Pearlman served as director of the Chicago training program from 1995-2006. Previously, he was director of the Eastman Opera Theatre at Rochester's Eastman School of Music from 1976 to 1995.
William Mason, general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, said, "Richard Pearlman brought the Lyric Opera Center to new levels of excellence and renown, and no one in the country was a greater champion of young American singers or of American music than he was. He was important in the career development of so many artists."
These students included Ren_e Fleming, Matthew Polenzani, Dina Kuznetsova, and Nicole Cabell. Bass-baritone Jason Grant, who worked extensively with Pearlman at Eastman, said, "He was encyclopedic in his knowledge of singing and was the most influential person I encountered during my student years. He held me to standards that I didn't think I was capable of achieving at such a young age, but he convinced me that I would achieve them. At the end of his second decade at Eastman, when most other educators would have been lethargically coasting, he was always finding new ways of reaching audiences."
"My favorite memory of Eastman," Grant added, "was performing at inner city schools. It seemed that we reached audiences in those performances like no other I have sung for in my life. Bringing opera to the children in Rochester was one of the many concepts that Richard brought to fruition."
Pearlman was born in Norwalk, Connecticut. He received a degree in English from Columbia University before apprenticing with legendary directors including Gian Carlo Menotti, Franco Zeffirelli, and Luchino Visconti. His directorial debut was the first American staging of Berlioz's B_atrice et B_n_dict during the 1964-65 season of the Opera Society of Washington (now the Washington National Opera).
He served as the Washington company's general director from 1968 to 1970; his work included a production of Menotti's The Medium recorded by Columbia Records, and a production of Britten's The Turn of the Screw. In 1982, he remounted the latter production at Eastman with his then-student Ren_e Fleming in the cast.
His first production at the Santa Fe Opera was CosÐ fan tutte in 1975; he returned in 1982 to stage the world premiere of George Rochberg's The Confidence Man. In 1971 he staged The Who's rock opera Tommy (starring Bette Midler) for Seattle Opera; in 1979 the American premiere of the Mahler/Weber Die drei Pintos for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis; and in 1983 the American premiere of Iain Hamilton's Anna Karenina.
He died from cancer at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.