Lifestyle The Arts All Roads Lead to Messiah
All Roads Lead to Messiah
Written by Jan Hallam


Bass-baritone Christopher Richardson, who heads to Perth for the Perth Symphonic Chorus’s annual performance of Handel’s Messiah on December 17, has taken his considerable musical talent on a ride through the lands of performance-level cello and piano to a flirtation with contemporary singing to settle in the rich soils of operatic bass baritone where a career in oratorio and opera has taken hold and is flourishing.201611-Messiah-Christmas-ChorusPerth Symphonic Chorus and the Christmas Choir

Thirteen years ago, on his graduation from the Hobart Conservatorium, he and his university sweetheart, classical singer Amy Dean, were married and the proud parents of a daughter. At 23, the aspiring professional musicians were up to their ears in nappies.

“When our first child was born, Amy and I decided that we would have our family early and work where and when we could,” Christopher told Medical Forum. “We now have three children – two girls and a boy aged 13, 11 and 10.”

The arts industry in Australia is relatively small, so networks and connections are vital. At the Tasmanian Con some serious musicians had made tree changes to the Apple Isle allowing Christopher to study with internationally regarded teachers such as pianist Beryl Sedivka, mezzo soprano Marilyn Smith and the acclaimed soprano Jane Edwards.

Starting out a singing career with a young family may not have been the traditional route to operatic fame and fortune but neither was it the end of opportunity for the couple – it meant thinking outside the box.

Christopher graduated with a performance award for piano and the most promising award for his singing but then came the hard slog of learning his craft. Performances in the concert halls of Hobart and oratorios around Tasmania with teaching in between helped pay the bills. Some luck with property investment in 2003 on the eve of the property boom helped the young couple keep their heads above water.

“In 2003, we scraped together the money to buy a 4 x 2 just 10 minutes south of Hobart for $140,000 and in 12 months it had doubled in value, so for a few years we bought up property, renovated and sold,” Christopher said.

“Five years ago, we decided it was time to become more adventurous with our careers. The children were all in school and we had transitioned through that hard slog of pre-schoolers. We considered relocating to the UK but talking to trusted friends and colleagues we decided to stay where our professional and personal networks were. So we made the move to Sydney.”

And the work has rolled in – regular appearances with orchestras along the eastern seaboard, interesting roles with Pinchgut Opera, and exciting New Music projects such as David Chisolm’s extraordinary work Kursk (a requiem for a Russian submariner) are among the performances on a growing CV.

And critics are taking notice and awards are springing up too – a 2011 Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Aria Award and a scholarship to famous Wagnerian soprano Lisa Gasteen’s National Opera School.

Christopher’s outing with Dr Margaret Pride’s Perth Symphonic Chorus will be the first time he has been west but the Perth concert will be his second Messiah for the season.

“I’m looking forward to working with the PSC – and singing Messiah is wonderful. Handel and Bach are masters.”

Christopher will share the stage this year with soprano Jennifer Barrington, countertenor Christopher Field and tenor Paul McMahon and the Perth Baroque Orchestra, led by violinist Paul Wright.

Last year’s experiment to supplement the chorus with a people’s choir proved so successful that it is on again with rehearsals beginning in November. If you would like to sing in four of Handel’s magnificent choruses with the PSC then go to the website for more details.


Michael Cassel and Cameron Mackintosh