Being Ready: When Preparation Meets Opportunity – A Conversation with Alex Richardson

Being Ready: When Preparation Meets Opportunity
A Conversation with Alex Richardson

In any field, the most prized professionals are the ones who can step into a difficult situation and take over. Alex Richardson did that twice in one of opera’s most challenging roles.

A versatile tenor, Richardson answered the call half a dozen years ago when the University of North Texas lost both its lead and cover performers set to play the title role in Massenet’s Werther, Goethe’s brooding suicidal lover. Covering the same role for Washington National Opera and singing it in a concert in New York helped prepare Richardson to again come to the rescue when the Boston Lyric Opera lost their Werther to a back injury.

Boston Classical Reviewpraised his acting, his “smooth-toned voice” and his “high notes of clarion power” that captured the title character’s joys and sorrows.

He grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the son of a grower who supplied greenhouses and played classical guitar. His mother helped run the nursery and also sang in a community chorus, providing him exposure to large choral works from an early age. He says he was always comfortable with classical music around the house but never thought he might sing professionally. Indeed, his natural talent and focus once pointed him in an entirely different direction. In high school, Richardson won the state championship in springboard diving and was a finalist in the Junior Olympics. The sport taught him to shut out distractions, to shrink the moment, embrace the adrenaline and seek perfection.

“I think diving may have prepared me in a way for a study of singing,” he says, “because you have to understand what’s happening with your body. You don’t do those advanced dives when you’re just starting out, in the exact same way that you don’t sing the most advanced roles when you’re just starting out. You gain your technique over time with practice and study.”

Enough study, he hoped, to gain a college scholarship. That could well have happened but for the encouragement of Diane Schutz, his music teacher from sixth grade through several different choral groups in high school.

“She was a huge influence on me,” Richardson says. “ She was a big mentor, and she also pushed me to study music in college.”

Then Donald Morrison, a recently retired music professor, invited him to sing in a community chorus.

“He said, ‘I need an extra tenor for my community choir. I can’t pay you, but if you’ll join my choir I’ll give you voice lessons for free.’”

That work exposed the teenager to Faure, Brahms and Schubert, opening new worlds. Throughout, Morrison and Schutz dropped hints that Richardson could make a career in music. The training and music education helped shift his perspective. He applied for college scholarships, as he had always planned — only in music — and won multiple offers.

“I always thought diving was going to take me to college, but it turned out that music took me to college,” he says.

Career breaks included status as a two-time prizewinner in the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions; working at Tanglewood Music Center and serving as a Marilyn Horne Foundation artist.

Through operatic performances and art songs, a particular passion, Richardson also developed a natural sensibility for interpretation.

“It’s impossible to study these songs without looking at the meaning of the poetry and seeing how it has informed the meaning of what the composer has written,” he says. “Even if people don’t understand what the words are, the music is so informative just in itself. My aim is to convey the feeling and produce the text as authentically as possible.”

There have been times when he had to set boundaries between his professional and personal life. Richardson married longtime partner Richard Rainville on New Year’s Eve, 2012, but their honeymoon always seemed to conflict with another opera, recital or concert. After deferring the date twice, the couple zeroed in on a trip to Costa Rica in 2016 — until the Boston Lyric Opera came calling. Could he do it on short notice?

Richardson said yes, so long as he could take a week’s break in the middle of rehearsals.

“I had already canceled that honeymoon twice. I told them, ‘I just can’t cancel on my husband a third time. He’s been very patient, but this time he has to come first!’ And they said, ‘We’ll work around it.’”

In his free time, Richardson enjoys outdoor travel and exploring New York City. Looking ahead, he would like to expand his repertoire in major opera houses in the United States and Europe.

“Each new gig I go to I have ten new friends – I love that this career has enabled me to make friends all over the world.”