Considered the most prestigious award in opera, the Metropolitan Opera’s 60th annual National Council Auditions drew 1,500 young singers from all over the country this March. Applicants sang their hearts out through four tough rounds until there were only 10 finalists left. Six winners were awarded the grand prize of $15,000—including the George Washington University’s own Thomas Richards, B.A. ’10.
Mr. Richards showed off his booming bass-baritone before a full house of 4,500 people during the competition’s final round in New York City. He was called the event’s “standout” by the Huffington Post and was approached by an agent once he’d been announced as a winner.
Just five weeks earlier, Mr. Richards had also won first place at the Houston Grand Opera’s well-respected Eleanor McCollum Competition. With two of the most renowned opera awards under his belt, Mr. Richards continues to gain new experiences to add to his repertoire.
“I’ve been on a conveyor belt through school, through competitions and through institutions in this country that provide people like me a place to launch our careers from,” Mr. Richards said. “I feel very blessed that it’s been a pretty smooth transition out of school and into the working world.”
Two weeks ago, he wrapped up a production of “The Marriage of Figaro” as part of the San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program for young artists. He is currently rehearsing for the program’s grand finale performance of feature scenes from famous operas, which will be held in the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House.
Although Mr. Richard’s baritone has taken him to stages all over the country, his career path was a little unexpected. He was a music lover who’d played violin as a kid and trumpet as a teenager, and performed in productions put on by his church youth group and high school. But he’d come to GW intent on focusing on political science. He didn’t begin seriously considering a music career until studying abroad in Vienna.
“You can go to the best opera house in the world, the Vienna State Opera, and for two or three euro watch from the standing section. I stood through their season and saw world-renowned singers and the Vienna philharmonic,” he remembered.
After GW, Mr. Richards completed his master’s at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. His next act? “Covering” at the Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artist Studio. Mr. Richards explained because even a small cold can make it impossible for opera singers to perform, an understudy must be on deck to cover at all times. Mr. Richards will be assuming that role in the fall and working with the Houston Grand Opera’s coaching and vocal resources.
“Opera performers are only as good as they are on a particular day. It’s all about live performances, getting out there night after night and producing something of high quality,” Mr. Richards said. “Young artist programs are a way to use time productively and to gain a relationship with an opera company when I’m still considered very, very young.”
The career is undoubtedly challenging. Mr. Richards explained the job is high-pressure and he, like most performers, must book gigs over and over again to maintain a level of job security. But whenever Mr. Richards finds himself contemplating a different career path, his love for music and performing reel him back in.
“The more I learn about opera, the more I like it,” he said.