ONE the few disadvantages that Richard Hansen, who plays Tamino in Sheffield City Opera’s production of Mozart’s Magic Flute next week, has found since arriving to the UK is regularly getting up in the early hours of the morning.
“As a New Zealander, it’s quite natural to be a rugby fan and, as a massive fan of the All Blacks, Wellington Hurricanes and Canterbury Crusaders, I’m no exception and often have to get up quite early to watch my teams playing,” explains the singer.
He came to this country, via Australia where his dad’s job had taken his family in 2001, a year ago to study for a masters degree in solo performance at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
Having started singing in his primary school choir in New Zealand, at the age of 11 he found himself in the children’s chorus of an Opera New Zerolaland production of La Boheme in 1998 and the following year playing the Second Boy in The Magic Flute.
“It was there that I developed a love for singing and got a small taste of what the professional opera world might be like,” he recalls.
When he moved to Australia he went to St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney with its “thriving music department,” eventually becoming a choral scholar and then lay clerk in the Cathedral Choir.
In his final year of studying music and politics, which he was thinking of going into, at the University of Sydney he changed his mind and decided to pursue singing – “and perhaps have a career in opera.”
To this end, he did a postgraduate degree in music at the University of Melbourne and was then accepted on the honours programme of an undergraduate music degree at the University of Newcastle – New South Wales, not Tyneside.
Concurrently, he continued singing in choirs, at St Andrew’s Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral during his year in Melbourne and, most recently, the Choir of Christ Church St Laurence in Sydney.
He also sang larger-scale choral repertoire with the Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Singers, which gave him the chance “to sing in some great venues, like the Sydney Opera House!”
Cue, his operatic ambitions, and how he comes to be in Manchester to further them, and also a return to distant Northern hemisphere roots as Hansen is a Danish surname.
“No-one from my family has lived in Denmark since the 1850s,” he says.
“My great-great grandfather was the last to be born there and he apparently ran away to sea when he was 14 and decided to jump ship when he got to New Zealand, settling in a small town south of Christchurch in the South Island.”
But back to Richard’s budding opera career as a tenor, which began in earnest he says in 2007 as a chorus member with Sydney-based Pacific Opera.
He continues: “It’s been developing over the last four years as I’ve continued to work on my voice and was able to sing small roles for companies in Australia before undertaking larger ones in the last year with companies in the UK, like West Riding Opera (Nemorino), West Sussex Opera (Almaviva – Rossini’s Barber), now Sheffield City Opera, as well as productions put on by the RNCM.
“When I was coming to the end of my time at the University of Newcastle in Australia it was suggested by my teacher and other mentors that I should come to the UK and audition for a place at one of the major music colleges around the UK and I was lucky enough to be offered a place at RNCM.
“I had the offer of a place in the Opera Programme at Sydney Conservatorium of Music but the scale and standard of opportunities for a young developing professional opera singer are so much greater here in the UK. It’s a pathway taken by many young singers from Australia and New Zealand.”
He is under no illusions that the path is going to be a smooth one, however.
“For many years now my ambition has been to have a professional career, singing opera and oratorio to audiences around the world, and over time that ambition has grown and grown. It’s what I love doing but it’s certainly not a straightforward career path.
“I’m sure the next few years will see plenty more of the focus and perseverance that’s needed to build a singing career and I’m grateful to my family and girlfriend Anna who provide unconditional, wonderful support.”
So how is he finding life with Sheffield City Opera, appearing in his third Magic Flute having also sung Monostatos in Australia?
“I’m really enjoying it. The company have many hard-working and talented individuals and it’s great that they are able to give opportunities to both young aspiring professional singers as well as enthusiastic amateurs.”
And had he not decided on a singing career path?
“Well, probably politics, but when I was very young I wanted to be a cricket and rugby union commentator and my dad often said I would make a good lawyer. I have always been a talker.”