On the eve of graduating from USC, Richard Bernstein ’89 told the Daily Trojan that he dreamed of singing with the famed Metropolitan Opera within 10 years.
He made it in six.
His unwavering dedication to each role and a deep, dynamic voice — The New York Times has praised it as robust, with “an especially rich lower range” — have kept him there ever since. The operatic bass is in his 25th season with the New York institution, his resume brimming with nearly 450 performances. “In some ways, it feels like I’ve been doing it a long time,” Bernstein says. “In other ways, it feels like it was yesterday that it all began, that I just graduated from USC. I’ve been very fortunate to have literally not stopped working since right out of college.”
He credits his longevity in one of the world’s premier opera houses to his training at the USC Thornton School of Music, where mentors like conductors Rodney Eichenberger and Randall Behr drilled into him the preparation and sacrifice it takes to be among the best. Behind every glittering gala or glamorous opening night are untold hours of rigorous study, memorization and rehearsal. “It’s all about preparation,” Bernstein says. “Imagine holding an encyclopedia that’s two inches thick. That’s about how much music I’m constantly going over.”
In some ways, it feels like I’ve been doing it a long time.In other ways, it feels like it was yesterday that it all began, that I just graduated from USC. I’ve been very fortunate to have literally not stopped working since right out of college.
After studying ancient Egyptian, Bernstein recently played the role of Aye in Philip Glass’ Akhnaten. It’s one of four productions the 53-year-old appears in this season, and he’s an understudy in two others. “From September to May, it’s a marathon for me,” he says.
Healthy food and exercise, with only the occasional glass of wine, help him stay in prime shape for the demanding schedule. Bernstein also draws strength from his family — wife, Jaimie, and children, Josh, Sophie and Zach.
Because he has been a full-time company member with the Met for more than a decade, he spends most nights at home rather than on the road, a rare luxury in the opera world. Most singers travel the globe as freelancers, but Bernstein’s dependable and steady presence since his debut in 1995 has earned him a reputation as the Met’s go-to guy. He is ready to step in for challenging parts or unexpected jams, like when a singer backs out of a role at the last minute.
“I strive for consistency, doing my best and letting the results be what they may,” he says. When not poring over lines in other languages — from French to Sanskrit — Bernstein offers private voice lessons and mentors young singers striving for their big break. He can see himself doing more of that in the coming years. Perhaps one day he’ll become a full-time teacher for the next generation of opera performers. But for now, he is not quite ready to give up the bright lights of New York City.
“I’m not done yet,” he says. “I love what I’m doing.”