WIU Music Alumnus performing at opera houses around the world
August 26, 2022
An excerpt from Liszt’s Faust Symphony, with the Hungarian National Philharmonic and its Choir in Budapest.
MACOMB, IL — When alumnus Ric Furman enrolled at Western Illinois University in the 1990s, he was already determined to become an engineer.
Although the now world-famous opera singer played in several Macomb High School musical ensembles, mostly to hang out with friends, he entered WIU as a freshman in 1993, with a declared major in pre-engineering. .
Previously, on a field trip by a high school choir to the University of Illinois to sing with other choirs and conductors, WIU Music Professor Emeritus Brian Leeper served chaperone and ordered Furman that his future studies include coming to WIU to become one. voice students in his studio.
“I was interested in this idea because it came with a scholarship, so I decided to go for a music minor. I was taking classes and lessons; I was doing everything a music major would do. and that an engineering major would do,” Furman said. “But I was having so much fun that I ended up switching to music.”
A year later, Leeper retired, and Furman was part of a committee assembled to find a new voice teacher for WIU. Each faculty applicant was asked to teach a student a music lesson as part of their interview, and that student turned out to be Furman. These talks were Furman’s first time meeting WIU Professor Emeritus Lynn Thompson.
“Students were involved in the hiring process, asked questions during interviews, participated in a mock lesson in front of faculty, and talked about what they observed,” he said. “Lynn was a candidate and after the lesson was over I told the committee that I would love to be in his studio if they hired him. He made a huge first impression on me. It was the engagement in his performance – it drew you in and made you feel like you were a part of it. Something about that made me say I wanted to know more about it.
After Thompson was hired to teach at WIU, Furman became the first student enrolled at his studio. Thompson retired in May and Furman performed at his retirement ceremony earlier this month while in town to visit family. Thompson said he was incredibly humbled and honored to know he had at least a small role in creating the artist Furman has become.
“One of the real joys of my teaching career at WIU has been watching Ric Furman’s career grow and flourish,” Thompson said. While at WIU, Ric was the kind of student a private voice teacher dreams of. He was curious and always ready to try new ideas. On several occasions, Ric and I made trips to the Lyric Opera in Chicago, so that he could see professional opera with world-class singers. His post-performance comments were always insightful and showed a genuine passion for the art form which ultimately led to his successful career as a singer.”
It was Thompson who directed Furman to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where the retired WIU voice teacher earned his doctorate. Furman auditioned with 430 other potential students for a place in the conservatory’s master’s program. He was one of 24 graduate students accepted. Furman graduated from WIU in 1998, having also studied acting and directing, both of which are essential to his performances.
“Opera is a combination of all art forms,” he said. “There is painting, design, costumes, make-up, lights, an orchestra, dance, acting and voice, videography and graphics… It is difficult to find a form artistic that does not appear in the opera.”
After completing his master’s degree at CCM, Furman performed with the Cincinnati and Dayton Operas and transitioned from baritone to tenor singer.
“My first job was as a tenor; that’s where my voice leaned,” he said. “After that, my career took off like a rocket, but there was a slow, steady decline over several years. I was working at uninspiring levels.”
Between 2007 and 2008, Furman was performing a few contracts, and in 2010 he was auditioning in New York and Europe. It was then that he made the personal decision to try and audition for heavier repertoire.
His first audition was informative for his former agent, so he could determine a market for the flourishing singer. His second audition was for Speight Jenkins, whom Furman calls, “one of the greatest impresarios of our time”.
“We talked and I sang, then he asked for a second track and we talked again,” Furman said. “He asked for a third piece, then he shook my hand and gave me my first contract. Since then, I haven’t stopped working.”
Furman performed in the United States, including at Carnegie Hall, but he and his wife eventually established a base in Wiesbaden, Germany. He said the beautiful city is 20 minutes from Frankfurt Airport and he can get to almost anywhere else he happens by train.
“Competition for jobs is very strong and the biggest obstacle to endurance,” he said. “If you can survive the competition, you will succeed.”
Furman once learned that 17,000 students nationwide graduate each year hoping to become professional singers and that the U.S. market can only support about 400. He added that the COVID- 19 was difficult for the industry as it closed cinemas around the world.
Ironically, Furman was given 12 months of paternity leave after the birth of his second son, to help him get through time. After that, he mainly did radio and concerts.
“We were mostly rehearsing for shows that we would never perform,” he said.
Furman is proud to be a Leatherneck alumnus and said the opportunities offered by the University to MHS students spurred his interest in opera.
“The first opera I ever saw was an extension of WIU,” Furman said. “It was a Puccini performance, Gianni Schicchi, and WIU brought it to MHS choir classes. That’s when I got the idea of what opera is.”
He also performed with the WIU Orchestra at their 2017 Winter Concert, while in Macomb for a visit.
Furman, who now performs as a holdenor, continues to live in Germany with his wife and two sons. Her father, Professor Emeritus DuWayne Furman, taught at WIU’s College of Education and Human Services and retired to Macomb. Furman’s mother, Janet, graduated from WIU and earned her bachelor’s degree in home economics in 1974. Her brother, Stan, attended WIU for two years, and her brother, Tom, earned two bachelor’s degrees from WIU, one in economics and one in marketing. , both in 1996, and earned an MBA in 2004.
For more information on Furman’s career, visit ricfurman.com.
Posted by: Jodi Pospeschil ([email protected])
University Communications and Marketing Office