Undergrad Student Strikes Harmony between Entrepreneurship and Opera

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Last year, Rob Riordan seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to practice and perform opera in one of the world’s top destinations for vocal performance. He spent his summer touring Italy with La Musica Lirica and Opera Viva.

Throughout the experience, he improved his Italian language skills, developed his vocal acumen, learned stage directing, and discovered what it takes to build a career in opera.

“The program let us perform in some amazing venues around central Italy that have premiered works by famous Italian composers,” says Riordan, ’17 BSB & BM. “I learned a lot about the opera industry itself and learned that it’s a tough industry to get into. But if you work hard at it, it’s possible.”

In meeting established opera performers, this entrepreneurship and music major was reminded of the versatility of his business skills: he learned it takes more than talent to make it.

“I realized that succeeding in opera requires someone who is persistent, has a business mindset, and is able to market themselves and network and make those contacts that get you the jobs that you want,” he says.

Business runs in the family

Since childhood, Riordan has been entrenched in music and business, in equal measure. Growing up, he was captivated by the fast-changing nature of his family’s business—a cellular carrier based out of Wisconsin that is now among the top 10 largest in the country. And while he initially pictured himself as a doctor or entrepreneur, he discovered a passion for music through his high school choir.

“I realized that I really enjoyed performing and singing in front of people. But at the same time, I wanted to have something that would sustain me more than a music degree. That’s why I decided to study both business and music,” he says.

The University of Minnesota offered excellent programs in both vocal performance and business—so Riordan signed on for both.  

Balancing rehearsals and classes 

He returned to the United States last fall to a full course load, taking 20 credits each semester toward both his degrees. Additionally, he upholds his duties as the lead performer in the University of Minnesota’s production of Lady in the Dark.

“I’ll go from being in music theory class in the morning, then in the afternoon I have conducting class or entrepreneurship classes, and in the evening I have rehearsals. It definitely gets crazy,” he says. “I work really hard to keep everything in line, and also to understand the importance of school.”

He says caring for his dog Darcy helps him keep it all in perspective.

Shaping a future in music

Currently, Riordan is mapping his path to singing opera professionally. He’s applying to internships with the Hennepin Theater Trust and auditioning for graduate programs in music.

But he’s also considering careers off-stage. He’d like to someday create a program for young singers, similar to the experience he had in Italy.

“I was talking to the program director in Italy and she talked about having been an opera singer and deciding to put this program together for young singers to come to Italy to learn about opera. She talked about how she had to go through and take online classes for running the business. I think at some point, I would love to be able to have some kind of program to educate young singers and help them hone their craft,” he says.

Watch Riordan perform Gioachino Rossini's aria "Quoniam tu solus sanctus" at the Parrocchia di San Pietro in Culto in Novafeltria, Italy: