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Saturday, August 24, 2013

100 YEARS OF RICHARD TUCKER, BY HENRY R. TUCKER



On Wednesday, August 28, the operatic world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Tucker.  For this very special occasion, I am privileged to feature a commemorative article by Henry R. Tucker, one of the legendary tenor's three sons.  I have also invited Dr. James A. Drake, the great tenor's authorized biographer, to introduce Mr. Tucker to our readers.

"Henry R. Tucker, an attorney-at-law and insurance broker, has a formidable knowledge of his father's recordings, roles, and artistic legacy," writes Dr. Drake.

"With his two brothers, Barry Tucker (a Manhattan stockbroker and the longtime president of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation) and Dr. David Tucker (an ophthalmologist and adjunct professor of medicine at New York University), Henry Tucker is able to speak about his legendary father from an enviable perspective.

"Among his many priceless memories is being with his brother Barry in their father's dressing room between acts during a 1973 Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast of 'La Boheme,' when Luciano Pavarotti telephoned the dressing room to say, 'You have shown us again, Richard, that you are still the king!'

"It is especially fitting that the blog 'Great Opera Singers,' through its creator Edmund St. Austell, will enable Henry Tucker to share with readers around the world not only his thoughts and perspectives, but also an array of audio and video recordings that illustrate the evolvement of Richard Tucker's voice from a youthful lyric tenor into a lirico-spinto voice of dramatic intensity."

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As the youngest of the three sons of Richard and Sara Tucker, there is a sense in which I grew up with my father.  I was born during his second season at the Metropolitan Opera, when my father was only thirty-two years old.  In fact, my birth on January 30, 1946, occurred between performances:  three nights before I was born, my father sang excepts from "Rigoletto" and "La Forza del Destino" in a gala concert at the Met; and a few days afterward, he sang parts of "Traviata" and "Rigoletto" in another Met concert.  The opera season doesn't stop for newborns.

By the time of my Bar Mitzvah in 1959, when I turned thirteen, my father's voice had matured into a lirico-spinto tenor, and he had reached what most critics regarded as the apex of his career.  He was then forty-five.  He was internationally known, his photo had appeared on the cover of national magazines, and he had already been labeled "the American Caruso."  My father, however, had a different view of his career at that point.  He believed that he was just getting started.

Except for a ten-year period in which he made no commercial recordings (there were contractual reasons involved), most of my father's career and the steady, progressive maturation of his voice are reasonably well documented, thanks to the emergence of magnetic tape recording and the affordability of portable audio-recording equipment in the 1950s.

Fortunately too, some of his televised performances were captured by "kinescope" (a late-1940’s technology in which a motion-picture camera was used to film whatever appeared on a television screen), and several years later on videotape, a technology that had not even been conceived when my father made his Met debut.

Only four years after his debut (as Enzo in "La Gioconda" on January 25, 1945), my father co-starred in one of the milestones in the early history of network television.  This milestone event took place on two consecutive Saturday nights in the spring of 1949, when the NBC network televised a concertized performance of Verdi's "Aida," under the baton of the incomparable Arturo Toscanini.   For the principals in the cast, Toscanini had chosen mainly American singers, each of whom he had meticulously coached and rehearsed.

Although the Maestro chose my father for the telecast, it took his skills as a salesman (earlier, my father had sold silk linings in the Manhattan fur market) to persuade Toscanini to cast him as Radames.  During my father's audition, Toscanini asked him to sing "Celeste Aida." When no notes of the famous aria were forthcoming, he had to confess to the Maestro that he had never sung "Celeste Aida" and didn't know any of the other music in the score.

"Tell me, Tucker," Toscanini indignantly exclaimed, "Why should I bother with you when you do not even know one note of 'Celeste Aida,' and not one note of the entire opera?"  My father's reply was what earned him the role of Radames:  "Because you, Maestro, will teach me 'Aida,' and then it will be 100% correct!"

That was precisely what Toscanini needed to hear in order to convince him to give my father the role.  In the young Richard Tucker, the Maestro had found a young tenor for whom "Aida" was a blank slate, who had no pre-conceived interpretation of the role and music of Radames, and who would have nothing to "un-learn" in order to meet Toscanini's exceedingly high standards.

Because "Celeste Aida" is the first full aria in the score of "Aida," most tenors find it very unsettling because its range is extensive (the climax of the aria is a high B-flat), and the tenor has no opportunity to "warm up" the voice before launching into such taxing, intense music.

My father, however, relished the challenge.  To him, the opportunity to perform "Aida" in front of the cameras for millions of television viewers, made him feel like Ted Williams stepping into the batter's box.  In fact, the phrase "home run" was how my father often described his mindset when he was ready to go onstage.  As this kinescope from the 1949 "Aida" telecast will attest, he hit the ball out of the park in "Celeste Aida":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6kyk8AkdWs

Although my father's performance in the "Aida" telecast was uniformly praised at the time, he waited until January 1965 before he added Radames to the roster of his Metropolitan roles.  He was acutely aware that singing the role in two consecutive concerts in a television studio was not at all like performing "Aida" as a complete opera in the cavernous Metropolitan Opera House.

Even by 1949, however, my father's voice had matured noticeably, compared to his timbre before he made his Met debut.  This undated recording of Rachmaninoff's "In the Silence of the Secret Night," which he apparently sang in a broadcast on the WEVD radio station in New York in the early 1940’s illustrates the lyrical quality of his youthful voice and his early mastery of mezza voce technique.  The Rachmaninoff song begins at 3:10 in this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFGRWWeXi4E&feature=youtu.be

Whenever my father was asked where he had learned his impeccable vocal technique, he always credited his teacher, Paul Althouse, the first American-born tenor to be engaged by the Metropolitan Opera without any prior European experience.  (On the subject of teachers, Paul Althouse was the only teacher my father ever had.  Any mention of other alleged "teachers" is nothing but unfounded speculation.)  Until Paul Althouse's death in 1954, my father went to him for a lesson immediately before each of his performances at the Metropolitan.

As those who are familiar with Richard Tucker’s career will know, he had served as the cantor for three prestigious synagogues in the New York area before he began studying with Althouse.  Unquestionably, the cantorate was the foundation of his eventual success as an opera singer.  In his boyhood, when he was known as Ruby Tucker (his birth name was Rubin, and he was always called "Ruby" by his family and close friends), he had been taken by his father to cantor Samuel Weisser, who heard much promise in the soaring alto voice my father possessed as a boy.

When his voice changed after puberty, my father was accepted into the Zavel Zilberts choir, which performed Jewish music throughout the New York area.  After that, he became a part-time cantor and was supplementing his main income as a salesman when he married my mother in February 1936.

It was my maternal grandfather, Louis (Levi) Perelmuth, who helped my father develop as a cantor by arranging for Joseph Mirsky, another young cantor, to teach my father the intricate stylistic nuances of "chazzanuth," the Hebrew term for cantorial singing.  As with Paul Althouse, his teacher, and Joseph Garnett, who coached my father in his operatic roles, Joseph Mirsky became an integral member of the Richard Tucker "team."  Another vital influence in his cantorial singing was the composer Sholom Secunda, whose liturgical and folk music my father sang on radio, in concerts and on recordings.

It was at the Brooklyn Jewish Center, which was then the largest synagogue in the New York area, that Edward Johnson, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, came to hear my father sing a Shabbos Eve service on a Friday evening, and another service at 9:30 on Shabbos, the next morning.  After the second service, Edward Johnson and Frank St. Leger, one of his assistants, knocked on the door of the closet-size room that my father used as an office.  When he opened the door, my father was so surprised by their presence that he could only manage to say, "What are you gentlemen doing here?"

Johnson explained that for several months Wilfrid Pelletier, one of the Met's long-time conductors, had been urging Johnson to hear this phenomenal young cantor at the Brooklyn Jewish Center.  Johnson did so, and immediately promised my father an audition at the Met, which was arranged soon afterward.  A contract for the 1944-1945 season was then drawn up, and my father began preparing the role of Enzo for his upcoming debut.  From then until Edward Johnson retired as general manager in 1949, he and my father maintained a close and mutually beneficial relationship.

When he signed his first contract with the Met, it was not easy for my father to resign as cantor of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, even though he had now reached the goal that he had confided to my mother when they became engaged.  "Someday I'm going to make it big as an opera singer," he had told her confidently.  "And I promise you, Sara, that like a rosebud, I will grow and blossom every year."

Although it was a foregone conclusion that he would have to leave the pulpit, he continued to officiate during the Jewish High Holy Days and on Passover in the cotillion room of the Concord Hotel in the Catskills, and later at the Park Synagogue in Chicago.  At the Concord, from age ten to fourteen, I had the privilege of standing next to my father, with Sholom Secunda conducting the choir, singing one of the final prayers of the service, “Ein Keloheinu.”

Additionally, every other summer my father and mother traveled to Israel for him to sing concerts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.  Because of his close association with the Israeli musical community, he also played a role in securing an appointment in 1969 for a young Zubin Mehta to become Music Advisor to the Israel Philharmonic.

At the Metropolitan Opera, when Rudolf (later Sir Rudolf) Bing succeeded Edward Johnson as general manager, my father was one of the very first singers to be re-engaged by the new administration.  As Sir Rudolf later wrote in his autobiography, he immediately re-engaged my father "out of fear [that] someone in Europe would hear this remarkably beautiful voice and steal this man away."

Early in his tenure at the Metropolitan's helm, Bing recruited notable theater directors from the New York stage to create imaginative new productions for the Metropolitan Opera.  Among these was a new production of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," conceived and directed by Alfred Lunt in collaboration with set designer Rolf Gerard and conductor Fritz Stiedry.  Although the production was given in English rather than Italian, my father's performance of "Un' aura amorosa" (or "My Love Is a Flower" in English) displayed his affinity for Mozart, whose vocal music he often described as " jelly for the throat":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89EfFpQea7I&feature=c4-overview&list=UU9c9ZgqnBigre2NZdOA8diw

One of the most successful productions of the new Bing administration was the revival and re-conception of Bizet's "Carmen" by the London stage director (Sir) Tyrone Guthrie, which Met audiences saw and heard for the first time in January 1952.  In this "live" recording from the first radio broadcast of the revival, my father sings the plaintive "Air de la Fleur":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zafCMrasZNc&feature=email

Throughout the 1950’s, my father continued to add new roles to his repertoire at the Met.  Because he was not a formally educated musician, he learned all of his roles by memorizing the music and libretto under the guidance of Joe Garnett, his coach.  One of the many operas in which Garnett prepared him was Giordano's "Andrea Chenier."  In this September 1958 excerpt from Ed Sullivan's then-popular television show, my father and one of his favorite sopranos, Renata Tebaldi, sing the climactic duet "Vicino a te":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spztxFld42Q&feature=email

As he added newer roles to his repertoire, he retained a special fondness for his debut role, Enzo in "Gioconda."  As this "live" recording from a 1959 radio broadcast confirms (and personally this is my favorite rendition of this aria), his singing of "Cielo e mar" was just as poetic but much more clarion, especially his high notes, than when he made his debut fourteen seasons earlier:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtnD37DDERw&feature=email

The title role in Gounod's "Faust" entered my father's repertory at the Met in January 1951.  It was not a role that he sang regularly, however; it was eclipsed by his much more numerous appearances in such operas as "Rigoletto," "Cavalleria Rusticana," "La Traviata," "La Boheme" and others in the early 1950’s.  But in concert, and in this case on network television, he occasionally sang the demanding aria "Salut, demure chaste e pure":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8soQhDVNjxU

Although he sang a number of roles in the French repertoire, it was the operas of Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo, Giordano and Mascagni that became the mainstays of my father’s long and distinguished career.  One of his favorite Puccini roles was that of Mario Cavaradossi in "Tosca."  When he sang "E lucevan le stelle," he always infused the aria with fiery intensity:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bH3XRxSQLQ

The verismo tradition in the Italian repertoire gave my father many of his memorable roles--but he was very prudent about not taking on a particular role until he and his coach felt that his voice was mature enough for weightier operatic parts.  In addition to his coach, my father also relied upon my mother's keen sense of what was right for him as his voice grew in power.

Although she was not a musician, my mother had an unerring ear for my father's singing.  She also knew how he relished new challenges, especially new roles.  But if she sensed he was considering a role that she thought was not appropriate for him, she would merely say very calmly, "It's not for you, Ruby."  Never once did I hear him question her judgment.

The role of Canio in "Pagliacci" was another example of an opera that my father did not add to his repertoire until much later in his career.  When he finally felt ready to sing the role in the opera house, his searing portrayal of the tragic clown became his signature role in the early 1970’s, when the Met unveiled new productions of "Cav" and "Pag" by the renowned theater director and filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli, with Leonard Bernstein conducting.

Although a network-quality video recording of a complete performance of my father singing "Pacliacci" exists, it has never been shown publicly for legal reasons.  Fortunately, however, there are videos of him singing "Vesti la giubba" from a television program in which he performed the aria several years earlier:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qj-D82L4wSQ&feature=youtu.be


The date of April 11, 1970 marked the gala celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of my father's Metropolitan Opera debut.  For his anniversary, he was given carte blanche to choose whatever he wanted to perform on that historic evening.  He chose specific acts from three operas, in each of which he was paired with a different soprano of his choosing:  the first act of "La Traviata," with Joan Sutherland; the second act of "La Gioconda," with Renata Tebaldi; and the third act of "Aida" with Leontyne Price.  Each act was conducted by three of his favorite maestri:  Richard Bonynge (for "La Traviata"), Kurt Herbert Adler (for "La Gioconda"), and Francesco Molinari-Pradelli (for "Aida").

Alfredo in "La Traviata" was always one of my father's favorite roles.  He sang it at the Met for the last time in September 1967, when he put it aside as he took on heavier roles.  Fortunately for posterity, a video recording exists of an impromptu, playful rendition of the "Libiamo" duet, with my father singing Alfredo to the Violetta of Licia Albanese at the 75th birthday party for the conductor Wilfrid Pelletier, whose encouragement had meant so much to my father decades earlier.  Maestro Pelletier accompanies them at the piano--and the lady in the pink dress standing next to Licia Albanese in the bend of the piano is Sara Tucker, my mother:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXVeSmI5qVY&feature=youtu.be

One of the most memorable events in the twentieth-century history of the Metropolitan Opera was the star-studded gala performance honoring the leadership and legacy of Sir Rudolf Bing when he announced his retirement as general manager.  The gala was televised world-wide, and most every notable Metropolitan artist was featured in the ensembles that Sir Rudolf had selected for his gala.

For one of these selections, my father was paired with his long-time friend Robert Merrill in one of the duets from "La Forza del Destino."  Merrill, by his own admission, was very nervous while he and my father waited in the dressing they shared during the gala.  My ever-confident father, on the contrary, exhorted Merrill to join with him in a rendition that, in his words, "will make the mothers of the rest of these singers forget their names."

When their moment in the gala finally arrived and they were waiting in the wings, my father kept prodding Merrill to give the performance of his life.  To add to his prodding, he grabbed Merrill by the shoulder as they were ready to walk onstage.  "Remember, Merrill, no goddamned bunting tonight!" he barked.  "It's gotta be a home run!  Nothing less!"  The videotape of the dramatic duet, "Le minaccie i fieri accenti," went so spectacularly that my father can actually be seen skipping off the stage:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-FOUTf0Ye4&feature=em-share_video_user

While there are several videotaped performances of my father in his various signature roles, that of Des Grieux in Puccini's “Manon Lescaut" was his personal favorite throughout his Metropolitan career.  I can vividly remember the emotion he showed when he described to my mother and my brothers how much Des Grieux meant to him, and how deeply he identified with the music and the character.  When he was invited to perform one of the arias on television, he sang "Guardate! Pazzo Son!" with a vocal and dramatic intensity that can only be described as white hot:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHFCORFuYps&feature=email

At the Metropolitan Opera House and on tour, my father not only sang more performances than almost any other leading tenor, but he also helped secure opportunities for younger tenor colleagues like Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, who were then beginning their Metropolitan careers.  He also became friends with some of his supposed rivals such as Franco Corelli, and earlier Mario del Monaco.

For a career that began in the 1930’s with little more than the unshakable self-confidence my father had, his life ended just as he was in the midst of a new dramatic period in his thirty-year career.  As in-house recordings from the 1970’s confirm, he continued to pour every ounce of himself into every performance he sang.

What he did his best to repress, however, was that he had already had a major heart attack earlier in his career--a diagnosis that he had categorically denied.  But on January 8, 1975, while he was on tour with Robert Merrill in a series of joint concerts, my father had a massive, fatal heart attack.  He was only 61 years old, and was still at the peak of his career.

The day after his sudden passing, my mother and my eldest brother Barry went privately to meet with Schuyler Chapin, who had recently become the Met's new general manager.  They asked for an unprecedented favor from the Met administration:  to be able to hold my father's memorial service on the Metropolitan Opera stage.  Mr. Chapin quickly polled the Met's board of directors, who gave their permission for the memorial service.  Afterward, my father was laid to his rest in the family plot in the Mount Lebanon Cemetery in the New York area.

Soon after the funeral, my mother, my brother Barry, and Herman Krawitz of the Metropolitan administration, formulated tentative plans to create the Richard Tucker Music Foundation in order to perpetuate my father’s legacy and to offer substantial financial grants to promising young singers in the future.  Under the visionary leadership of my brother Barry, the Foundation has now become one of the largest and most prestigious music foundations in the world.  Numerous singers who are now internationally famous can trace the roots of their success to the support they received from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation.

For my part, and I feel confident that I can speak for my brothers on this subject, it seems impossible to envision my father at the age of 100.  I prefer to remember him in the full bloom of his life, when his energy, vitality, and self-confidence permeated everything he undertook.  One of the finest tributes he received was from the late Francis Robinson, who said in a tribute that my father’s voice “had incomparable beauty, sweetness and lyricism coupled with an extraordinary upper register that punished B-flats and B-naturals as they echoed from the parterre boxes of the Old Met.”

Many stellar tenors have been deservedly praised for their artistic contributions to operatic history.  There have been tenors who had incredibly beautiful voices and formidable techniques that enabled them to add impressive ornamentations and embellishments to the music and roles they sang.  But in my personal opinion, none of them could match Richard Tucker for his consistency and longevity in such operas as “La Forza del Destino,” “Pagliacci,” “Manon Lescaut,” “La Gioconda,” "Andrea Chenier," “Un Ballo in Maschera,” and in such memorable scenes as the third act of “La Boheme.”

What I consider the most important attribute of my father’s legacy, and a point that is beyond dispute in my judgment, is that he is the finest Italian tenor that America has ever produced, and will be included in the pantheon of opera singers as one of the greatest tenors ever.

Henry R. Tucker

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, Edmund! This is just absolutely wonderful! Such a privilege to read Henry Tucker's account of his great father's life and career! What a great tenor he was, and how well Mr. Tucker writes! I've always been a huge Tucker fan, and it is just wonderful to read this! Wow! Wow! Just GREAT! Thank you so much Mr. Tucker!!

Martha

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much indeed, Martha, for that enthusiastic comment! Yes, I think I would have to agree with the enthusiasm there:-) I feel the same way. I can assure you it is a great honor for me personally to have Mr. Tucker write of his father's career. A great honor indeed! Thanks so much, my friend. I'm glad you enjoyed it! (And yes, it is EXTREMELY well written!)

Edmund St. Austell said...

Actually, let me step in at this point, early on, and personally thank Mr. Henry Tucker for having agreed to do this presentation on his father, one of the greatest tenors of all time. It is a great honor for me, and a high water mark for Great Opera Singers to have been able en enlist the cooperation of Henry Tucker in celebrating the Richard Tucker Centennial. I could not be more pleased, and it is also a privilege and honor to have Dr. James A. Drake, the distinguished official biographer of Richard Tucker, do the introductions! Thank you both very much indeed! Edmund StAustell

Anonymous said...

Quite a tour de force! I had heard many of the videos, but I never heard the Rachmaninov before. That was a bit of a revelation! Amazing article. I really feel like I met Tucker through his son. He comes across as a very smart and nice guy. I think Tucker was for sure the greatest tenor from this country. Thanks for this, Edmund...terrific blog! (Oh, and I really got a kick out of the party video...did any of them actually remember the words....:-) That was fun...they all seem really likeable people!)

C. Worthington

Edmund St. Austell said...

Ha, ha. Yes, that party video is a real winner, isn't it. That's one of the (many) things I really like about this article, actually, and that is how Tucker comes across as such a down to earth, nice guy! I've noticed that before with the truly great...there is a genuine and unaffected humanity within them. Thanks for the comment.

JD Hobbes said...

I have just returned from vacation and what a wonderful surprise to find this article by Mr. Henry Tucker! It is a priceless view of the real man, Richard Tucker.

I remember the first time I heard an operatic aria. It was an old 78 rpm recording of Caruso singing "Celeste Aida," so this recording of Tucker singing it brought back many memories. What a talent he was! I heard him years ago when he was traveling with Henry Mancini and I was amazed at the strength and quality of his voice.
A few years ago at an estate sale I picked up an autographed picture of Richard Tucker. It was dated 4-4-46 and had a message on the front of it "To the Clarks. Thanks for a wonderful evening." Of course, I have no idea who the Clarks were but I am most appreciative of having this picture.
I had to chuckle at Henry's phrase about his "ever-confident" father. He would have to be. One look at Toscaninni and I would have fainted!
Again, Thanks you Sir Edmund, for this wonderful blog!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you, my dear friend. Hope you enjoyed your vacation! Nice to hear from you, as we always do! It's not a blog day until you check in:-) Yes, it's quite a wonderful article, isn't it. I've often had that same feeling looking at Toscanini. He scared everybody to death. And isn't that a wonderful retort Tucker made to Toscanini about learning the aria right, from the master! That's the kind of information only someone like his son can provide, and the kind of thing that makes this article so valuable, as well as just plain entertaining! Thanks, Mr. Hobbes, for your undying loyalty as a correspondent, now going back, what, about 5 years? Tempus fugit, irrevocabile, as Vergil once said!

steve galantiere said...

Thanks Edmund for the wonderful information here from my long time and close friend Henry Tucker. Yes he is as was said very bright (like his dad was) and gives us valuable information and some fine recrdings. Notice how fit and slim Tucker was in the Canio post. He was watching his health but worked hard and never ever slowed down or cut back on his singing. RIP The American Caruso.

steve galantiere said...

thank you Edmund and Henry Tucker, my long time friend and also DR. Drake for the book and his talent bringing it to life as Richard was. I knew him pretty well over the years and seeing him in house was a thrill that went beyond his recordings, such as with some other big voiced tenors like MDM the great dramatic tenor. I heard him even before I heard Richard, with MDM it was back in 1959 as Otello. Tucker had a big Spinto in his middle and later years and nobody sang roles like Forza, Chenier and Lescaut for me like he did. His singing was on target and he respected his colleagues on stage. RIP The American Caruso.

Marie-Louise Rodén said...

What a wonderful article about a great tenor! I was very impressed that Henry Tucker could give such a concise and yet comprehensive account of his father's career and development. I remember hearing Tucker once in my life, in a concert performance in Chicago. Thanks again for this fine tribute! Marie-Louise Rodén

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you so very much, Professor Roden! Your comment is greatly appreciated!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Many thanks to my friend Steve Galantiere for his comments! Your contributions, Steve, to enshrining Tucker's memory through the generosity with which you share valuable recorded Tucker material is appreciated by all, myself included!

Edmund

Darren Seacliffe said...

I'd sincerely like to offer my deep humble gratitude to Prof. Edmund and Mr. Henry Tucker for the publication of this article on Richard Tucker, who will remain unchallenged as America's greatest tenor.

To be honest, though I wasn't a Tucker fan from the start, I have to admit that like his good friend Robert Merrill, there aren't many tenors who've as fine a vocal instrument as this illustrious singer. The warmth and richness of his voice and the power of his singing make Tucker a first-class singer but what makes him one of the very best was his ability to give a stellar performance in any role he chose to sing, be it lyric or dramatic. How many tenors are there who can succeed as Alfredo in La Traviata and Canio as I Pagliacci with the same vocal qualities and same power? This is what makes Tucker unique. America has every reason to be proud of this great American son.

Mr. Tucker has done an exemplary job in writing this article about his father's greatness as an opera singer but though I never knew the man and was hardly ever a fan, I'm aware that his father wasn't just a great opera singer. It's a pity the article doesn't talk much of Tucker's greatness as a person. From the little I know, Tucker was an exemplary colleague, a family man truly devoted to his loved ones and a very pious man. It's a great tragedy that he was taken too soon from us. Had he lived longer, I believe it's very likely we'll be able to see many more legendary performances from him besides the La Juive he was scheduled to revive at the Met after his last Met trip. There's honestly no better tenor than Tucker to attempt this role.

If you don't mind, the article said some of things, of which I'm interested to know more:

1) To the public, Tucker was known to project an image as a very confident and cheerful singer. In private, was he like that too? With an admirable career in which he was able to fend off a long line of illustrious tenors from Bjorling to Domingo in holding his turf at the Met, I find it incredible that Tucker never had an outbreak of nerves. I would like to ask if there was any secret behind this success.

2) Tucker had an incredibly wide repertoire, from lyric roles like Lionel (Martha) to dramatic roles like Canio. Still, there were some areas in the popular repertoire which I don't think he ever ventured into. Did Mr. Richard Tucker ever attempt any Wagner (his teacher Althouse was a celebrated Heldentenor) or any of the operas by Donizetti (Elisir, Lucia etc.) in his career? If he didn't, could he have undertaken them if he wanted. I have a nagging feeling that Tucker could sing anything in the repertoire.

3) Tucker was able to get along with the most difficult people in the industry of his time, Toscanini and Bing. I remember Bing praising Tucker in several places throughout his memoirs for being such a wonderful colleague. It's touching to know Tucker was quite a popular colleague. I recall reading about how much Maria Callas enjoyed working with Tucker. I wonder if Richard Tucker ever felt the same way.

4. The last thing I'd like to ask is the most important one: I was hoping Mr. Henry Tucker could shed more light of what his father was like as a father. There's an anecdote which struck me several years ago. According to it, it said Richard Tucker once got into trouble with Columbia for skipping a recording session because he didn't want to miss a bar mitzvah for one of his sons (I think it was the author's oldest brother). In addition, I think I remember hearing that Tucker once appeared on TV with the author and his brothers. He seemed to be very proud of his sons and very happy with his family. Yes, it has nothing to do with opera but like any ordinary listener of music, one is ever curious to know what the great singers were like in person off stage.

Jim Drake said...

Steve, I want to thank you for your compliment about my book, "Richard Tucker: A Biography," and as I hope I did at the time (and it's hard for me believe how long ago that was), I want to thank you again for the recordings and other input that you gave me through Henry Tucker. It's wonderful to hear from you again. --Jim Drake

Edmund St. Austell said...

To Darren Seacliffe. Perhaps Mr. Tucker will be able to address some of those issues.

Edmund

Jim Drake said...

Although Mr. Tucker is not available to reply to your comments and questions, I can capsulized what I recall from the three Tucker sons and also from their mother about what Richard Tucker was like as a father and a person offstage. As parents, both Mr. and Mrs. Tucker were strict but supportive of each of their sons' gifts and talents. And yes, the three Tucker sons appeared on television with their father on the "Sam Levenson Show" as part of a promotion for his latest Columbia recording. And, yes, Edgardo in "Lucia" was in Richard Tucker's repertoire. When the great Joan Sutherland made her Met debut, she did so with Richard Tucker as Edgardo. And regarding pre-performance nervousness, Tucker was always anxious to go onstage, but not nervous beforehand. He was very prudent in that he never used his speaking voice on the day of a performance, and always arrived at the Met a minimum of two hours (often earlier) before a performance. He never required any prolonged warm-ups, and was always in voice for every performance he gave.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another fine article.

I wish your entire blog could be published into a book!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Very kind of you, thank you!

Gioacchino Fiurezi-Maragioglio said...

Thank you thank you thank you Mr Tucker! What a pleasure. I did not have the opportunity to hear Tucker frequently, but I attended most if Italian and Spanish performances, such as La Juive of 1974. The best memory is of Manon Lescaut in 1969 with Zeani! My government recognised him with a civic medal: as you say he was one of the greatest Italian tenors of all time. His base at the Metropolitan of New York allowed his voice to heard all over the world: eagerly I listened to Manon Lescaut, La Fanciulla del West, La Forza del Destino, Un Ballo in Maschera and Andrea Chenier when they became available in Italy.

But what spirit! I fondly remember the story of the old Metropolitan closing day: Commendatore Tucker sang La Bohème in a broadcast in the afternoon and returned the night to sing in the gala. What a tenor!

Thank you Mr Tucker!

Edmund St. Austell said...

My dear Gioacchino! How lovely to hear from you again! Hope all is well in Torre del Greco (if you are there this summer). Thanks for that great comment! I remember how you have told me before that Tucker was greatly esteemed in Italy as a great Italian tenor, even though he wasn't Italian! For an American tenor to have such a reputation in Italy is most noteworthy. Thank you again!

DanPloy said...

I will always be grateful to Mr. Fiurezi-Maragioglio for making me listen again to Richard Tucker. Somehow I had 'missed him' amongst the Corellis and del Monacos and Filippescis. I returned again to my CD of Forza and I heard for the first time the natural heir to Martinelli or Merli; (and it seems Toscanini was to feature strongly in both Martinelli's and Tucker's careers).

Impassioned singing that was beautiful at the same time.
I think it is the passion in his singing that gives it that Italianate sound, a sort of freedom in the voice (assuming the technique is there of course).

He must have been a quite unique man as America had never before produced a tenor of this stature (or since).

Thank-you Edmund and Mr. Tucker and Mr. Drake for a wonderful article.

steve galantiere said...

I wanted to answer Darren Seacliffe and I'm sure Mr. Tucker is more able than I am and will amplify my answer to you about Wagner and Tucker. He sang the Prize song in concert recital in the 70's and I have it and in perfect German. I also have a written interview on the news wire at the time of his 25th year at the met. (when I worked in Los Angeles back in 1970 in radio) where he mentioned being interested in Wagner opera and he knew the entire role but perhaps Richard or his coach didn't didn't feel his was a Wagnerian voice. Mr Henry Tucker could answer that one. Had he lived longer you may have heard him in that Rep. regards. Steve

steve galantiere said...

Darren-- Yes as Edgardo in Lucia he was marvelous and the tomb scene is on you tube from 1961 at the Met. As Dr Drake mentioned he sang it with Joan Sutherland many times and again in 1966 with her as Lucia. I saw several performance's he did in Chicago in 1970 with the Dutch Soprano Christina Deutekom and Baritone Norman Mittlemann, also in 1961 he sang it in Chicago with Sutherland. Bergonzi and Tucker both did it that season in Chgo. with her. I attended several shows and the rehearsal.

steve galantiere said...

Richard Tucker was very generous with his Fans and in 1971 I drove to Detroit from Chicago (about 3 hour drive) and attended a performance of Carmen the Met. was giving there on tour. I went backstage and he invited me to dinner afterwards with several other friends he had in Detroit. Mrs Tucker (Sara) was concerned about me driving back to Chicago so late, so she asked their friend who lived not far from the restaurant if I could stay the night at their home instead of the drive back at that late hour! You see the Tucker's where concerned and I was just a fan. I went to Detroit again in 1973 when he sang Manrico with Elinor Ross and Robert Merrill. Tucker also had the Commendatore metal from the Italian Government. I believe he was the only American tenor to get the Italian award.

Anonymous said...

This is just sensational, this blog. It took me back! I remember in my
teens in the 1950's seeing all those records by Richard Tucker when I
was rummaging in out of the way record shops in Sydney.

Many many thanks. I have had a lot of favourite blogs of yours but
this one is right up there too.

Warm greetings

Sally

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you so much, Sally, for a lovely comment. Much appreciated, I assure you! Hope all is well in Basel!

Edmund

Anonymous said...

You know I thought Tucker was excellent in recital his voice was just as great but in opera I loved him!!! I remember a concert, not a recital in SF Calif. 1970 (he did two that week) with Arroyo and a young Jimmy Levine was the Cond. It was amazing and they sang arias and many duets--All Italian opera and the big ones--- Chenier,Ballo,Butterfly and Aida.He sang the aria's from Boheme, Cav. Chenier,Lescautn and Tosca and also Una Furtiva Lagrima too open the concert and they sang all night flawlessly. Some of it is on you tube with a young Arroyo. She was only 32 and he was 56 but they got a standing ovation at the end of it. The reviews said the next day. Listen on you tube under Tucker/Arroyo 1970 Ballo. It was taped in house but not Brdcst. "Tucker is undiminished in Vocal power at age 56"

steve galantiere said...

Yes as Gioacchino the excellent Italian Critic said here Tucker got the medal and it was the Commendatore. He also was the first American super star tenor (I believe) to sing recital's In Japan in the 1950's after the war. One interesting story here is about a old man who sat in the peanut gallery at the old Met. in the 50's and early 60's. He yelled Bravo in a big Bass voice for Tucker so loud you always heard him on the Brdscst's yelling for RT and he went backstage. He had a bad stroke and was dying and asked the nurse to call Mt Tucker at the Met. and she did leave word as he had no family at all. He left a message to please come to the hospital. The nurse the next day nearly fainted when in walks Richard Tucker and she knew who he was. The old man said " I knew you'd come" He died a few days later.

steve galantiere said...

I suggest in addition to the Richard Tucker book by James Drake which is sometimes on line and reasonably priced (and very well written) a soft back written in 2005 by a young friend of mine long ago, Lenoardo Ciampa. It contains bit about Tucker and great Italian tenors of the past and not so recent past. The Twilight Of Belcanto. It still maybe in print and many great Pictures also. He is a huge Gigli fan also and has a good ear. It also contains a interesting interview with Virgina Zeani.

steve galantiere said...

Darren--get the James Drake book "Richard Tucker" about Callas and Tucker--It's in the book.

steve galantiere said...

About the 1970 Concert with the SF symphony. I meant to include my name but I didn't have my 72 year old glasses on! The statement at the end "Tucker at 56, undiminished in smooth vocal power" was in the San Francisco paper the next day.

steve galantiere said...

I would like to ask Dr. Drake a question since he is an expert on and has written about the life of Rosa Ponselle. Was her feeling about Tucker and his voice when they finally met? Also was was the personal relationship with her sister like, since they both sang? I read in the Sills Biography about her initial meeting with Rosa at her home, Villa Pace. It was hysterical and interesting, Rosa getting dressed and interviewing Sills at the same time and hired her, even though Sills was not easy with her.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Martha’s comment. Thanks a lot Mr. Tucker and to you, Edmund for this wonderful article. Some great singers can be called ‘heroes’, not only because of their voices and roles, but also because of their approach to the profession. Richard Tucker’s approach was truly heroic, he never let himself lower the level of his performances, regardless of his health condition or any other circumstances.

n.a.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you so much, Natalie! I really appreciate your comment! And let me apologize again for not getting you an email in time. I won't try to use Google for multiple mailings any more! Yes, what you say about Tucker is absolutely right. He never let an audience down. Never! He was heroic. Our greatest tenor, without question!

Jim Drake said...

Yes, I can report exactly what Rosa Ponselle said about Richard Tucker's visit to her Baltimore home, Villa Pace, when he was preparing Eleazar in "La Juive." He had written to ask for her insights and memories of Caruso's Eleazar, which Ponselle had sung with him at the Met premiere of "La Juive." In reply, she invited Tucker to Villa Pace. They spent a day together, and Ponselle not only heard but also accompanied Tucker (she was a competent pianist) as they reviewed the opera's score. Afterward, Ponselle told her friends and associates (and, later, told me as her biographer) that Richard Tucker would be THE definitive Eleazar--to which she added that she was quite surprised by the sheer size of his voice, and by the "squillo" (or "ping") of his upper register. She said emphatically that Tucker had no equals among American tenors--and from World War One through the 1970's, she had heard and/or sung with nearly every one of them. Like everyone else, Ponselle was devastated by the news of Tucker's sudden death.

JING said...

This article is not only a home run, it is a grand slam! (after all, Richard Tucker loved baseball!) – Thanks to Mr. Tucker, Dr. Drake and all the wise and passionate blog followers. And special thanks indeed to Edmund. How you made this possible, I’ll never know. But it has been a great gift to all of us.
Mention has been made that Richard Tucker was not a formally educated musician. One has to wonder if, in his case, this was in fact an asset. I believe that Tucker’s musical brilliance must have been deeply related to his training and experience as a cantor. I understand such preparation can be quite rigorous, but is very different from what one undergoes at a musical conservatory or graduate program in vocal studies. I believe what makes many cantors great begins with vocal giftedness, but is built upon and enriched with an attitude of reverence for what they are singing. The remarkable passion that a cantor expresses comes, it seems to me, not from an enlarged ego, but from the effacing of oneself. One truly strives to be the means by which beauty, holiness, and gratitude are offered as a gift, through the medium of one’s voice and one’s heart. For myself, I am unable to discern any fine line of distinction between Richard Tucker’s operatic singing at its most glorious, and recordings of him singing as a cantor. Of course, there are some obvious stylistic differences, but this is the same voice, same man, same heart, same love, same mission. His recording of the “Yehi Rotzon” (Blessing of the Month) is very, very moving. (Edmund St. Austell has posted this on YouTube). By all accounts, here and elsewhere, Richard Tucker was a genuinely humble man whose self-assuredness was not based on the need to impress others, but only on the yearning to enrich and elevate others, and he had the courage to use his greatest gifts to do this. This can only happen with someone whose heart and soul are “uncluttered” - unobstructed by self-centeredness. For me, at least, he sang with a straightforward simplicity of spirit that was anything but simple. The fact that Richard Tucker’s memorial service took place on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera was wonderfully appropriate – he made it a sacred space.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you, my dear friend. What a lovely comment, all the way around! Beautifully and movingly written!

steve galantiere said...

Thank you Dr. Drake for your answer about Ponselle/Tucker meeting and thanks to JING for very well written word's. This is a wonderful Blog to Richard Tucker's memory!

steve galantiere said...

Thankfully Henry Tucker has chosen some young Tucker live recordings here also that many have never heard before. Enjoy!

tenchi67622 said...

Henry, I only wish we could have heard your great Father sing Elezar in La Juive at the Met. It would have been a crowning achievement in his Met career.

Scott G said...

Thank you for this tribute. I am often amazed at how few hits some of these priceless youtube clips receive. It is a sad sign of the times in which we live when a perfect gem such as Richard is not appreciated by the current generations. Having been a Tucker fan since the 1970's, I was utterly floored when I viewed his Celeste Aida performance on youtube. In my mind, this performance goes down as one of the greats of ALL TIME. Thank you Henry.

Scott G said...

Thank you very much for this tribute. I am often amazed at how few hits these youtube videos receive. It is a sad sign of the times in which we live that a priceless and timeless gem such as Richard Tucker is not celebrated. I have been a Tucker fan since the 1970's, and I must say that I was utterly speechless when I saw the youtube Celeste Aida, undoubtedly one of the greatest performances of ALL TIME in my mind - seldom a week goes by that I don't view this performance. Thank you Edmund and Mr. Tucker.

steve g. said...

NICE COMMENT BT SCOT G. I AGREE IT IS THE YOUNGEST TUCKER VIDEO SINGING OF HIM AND A VERY IMPORTANT EARLY COMPETE LIVE OPERA CONERT VERSION DONE ON COAST TO COAST TV.I 1949 WITHTHE GREAT COND. TOSCANINI AND ON YOU TUBE.