Nesterenko was an architecture student at the Leningrad Engineering and Construction Institute before enrolling at the Leningrad Conservatory, where he was a pupil of Vasily Lakunin. During his final year at the Conservatory, 1965, he made his operatic stage debut at the Maly Theatre, Leningrad as Prince Gremin / Eugene Onegin; and after graduation joined the opera company of the Kirov Theatre (now the Mariinsky Theatre).
Having won second prize and the silver medal at the 1967 Sofia Singing Competition, in 1970 Nesterenko won first prize and the gold medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, a success that led to an invitation to sing at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow. Here he made his debut in 1971. His roles at the Bolshoi included (in the Russian repertoire) Dosifei / Khovanshchina, Khan Konchak / Prince Igor, Ruslan / Ruslan and Ludmilla, Kutuzov / War and Peace, Salieri / Mozart and Salieri and Boris / Boris Godunov.
It was as Boris that Nesterenko first appeared (with the Bolshoi Opera) at La Scala, Milan in 1973 and at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 1975. He became greatly admired in Italy: at La Scala his roles included the title part in Rossini’s Mosè, Massimiliano / I masnadieri, Colline / La Bohème and both the Grand Inquisitor and Philip II / Don Carlos (1978), as well as the title role in Ivan Susanin (again with the Bolshoi company, 1989). For his interpretation of Boris in Italy he was awarded the Viotti Gold Medal in 1981; and the Giovanni Zenatello Prize for ‘his outstanding characterisation’ of Attila. This was at the Verona Arena (1985), where he returned in 1988 and 1991 to sing Zaccaria / Nabucco.
Nesterenko made his debut at the Vienna State Opera in 1974, once more with Boris, returning in Rusalka in 1987. At the Royal Opera House, London he first appeared in 1978 as Don Basilio / Il barbiere di Siviglia, a comic part he enjoyed playing. Other roles in which he made a strong impact included Zaccaria and the title role in Attila (both Barcelona, 1984). He portrayed Philip II at San Francisco, Savonlinna, Orange (1990), Munich (1992) and Hamburg (1991), where he also sang the title role in Don Pasquale in 1992, an indication of his considerable operatic range.
In addition to his operatic prowess, Nesterenko was also a powerful singer on the concert platform, notably in works by Mussorgsky and Shostakovich, including the latter’s Symphony No. 14 and Michelangelo Suite. Between 1975 and 1993 he taught at the Moscow Conservatory and subsequently at the Vienna Conservatory from 1993 onwards. In 1992 he was awarded the Chaliapin Prize in Russia.
Although not a tall man, unlike many Russian basses, Nesterenko displayed great stage presence and was an impassioned operatic actor. When this histrionic skill was combined with his smooth, flexible and powerful voice, the overall impact was formidable.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).