Young Artist Profile: Ashley Riches
The British baritone on blockbuster opera and why he chose the operatic path.
11 December 2013 at 1.27pm | 1 Comment
‘The piece is extraordinary as a theatrical construction’, he says. ‘It has this persuasive, pulsating, driving narrative that just drags you into it. It really is one of the most entertaining operas.’
Ashley will sing the role of Moralès, opposite Roberto Alagna’s Don José. ‘Moralès is a soldier driven not by a sense of duty, but by his hormones. He is the first soloist to sing, and really sets the tone for what life is like in a hot, sensuous and sweaty Seville.’
Ashley joined the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in 2012, making his Royal Opera debut as St. Jacques to Roberto Alagna’s Le Cid in the Our Extraordinary World gala. ‘It was the stuff of dreams really,’ he reflects. ‘The Royal Opera House showing the very best of what it does, all executed with such care, such thoughtfulness and just total commitment.’
However, despite a passion for music, a career in opera has not always been on the cards for Ashley. ‘My grandpa was a jazz trumpeter for about twenty years before becoming an accountant, and my Mum was the village organist and a singer of the shower variety,’ he says casually when asked to describe his musical background. ‘I played the flute and piano to quite a high standard, and only joined the choir at 15 as it seemed to be part of the deal with a music college’, he explains.
It wasn’t until he went to study English at Cambridge University, joining the King’s College Choir, that he began to take singing more seriously. ‘It was an extraordinary three years for me,’ he explains. We rehearsed for about 20 hours a week so it was a real lesson in dedication and collaboration. Music stopped being a hobby and I started to consider it as a potential profession.’
Over the course of the three years, Ashley performed in two operas, Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Mozart’s Don Giovanni. ‘Performing Don Giovanni in second year was a life-changing experience for me, and the reason I chose to follow the operatic path,’ he explains. ‘It was the first real opportunity I had to work at constructing a role and stitching together music and theatre to feel how the two elements work together.’
He went on to study with Robert Dean at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, winning a scholarship for the opera course. Now, one year in to the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, he has performed on the Main Stage alongside the likes of Bryan Hymel, Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann.
‘There is an enormous amount of impressive work that goes on here,’ he says, ‘and to see the very best in the world in the rehearsal room, on good and bad days, is extraordinary. Knowing just how much dedication and hard work goes into performing some atrociously difficult things has been a real inspiration.’
Following Carmen, Ashley will perform in Turandot, L’Ormindo, La traviata, Dialogues des Carmélites and Ariadne auf Naxos.
The Jette Parker Young Artists Programme is supported by Oak Foundation. Find out more about the programme.