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Richard Bushman - Exploring depths of human emotions in ‘The Pearl Fishers’
April 26, 2015, 2:40 pm

Richard Bushman Opera Director, orchestra conductor and stage director, met with The Times Kuwait to speak about the success of Pearl Fishers. Mr. Bushman grew up in the United States, and was a violin student at the age 12 as well as played in orchestras and sang in choirs.  After university, he worked on Wall Street and in investment business around the world, but kept music as a hobby. His passion for music is quite evident, and he never lost his love even after moving to Kuwait. He said, “I came to Kuwait to work as a banker, but I retired about two years ago, and now I try to spend as much time as I can on music.” 

Speaking about how his passion for music began to take root, Bushman said, “When you are a young music student, you always look at the students who are more advanced. I loved it when they invited me to play in groups with them, and still today, my favorite is to play chamber music, which involves just a few players, maybe four or five.” 

My mother was an enthusiastic amateur musician says the director, “I guess my love for music came from her.” Aside from a love for music, appreciation goes to his mother for introducing him to the excitement and beauty of opera. He reminisced fondly of his mother taking him to see Puccini’s Tosca when he was only six or seven years old, and while he could not understand the story, he loved the sword-fighting and the excitement.

Bushman has been pivotal to the success of the opera, focusing on strengthening the key parts that led to the exquisite production. Lavishing praise upon Georges Bizet’s opera, Bushman said,“It has three main lead roles, and each of them have several beautiful songs to sing, including some that are among the most memorable ever written.  In this opera, Bizet wrote duets and trios for the lead singers, which is not very common.  This is surprising to me, because audiences and singers love these duets.  It also has good parts for the chorus and great dance music.”

“The three lead roles are all challenging- they sing some very high notes, which is difficult to do beautifully and then they sing some very slow songs, which requires excellent breath control; and they have to sing while acting some very turbulent emotions. Also, there is quite a lot of what we call ‘recitative’; this is music that tries to mimic the natural rhythm of speaking, so it does not have strict timing and the singer can speed up and slow down as he feels is right, which makes it hard for the orchestra to stay exactly in time with them.”

 “The dancers, the chorus, the orchestra, and the soloists all rehearsed separately until just a few days before the performance.  Each group had to trust the others and do their best to have the individual parts completely ready. Then, when we got together, suddenly we found that there were many adjustments to be made.”

Revealing the universal appeal of Pearl Fishers, Bushman notes, “When composers look for a story to write an opera about, they try to find one with great heights and depths of human emotion:  love, hatred, happiness, sadness, anger, peacefulness.  The Pearl Fishers is an excellent example of a well-chosen opera story because all of these elements are vividly on display.”

“Bizet wrote this as a very young man, just 25 years old, and already at this young age, he had a great gift for showing human feeling through music; it cannot be faked, and audiences respond to it. He tries to imagine in the opera what the music of Ceylon would sound like, or how the people of Ceylon would behave, but clearly he did not actually know. For him, the exotic setting is just a way to ask questions which musicians, writers, painters, and poets have asked many times:  is romantic love more important than loyal friendship?  Is forgiveness more important than justice?  If you owe loyal obedience to two conflicting ideals, how can you decide what is the right thing to do?”

Disclosing the most crucial role he had to play in the production, Bushman said, “The most crucial part of my job is assembling all of the unique talents that are required for the production:  the right dance company; the right chorus singers; the right violin players, clarinet players, harp players; and the right soloists.  I have to work with each group without the others and try to imagine in my mind what it will be like when they all come together just three days before the first performance.”

His expands on his modus operandi for the practice session, “I stand down in the front of the orchestra, where I hope that everyone can see me, and through the gestures and actions of a conductor, try to remind everyone of the things we worked on:  here is where we will be extra loud or extra quiet, here is where we will slow down or speed up, here is where we have to show tender feeling.”

Clarifying the role that his wife played in the success of the opera, Bushman adds, “My number one advantage as a conductor is being married to someone who is an outstanding pianist.  It makes everything easier.  The other thing is that many conductors like me have to be prepared to create and operate their own orchestra or opera company in order to gain experience and enjoy this amazing opportunity.  This means being responsible for fundraising, moving furniture, sweeping the floors, which in my mind is worth it for the chance to do the music.”

Revealing his future plans, the director says,“There are too many to list them all; I love just about all forms of music. For next year, I hope to be able to do some concerts just with the orchestra, because there is incredibly great music written for that format.  I want to form the Messila Beach Blues band and have some outdoor jazz concerts.  I am also working on a plan to do a jazz/rock Shakespeare concert; and of course, if things work out, more opera.”

Christina Pinto
Staff Writer

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