Talking with singers: Ashley Riches Photo: Debbie Scanlon.

Talking with singers: Ashley Riches

Jenna Simeonov

After a critically-acclaimed inaugural season, The Grange Festival is back this summer, boasting three new productions on its line-up. One of these is Handel’s Agrippina (June 8 to July 6), which features British bass-baritone Ashley Riches as Claudio.

We spoke with Riches about the art of playing the professional long game, and where he focuses his energy.

Why do you sing professionally?

It was an unexpected career path! I was lined up to start at a city law firm when my singing teacher suggested I go to music college. Eight years later, here I am - it’s definitely something that chose me. I’m pretty lucky with how things turned out.

What do you know now about the singing career that you wish you knew 10 years ago?

This might sound painfully obvious, but focus on your singing. It’s easy, especially at music college, to spend your time working on stagecraft, language proficiency and as much repertoire as possible, when really vocal quality is what matters. It’s not that the other things aren’t important, but make sure that the majority of the work you put in is in the sound you produce. The rest are really nice-to-haves.

The other thing I’d tell myself would be; stick to what you know you sing really well, not just the things that seem impressive or challenging. There’s good reason that successful singers take their time to get to the bigger stuff. Sing within your comfort zone, not at the edge of it.

Ashley Riches, bass-baritone. Photo by Debbie Scanlon.

How do you stay healthy and sane while traveling for work?

The mobile and solitary nature of the job is one of the hardest things for singers, so my time with my family is really important to me. I’m really careful about letting my job compromise that and I’ve been lucky enough (so far) to have a good balance between time at home vs. travelling. When away I read and write a lot, which in combination with cross-fit and crosswords, keeps me sane.

Do you have any advice for young singers with low or dramatic Fachs, who find themselves playing the “waiting game” between school and professional life?

Honestly, I would say look for things you can sing. I don’t know how many people there are whose voices are so dramatic they can only sing Wagner. Equally, if you’re a low bass, you may not be at the stage to give people your Grand Inquisitor, but there are so many roles in Handel and Monteverdi (and in the baroque repertoire as a whole) that are crying out for a true low bass. If you really can’t find anything that suits, I would say do the things that are important to you - whether that’s travel or starting a family - so that when you feel ready to go you can really hit the ground running.

If you didn’t sing for a living, what would you do instead?

I have no idea, maybe I’d be a lawyer who daydreams about being an opera singer! Honestly if I didn’t sing I would still work in something arts and culture focused. I think there’s a lot of work to do in opening up the arts to new types of people - whether that’s making it more entertaining or reflective of society as a whole, so a job that was focused on that challenge would be fascinating.

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