Galatea Speaks – An interview with soprano Nola Richardson

ABS’s 26th subscription season opens this month with a mixed bill of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 and Handel’s Acis and Galatea performed January 23-26 in three Bay Area venues and in Davis. Taking on the title role of Galatea in Handel’s gorgeous pastoral is soprano Nola Richardson. We took a moment to speak with Ms Richardson about the role and the challenges of singing Handel.

Nola Richardson Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Nola Richardson
Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

Many ABS fans heard you as an Academy participant at ABS’s 2013 San Francisco Summer Bach Festival where you were a soloist in Handel’s Esther, Biber’s Missa Salisburgensis, and Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Where have your musical journeys taken you since?

Since 2013 I’ve sung a lot more Bach! I performed the Mass in B Minor again with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and the St. John Passion with Bach in Baltimore. I also sang Cantata 51 (Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen) with the Bach Sinfonia in DC and again along with Scarlatti’s “Su le Sponde del Tebro” in my debut with the Baltimore Symphony last summer. I am now attending Yale’s Institute for Sacred Music, a program focused on Early Music and concert repertoire. I’ve been kept very busy there with lots of stunning repertoire including Charpentier, Zelenka, and music of the English Restoration period.

Acis and Galatea is one of Handel’s most enduring and popular operatic works. What do you think attracts listeners to this work? As an artist, what do you find most rewarding in performing it?

Well, certainly what attracts me to it is the fact that the arias are exquisitely beautiful! I also think that the smaller scope of the work, and the English text have allowed it to remain very approachable. I love the intimacy of the text and music and I feel it gives a lot of opportunities for a singer to be delicate and subtle which you don’t always get in larger operatic works!

Compared with other Baroque composers like Bach, Scarlatti, or Purcell, are there features of Handel’s music that make singing it especially thrilling or challenging?

Handel gives the singer a great deal of freedom, probably because of the caliber of singers he was working with. In order to sing Handel really well, singers have to be willing to make lots of decisions, as opposed to Bach which is generally much more elaborate and harmonically complex. The ornaments and phrasing in Handel’s music need to be unique and reflective of each individual’s abilities and natural sense of expression.

After studying with Jeffrey Thomas at the ABS Academy, what are you looking forward to in working with him again in Acis and Galatea?

I am thrilled to work with Jeffrey again! I learned so much from him about shaping phrases and the elements of Baroque articulation. I know Jeffrey will shape this piece beautifully and it will be lovely to sing with the orchestra under his guidance!

Are there any composers whose works you would like to delve into more? Dream projects?

I absolutely love French Baroque music, so I hope to get the chance to sing more Rameau, Lully, Charpentier, Couperin etc. I also want to sing a lot more Baroque opera. Dream roles include Poppea, Cleopatra, and Semele. In general any Baroque is just wonderful in my book! But I’m also a sucker for Mozart, Schubert, Barber, Argento–really, I’m just tickled about most of the pieces I get to sing!