that I got help from completely different people, at that time acquaintances, whom of course now I consider the real friends.

When you are at your lowest and in despair - don't think or analyse who would help and who wouldn’t. At first I was afraid to ask too much and ashamed to be a burden. All you have to do is ask for help and the right people will respond. Actions versus words! '

What's the best thing about living in Maastricht?

'It's not too small and it's not too big! It's small enough to be cosy and big enough to be reached by public transport. 

I lived in Amsterdam for two months for the previous production I sang in. That was so international, it didn't feel like I was in the Netherlands at all. Somehow that's fantastic, you can't think of anything or find it in Amsterdam. For instance, I came across Polish shops where I found products that are pure nostalgia for me. Or then I found another African shop where I could taste new things. So many things to discover in just one city! I myself grew up in Riga, the capital of Latvia but it is nowhere near as diverse as Amsterdam. At least not in my childhood. 

And yet, you also have that international here in Maastricht, but with much more space. At the same time, this city has its own rhythm. You can find everything here, but it's less crowded. And then it's also a beautiful old city. I genuinely enjoy living here.'

 

Kristina will soon sing along in 'Das wunder der Heliane' the fourth opera by Erich Wolfgang Korngold performed by the Nederlandse Reisopera and also to be seen at Theater aan het Vrijthof

In addition she’ll be making a role debut in an operetta 'H.M.S. Pinafore' by A. Sullivan as Josephine at the Brussels Operette theatre in December 2023.