Of Arias and Aspirations: The Musical Journey of Asia’s Jewel, Jade Riccio

May 13, 2023 – Redge

Classically-trained opera singer Jade Riccio on unsure beginnings, the transition from the stage to the studio, and teaching high notes to high society.

A Sound Decision

To hear Jade Riccio perform opera at one of Europe’s concert halls, or the Americas, or closer to home at Singapore’s Esplanade or our very own Cultural Center of the Philippines, is breath-taking. Seeing her up close has the same effect.

Her Italian lineage gives off a Demi Moore-vibe, while her eyes glitter with every new idea, her hands expounding every felt emotion.

“As a child, I could always carry a tune,” she recalls, “but I could never finish a song!” Growing up in Palawan, Riccio’s father was always puzzled about how her daughter would sing beautifully, til somewhere along the way her voice would either break or she would simply give up. “My father was my first teacher,” Jade shares, “he would play Etta James, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Brightman and Pavarotti while taking us to school! I’d have to tell him: ‘can we play something fun??’” To which the elder Riccio would respond “no, no, listen.”

And Jade did.

At the behest of her father (who confesses that his daughter was born to Mozart playing in the background), Jade applied for college at the UST Conservatory of Music, Major in Vocal Performance. There, during auditions and with everyone prepared, she chose a snappy pop song…and was given a one out of 30. “We might as well fail spectacularly!” She says in Filipino. Despite some teachers encouraging her to shift, she decided to persist for 6 months, before deciding whether or not to stay the entire 8-year course.

Starting off without even the knowledge of how to read notes, and keeping in mind that she would tire early in a song and fail to reach high notes, Jade became curious on how she could improve. This curiosity would fuel her hard work, and combined with her passion, she would rapidly reach both high notes and high scores. “I made so many sacrifices to learn,” Jade confesses, “I would book studios and hear others sing so beautifully. I wanted to sing like that, so I would practice past 5pm. At one point the teachers were saying they should collect my rent monthly— because I was there everyday, anyway!”

Yet even with this investment, it was not until a few months in, during her first performance with her parents in the front row, which would seal her fate as a classical artist. “Even though my mentor cautioned that I wasn’t quite ready for the piece, I sang my father’s favorite aria.” Debuting her version of “O’Mio Babbino Caro (My Dearest Darling Daddy)” along with two other pieces, Jade’s performance moved her parents to tears, exclaiming that “you couldn’t sing one song before, and now you can sing three?!”

Coincidentally, O’Mio Babbino Caro is about a daughter asking her father for permission to be betrothed. Upon hearing this, the elder Riccio thus gave his daughter up to the world of music.

And Asia’s Jewel began to gleam.

Career High Notes

They say hard work pays for itself and in Jade’s case, it did. Bestowed a scholarship by Opera patron, Dr. George Yang (McDonald’s Philippines), Riccio found herself taking singing masterclasses in Europe, representing her school and the country for competitions, and as part of the Pavarotti Trophy-winning UST Singers. “I learned to be comfortable not being comfortable…I must be doing something right. Being in the choir also taught me discipline and dedication.” she recollects. She also there met one of her early mentors, choir conductor Fidel Calalang, Jr.

Many say that a musician’s life does not a rich person make, but to this Jade explains that the career has been her only source of income for years. “Hard work beats talent when talent isn’t working hard!” She espouses. Her impressive haul of trophies through the years (the National Music Competition for young artists, 2014, the Jovita Fuentes Vocal competition in2015, the Aliw Award for Best Female Classical Performing Artist and Best Female Crossover Artist for 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2022,. )— back up her words.

As a dean’s lister for 8 straight years (along with playing varsity for track, volleyball, and badminton), Jade is a self-confessed nerd. “Instead of shopping, I used my money to take masterclasses here and abroad.” Sharing these techniques to her classmates back home, she was told she has a knack for teaching— despite her initial shyness and hesitation. “I also realized that some teachers are a bit selfish with technique. I did not like that. I wanted to be someone who was happy to share everything I knew.” Jade at the time did not know that this realization and her colleagues’ words would inspire her to start a secret dream— establishing her own little school of music. It would later be the Riccio Music & Artistry.

While most people consider the end of formal schooling as a time to relax, Jade’s early career would demand of her even more effort. “I made so many sacrifices,” she says, “I’ve missed so many family gatherings, so many birthdays. At one point I had 4 operas in 2011 at CCP (the Cultural Center of the Philippines). I almost lived there!”

Among other places she’s spent a considerable time in because of concert life have been: United States, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, France, Italy, Australia , Belgium, Japan, South Korea, Prague, United Kingdom, China, Spain, Taiwan, Singapore and many more.

Her career would only have a slight hiccup when it came to non-singing aspects. “My sisters were my first managers!” Jade says. As the eldest of three, she would trust Beau and Sandra for her representation. “I can’t get mad at anyone. Disappointed, yes. But never mad.” Trusting came easy as for Jade, family is everything.

Andrew Fernando, her mentor and manager after her siblings , became took on that role for 8 years before succumbing to a heart attack in August of 2022. “Now i’m trying to do things on my own.,” Jade says, “we always love learning something new and I’ve learned that I can manage my time well in doing all these things (her various roles).”

Jade’s dedication to her craft and hunger for constant learning, would see her cast as ensemble, to minor parts, and eventually to lead roles.

Among her over a dozen operas, some notable performances include: Noli Me Tangere the Opera in 2017 & La Traviata with Ballet Manila in 2022. She has also lent her voice in numerous concerts with some of the country’s leading orchestras: Philippines Philharmonic, Manila Symphony, and the UST Symphony, even guesting as a soloist and conductor for a choral competition in Torrevieja, Spain— where she won second place.

Of course, it’s takes a village to raise a talent. Jade credits Direk Floy Quintos as one of her early mentors— an important part in any artist’s success. “He encouraged me when I had to kiss on stage. My father was livid (Jade was 19 at the time)! But (Direk Floy) opened my to eyes the fact that on stage, I am not me. I am the character I am playing. And art is art.”

Riccio would continue to glitter as the crowning jewel in the country’s operatic crown til 2020, which would see her Singapore and Germany bookings cancelled…alongside the rest of the world’s opera.

Popping from Stage to the Studio

Being larger-than-life on stage and used to filling seats as well as the theatre with sweeping melodies and soaring notes, Jade has also deepened her knowledge of the craft— through teaching.

“2020 was actually very productive for me,” says the young vocal coach. Starting the Riccio Music & Artistry school in 2020, the once personal studio now boasts a dozen staff, 15 to 18 personally hand-picked vocal coaches, and almost 300 students.

“I started during the pandemic, I wanted to record myself. So I asked sound engineers to create a studio.” Familiar around celebrity circles, well-known artists started taking notice and asking for lessons. It was only when Jade found a young singer, Maymay Entrata, in need of help recording her latest single “Amakabogera” - which catapulted Jade to true mainstream awareness, and linked her worlds of Opera and Pop Music.

“Maymay worked so hard,” Jade reveals, “we were working from 9 to 11pm everyday for two weeks before recording.” Riccio says that Maymay already had a following, and that it was a challenging delivering on what management wanted. “But I told them ‘we’ll make that happen.’” After the actual recording (which took about half a day), management told Jade that she looked intense and focused. Jade says that this is her true nature when in performance mode, but that the thought of getting bashed by Maymay’s 7 million followers also has an effect!

Since then, Jade has been Maymay’s official vocal coach.

Other notables who also trust her for vocal improvement are Ina and Erika Raymundo, Joy and Amari Sotto, Scarlet Belo, Shania Gomez, Pepe Herrera, Issa Pressman, Olivia Manzano, Venice Guttierez, Mikaela Lagdameo, and others.

Now well into establishing herself as an academy CEO, music and production director, and talent manager, Jade is overseeing construction of a 150 sqm academy in Pasig. She says that as a mentor, it is important to lead by example— instilling the same hard work and dedication and passion she puts into her craft into her students.

“Hey, not to brag but you’re very lucky to have me as a coach! So you have to put in the work!” Jade says playfully.

Alongside her “secret weapon” for younger kids (her cat, Silver), Jade constantly reminds her pupils that “there is no better teacher than the stage. When you are on there, it’s just you. You will realize things about yourself.”

To this end, she is hosting a homegrown production in November, at the RCBC Theater in Makati— which will feature some of Jade’s students who are as young as 6. “I’m very excited for my students, all of them!”

Never Enough


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