In a city full of artists, musicians, singers, and writers trying to make it in Manhattan, Brooklyn-based Rebecca ‘Becky’ Richardson is a refreshing breath of passion, hard work, and a little bit of California sunshine.
Born and raised in SoCal, Rebecca studied Music Applied Voice at Pepperdine University before moving to Boston in 2012 to pursue a graduate degree in Voice Performance at Boston Conservatory at Berklee. After graduating, Richardson moved to New York to pursue her passion and become a full-time opera singer. A former voice/piano teacher working various freelance jobs in the city, Rebecca currently works as an Executive Assistant at a private equity firm- when she’s not out auditioning or rehearsing for upcoming shows.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Rebecca over a coffee in midtown to discuss her love of music, what it takes to “make it” as a voice performer, and most importantly, her upcoming performance – ‘Unbound Identities’ – at The National Opera Center on Saturday, March 24th.
Q: What inspired you to go into Voice/Opera?
A: I honestly can’t remember when I first began singing – I’m pretty sure it happened around the same time I began speaking! I grew up listening to classical music and opera regularly, but had never considered singing that style of music myself. For most of my childhood, I took voice lessons on and off, performed in musicals and choirs, that sort of thing. When I was a freshman in high school though, I started thinking about getting into musical theater more seriously, and my dad suggested getting some classical vocal training to help establish a solid foundation for any style of singing I may want to pursue later. Unexpectedly, I fell SO, so in love with opera and singing classically ended up feeling the most comfortable and natural for my voice. The rest is history!
Q: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
A: If we’re talking about opera singers, definitely Nadine Sierra, Joyce Didonato, and Christine Goerke for their incredible technique, gorgeous interpretations, and overall kindness and humility. But if we’re talking about non-classical singers, my biggest influence would hands-down be Lady Gaga, always and forever. She’s an undeniably incredible musician and performer who continues to hold herself to such high standards.
Q: You moved to NYC after grad school to pursue your dream of becoming an opera singer. What does it take to “make it”, and how would you define success?
A: I think the definition is different for everyone. Some people would say that “making it” means you are nationally or internationally famous, or that you are performing at the world’s biggest opera houses. For me personally, being successful would mean that I could support myself financially solely off of singing.
Q: What has your experience striving for that level of success been like in NYC, and how does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
A: Surprisingly enough, it’s not actually any harder to make in New York. In fact, I would almost say that it’s easier to make it here. While it’s true that you have many more aspiring singers all vying for the same roles, you also have SO many more opportunities. In other cities, opera houses continue to go, funding continues to go, and you ultimately end up with an over-saturation of contenders since resources and creative outlets are disappearing so fast. In NYC I’ve actually had more positive experiences than negative experiences.
Q: Tell me about the Cantanti Project and ‘Unbound Identities’: How did you first hear about this incredible initiative promoting “singer-propelled music making?” What was the process of applying to get your project approved?
A: I first learned about Cantanti Project through social media, actually. A few singer colleagues of mine were performing in their season last year and spoke so highly of the company, so I kept them in the back of my mind. Luckily for me, I ended up doing a summer opera festival program (dell’Arte Opera Ensemble) last summer with Cantanti Project Artistic Director and Co-Founder, Joyce Yin. I learned quite a bit about the company and its mission from Joyce and applied to audition immediately.
Q: What was the audition process like?
A: For the recital, we were asked to provide a program that was approximately 45 minutes long with a letter explaining why we chose our proposed program. We were then required to audition with at least two songs from our proposal. Thankfully, it all worked out and mine was chosen! Cantanti selected two programs to pair together in a joint recital of about an hour and a half, and I am SO, so fortunate to be sharing the stage with amazing mezzo-soprano, Brittany Fowler. We had no idea what was on each other’s programs or that we might be paired beforehand, so it’s really lovely how well our song choices worked together.
Q: Have you and Brittany met yet to discuss the program?
A: Actually, we have yet to meet, though we have been texting and emailing a lot back and forth. Our first time meeting will be at the recital on Saturday!
Q: Can you explain how a recital is different from an opera, and how it fits into your career trajectory?
A: A recital can sort of be viewed as “opera’s little sister.” Whereas opera is more theatrical, and the costumes, sets, story, and makeup are given just as much attention as the vocal performances, recitals are much smaller and more intimate. There are no costumes, no plot, no frills – the focus is on the music and the poetry, and the beauty of the song. It’s almost set up like the old French salons were, which really allows the artist to hone their practice and show off their vocal range to a select audience. All opera singers – regardless of their level of fame – consistently perform recitals.
Q: What are you most excited for about ‘Unbound Identities’? What can audience members expect to see?
A: Oh my goodness, what am I NOT excited about?! I think the audience is going to hear a really unique, thoughtful program and will possibly be introduced to at least a couple lesser known composers as well. The program is comprised of entirely 20th-century music, but no two sets are alike! You really see the expansion of, or search for, the classical idiom that took place in the last century (some would even argue it was a crisis).
Q: What upcoming projects can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
A: In May, I’ll be singing the role of Lee Miller in the premiere of a new Jazz Opera called “Tabula Rasa,” written by NY locals Felix Jarrar and Bea Goodwin. We just began rehearsals, and the music is STUNNING. The opera is only about 75 minutes and follows the life of Kiki de Montparnasse and her relationship with Man Ray in 1920’s Paris. Also, a few of the cast members from this production began an apartment concert series earlier this year called “Hello Gorgeous” where we not only sing bits from the “Tabula Rasa” but also showcase gorgeous standards of classical repertoire (hence the name) to help fundraise so that the production in May can be as big and amazing as possible. Our third concert is scheduled for Sunday, April 8th, and each show is an entirely new program of music.
Q: Last but not least – what advice would you give to someone just starting out in the industry and trying to make it as an opera/vocal performer?
A: I would offer two pieces of advice. First off, you have to really want to do this to be successful, because it requires a lot of time and patience. Vocalists often don’t hit their prime until their thirties, so after you graduate, you have to be content working odd jobs and accepting smaller roles to build up your resume until you can finally be seriously considered for some of the larger roles. As on of my mentors once said to me – if you can imagine yourself doing anything else and being happy, DO IT.
Q: And the second piece of advice?
A: The second piece of advice would be to have a really good, small circle of people whose advice you trust. These people could be your coach, a teacher, a mentor – but no more than five or so select people. I learned the hard way that if you take everyone’s advice, it will send you in a million different directions, and it actually caused me to have a few setbacks. You have to choose the voices that you listen to.
You can purchase tickets to see Cantanti Project’s ‘Unbound Identities’ at The National Opera Center (
For more information on Rebecca’s upcoming performances, click here.