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Richard Tucker

Richard Tucker

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Richard Tucker was an American operatic tenor
Tenor
The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...

.

Early life


Tucker was born Rivn (Rubin) Ticker in Brooklyn
Brooklyn
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, with nearly 2.6 million residents, and the second-largest in area. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated...

, New York, into a family of Romanian
Romanians
The Romanians are an ethnic group native to Romania, who speak Romanian; they are the majority inhabitants of Romania....

 immigrants from Bessarabia
Bessarabia
Bessarabia is a historical term for the geographic region in Eastern Europe bounded by the Dniester River on the east and the Prut River on the west....

. His father, Shmul (Sam) Ticker, and mother Fanya-Tsipa (Fanny) Ticker had already adopted the surname "Tucker" by the time their son entered first grade. His musical aptitude was discovered early, and was nurtured under the tutelage of Samuel Weisser at the Tifereth Israel synagogue in lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan is the southernmost part of the island of Manhattan, the main island and center of business and government of the City of New York...

. As a teenager, Tucker's interests alternated between athletics, at which he excelled during his high-school years, and singing for weddings and bar mitzvahs as a cantor
Hazzan
A hazzan or chazzan is a Jewish cantor, a musician trained in the vocal arts who helps lead the congregation in songful prayer.There are many rules relating to how a cantor should lead services, but the idea of a cantor as a paid professional does not exist in classical rabbinic sources...

ial student. Eventually, he progressed from a part-time cantor at Temple Emanuel in Passaic, New Jersey
Passaic, New Jersey
Passaic is a city in Passaic County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city had a total population of 69,781, maintaining its status as the 15th largest municipality in New Jersey with an increase of 1,920 residents from the 2000 Census population of 67,861...

, to full-time cantorships at Temple Adath Israel in the Bronx
The Bronx
The Bronx is the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City. It is also known as Bronx County, the last of the 62 counties of New York State to be incorporated...

 and, in June 1943, at the large and prestigious Brooklyn Jewish Center. Until then, Tucker's income derived mainly from his weekly commissions as a salesman for the Reliable Silk Company, in Manhattan's garment district
Garment District, Manhattan
The Garment District, also known as the Garment Center, the Fashion District, or the Fashion Center, is a neighborhood located in the Manhattan borough of New York City. The dense concentration of fashion-related uses give the neighborhood, which is generally considered to span between Fifth Avenue...

.

On February 11, 1936, Tucker married Sara Perelmuth, the youngest child (and only daughter) of Levi and Anna Perelmuth, proprietors of the Grand Mansion, a kosher banquet hall in Manhattan's Lower East Side
Lower East Side
The Lower East Side, LES, is a neighborhood in the southeastern part of the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is roughly bounded by Allen Street, East Houston Street, Essex Street, Canal Street, Eldridge Street, East Broadway, and Grand Street....

. At the time of Tucker's wedding to their daughter, the Perelmuths' musically-gifted eldest son, Yakob, had progressed from a part-time jazz violinist and lyric tenor vocalist to a national radio star who had already set his sights on an operatic career. Under the management of Sol Hurok
Sol Hurok
Sol Hurok was a world-famous 20th century American impresario.-Biography:...

, the eldest of the Perelmuth offspring, now renamed Jan Peerce
Jan Peerce
Jan Peerce was an American operatic tenor. Peerce was an accomplished performer on the operatic and Broadway concert stages, in solo recitals, and as a recording artist. He is the father of film director Larry Peerce....

, reached his goal when the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera Company, Edward Johnson
Edward Johnson (tenor)
Edward Patrick Johnson CBE was a Canadian operatic tenor who was billed outside North America as Edoardo Di Giovanni, and became director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.- Early life :...

, offered him a contract after an impressive audition. When Peerce made his much-acclaimed debut at the Met on November 29, 1941, his sister and her new husband were living with Peerce's parents while Tucker was trying to make a success as the sole proprietor (and only employee) of a silk-lining sales business while also officiating at Temple Adath Israel in the Bronx.

Operatic career


Although Peerce remained skeptical of Tucker's ability and did not overtly encourage his operatic ambitions (which led, unfortunately, to a permanent rift between the two brothers-in-law and their families), Peerce did play a role in introducing Tucker to conductor and arranger Zavel Zilberts, who coached Tucker until he came to the attention of Paul Althouse
Paul Althouse
Paul Shearer Althouse was an American opera singer. He began his career as a lyric tenor with a robust Italianate sound, excelling in roles like Cavaradossi, Pinkerton, and Turiddu. He later branched out into the dramatic tenor repertoire, finding particular success in portraying Wagnerian heroes...

, a notable tenor whose operatic career had begun during the last years of Enrico Caruso's long reign at the Met. Althouse became Tucker's only teacher. In a rare moment of the pupil disregarding the teacher's advice, Tucker entered the Metropolitan Opera "Auditions of the Air" in 1941, but did not win. When Met general manager Edward Johnson came unannounced to the Brooklyn Jewish Center to hear Tucker sing, however, Johnson offered the tenor another audition and soon awarded him a contract. On January 25, 1945, under the baton of Emil Cooper
Emil Cooper
Emil Albertovich Cooper, also known as Emil Kuper was a Russian conductor and violinist, of English ancestry....

, Tucker made his debut as Enzo in La Gioconda
La Gioconda (opera)
La Gioconda is an opera in four acts by Amilcare Ponchielli set to an Italian libretto by Arrigo Boito, based on Angelo, tyran de Padoue, a play in prose by Victor Hugo, dating from 1835...

. The debut, one of the most successful in the annals of the Met, heralded Tucker's 30-year career as the leading American tenor of the postwar era.
Two years after his Metropolitan debut, Tucker was invited to reprise his success in La Gioconda at the cavernous amphitheater in Verona, Italy, for which the retired tenor and Verona native, Giovanni Zenatello
Giovanni Zenatello
Giovanni Zenatello was an Italian opera singer. Born in Verona, he enjoyed an international career as a dramatic tenor of the first rank. Otello became his most famous operatic role but he sang a wide repertoire. In 1904, he created the part of Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly.-Career:Zenatello...

, had also engaged a young, overweight, unknown Greek-American soprano named Maria Callas
Maria Callas
Maria Callas was an American-born Greek soprano and one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century. She combined an impressive bel canto technique, a wide-ranging voice and great dramatic gifts...

. Contemporary reviews of the 1947 Verona performances of La Gioconda verify that Tucker's success considerably surpassed Callas's, a fact overshadowed by the soprano's eventual worldwide acclaim. Two years later, in 1949, Tucker's rapidly ascending career was confirmed when Arturo Toscanini
Arturo Toscanini
Arturo Toscanini was an Italian conductor. One of the most acclaimed musicians of the late 19th and 20th century, he was renowned for his intensity, his perfectionism, his ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his photographic memory...

, the most celebrated Italian conductor of the twentieth century, engaged Tucker to sing the role of Radames for the NBC simulcasts of a complete performance of Aida
Aida
Aida sometimes spelled Aïda, is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on a scenario written by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette...

opposite Herva Nelli
Herva Nelli
Herva Nelli was an Italian-born operatic soprano.-Biography:Named after the French socialist Gustave Hervé, she was born in Florence, where she attended a convent school...

 in the title role, an event heard and seen on radio and television, and eventually released on LP, CD, VHS, and DVD. This was the first full opera performance ever broadcast on national television.

In the ensuing years, Tucker's ample lyric voice evolved into a lirico-spinto voice of near-dramatic proportions. If his signature stylistic devices, especially his affection for Italianate sobs, were not always lauded by the critics, the distinctive timbre of his ringing voice, his unfailingly secure technique, impeccable diction, and native-sounding pronunciation were universally acclaimed in every role he undertook. A profusion of legendary tenors — including Jussi Björling
Jussi Björling
Johan Jonatan "Jussi" Björling was a Swedish tenor. One of the leading operatic singers of the 20th Century, Björling appeared frequently at the Royal Opera House in London, La Scala in Milan, and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City as well as at other major European opera...

, Giuseppe Di Stefano
Giuseppe Di Stefano
Giuseppe Di Stefano was an Italian operatic tenor who sang professionally from the late 1940s until the early 1990s. He was known as the "Golden voice" or "The most beautiful voice", as the true successor of Beniamino Gigli...

, Mario del Monaco
Mario del Monaco
Mario Del Monaco was an Italian tenor who is regarded by his admirers as being one of the greatest dramatic tenors of the 20th century....

 and, eventually, Jan Peerce
Jan Peerce
Jan Peerce was an American operatic tenor. Peerce was an accomplished performer on the operatic and Broadway concert stages, in solo recitals, and as a recording artist. He is the father of film director Larry Peerce....

) came and went during the years in which (Sir) Rudolf Bing led the Metropolitan. Tucker remained a dominant tenor and steadily took on new challenges. Although an indifferent actor throughout most of his career, Tucker made a strong dramatic impression with veteran critics when he reconceived the role of Canio in Pagliacci
Pagliacci
Pagliacci , sometimes incorrectly rendered with a definite article as I Pagliacci, is an opera consisting of a prologue and two acts written and composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo. It recounts the tragedy of a jealous husband in a commedia dell'arte troupe...

under the direction of Franco Zeffirelli
Franco Zeffirelli
Franco Zeffirelli KBE is an Italian director and producer of films and television. He is also a director and designer of operas and a former senator for the Italian center-right Forza Italia party....

 in January 1970. The tenor was nearly 60 years old at the time.

Before and after each Metropolitan Opera season, Tucker appeared on concert stages through the U.S. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, his appearances in a series of "Puccini
Giacomo Puccini
Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was an Italian composer whose operas, including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot, are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire...

 Night" open-air concerts at the landmark Lewisohn Stadium
Lewisohn Stadium
Lewisohn Stadium was an amphitheater and athletic facility built on the campus of the City College of New York. It opened in 1915 and was demolished in 1973.-History:...

 in New York City, under the direction of Alfredo Antonini
Alfredo Antonini
Alfredo Antonini was a leading Italian/American symphony conductor and composer who was active on the international concert stage as well as on the CBS radio and television networks from the 1930s through the 1960s...

, often attracted audiences of over 13,000 enthusiastic guests. Throughout his opera career, Tucker also officiated as a cantor during Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and other sacred events in the Jewish liturgical calendar. A devoted but strict patriarch, Tucker oversaw the religious development of his three sons (Berel [Barry] Tucker, b. 1938; David N. Tucker, M.D., b. 1941; and Henry R. Tucker, b. 1946), and arranged for them to sing with him on a popular television program hosted by Sam Levenson
Sam Levenson
Sam Levenson was an American humorist, writer, teacher, television host and journalist.-Personal life:Born Samuel Levenson, he grew up in a large Jewish immigrant family in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1934...

 in the early 1950s.

Tucker had a long-running contract with Columbia Records, and eventually recorded for RCA Victor as well. But, measured against the sheer length of his career, Tucker's commercial recordings are proportionately sparse and inadequately convey the power and roundness of his voice, according to most of his artistic colleagues. Many of his commercial recordings, as well as private recordings of his concerts and broadcast performances, have been digitally remastered and are available in CD and online downloadable formats. A number of his national television appearances on "'The Voice of Firestone'" and "'The Bell Telephone Hour'" were preserved in kinescope and videotape form, and have been reissued in VHS and DVD format. Regrettably, a complete video performance of the tenor's searing portrayal of Canio in the Zeffirelli production of Pagliacci
Pagliacci
Pagliacci , sometimes incorrectly rendered with a definite article as I Pagliacci, is an opera consisting of a prologue and two acts written and composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo. It recounts the tragedy of a jealous husband in a commedia dell'arte troupe...

, which was to be paired with Cavalleria rusticana
Cavalleria rusticana
Cavalleria rusticana is an opera in one act by Pietro Mascagni to an Italian libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, adapted from a play written by Giovanni Verga based on his short story. Considered one of the classic verismo operas, it premiered on May 17, 1890 at the Teatro...

featuring Tucker's friend and tenor colleague Franco Corelli
Franco Corelli
Franco Corelli was a famous Italian tenor who had a major international opera career between 1951 and 1976. Associated in particular with the spinto and dramatic tenor roles of the Italian repertory, he was celebrated universally for his powerhouse voice, electrifying top notes, clear timbre, a...

 as Turiddu, was never telecast and has not been issued commercially, for legal reasons.

Although Tucker's well-crafted public image was that of a competitive, overwhelmingly self-confident performer, his offstage demeanor was that of an inherently private but unfailingly considerate man, especially where fans and colleagues were concerned. Never prone to looking back upon his career, Tucker always lived in the moment and maintained a boyish outlook on life. He also displayed a propensity for playing pranks on some of his fellow singers, often provoking a smile at some inappropriate moment in a performance. Once, during a broadcast of La forza del destino
La forza del destino
La forza del destino is an Italian opera by Giuseppe Verdi. The libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave based on a Spanish drama, Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino , by Ángel de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas, with a scene adapted from Friedrich Schiller's Wallensteins Lager. It was first performed...

with baritone Robert Merrill
Robert Merrill
Robert Merrill was an American operatic baritone.-Early life:Merrill was born Moishe Miller, later known as Morris Miller, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, to tailor Abraham Miller, originally Milstein, and his wife Lillian, née Balaban, immigrants from Warsaw, Poland.His mother...

, Tucker sneaked a nude photograph into a small trunk that Merrill opened onstage. In later years, Merrill described his tenor friend as "an original, right out of the pages of a Damon Runyon
Damon Runyon
Alfred Damon Runyon was an American newspaperman and writer.He was best known for his short stories celebrating the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era. To New Yorkers of his generation, a "Damon Runyon character" evoked a distinctive social type from the...

 story."

Ironically, Tucker was touring with Merrill in a national series of joint concerts when, on January 8, 1975, he died of a heart attack while resting before an evening performance in Kalamazoo, Michigan
Kalamazoo, Michigan
The area on which the modern city stands was once home to Native Americans of the Hopewell culture, who migrated into the area sometime before the first millennium. Evidence of their early residency remains in the form of a small mound in downtown's Bronson Park. The Hopewell civilization began to...

. He is the only person whose funeral has been held on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. In tribute to his legacy at the Met, the city of New York designated the park adjacent to Lincoln Center as Richard Tucker Square.

Legacy


Shortly after his death, the Richard Tucker Music Foundation
Richard Tucker Music Foundation
The Richard Tucker Music Foundation, founded in 1975, is a "non-profit cultural organization dedicated to perpetuating the artistic legacy of the great American tenor through the support and advancement of the careers of talented American opera singers by bringing opera into the community...

 was established by his widow, sons, colleagues, and friends, "to perpetuate the memory of America's greatest tenor through projects in aid of gifted young singers." In the intervening decades, the Richard Tucker Foundation, whose annual televised concerts have been hosted by Luciano Pavarotti
Luciano Pavarotti
right|thumb|Luciano Pavarotti performing at the opening of the Constantine Palace in [[Strelna]], 31 May 2003. The concert was part of the celebrations for the 300th anniversary of [[St...

 and other opera stars of the past and present, has consistently awarded the largest vocal-music grants and scholarships. Recipients include sopranos Renée Fleming
Renée Fleming
Renée Fleming is an American soprano specializing in opera and lieder. Fleming has a full lyric soprano voice.Fleming has performed coloratura, lyric, and lighter spinto soprano repertoires. She has sung roles in Italian, German, French, Czech, and Russian, aside from her native English. She also...

, Deborah Voigt
Deborah Voigt
Deborah Voigt is an American operatic soprano. Voigt regularly performs in opera houses and concert halls worldwide.- Early life and education :...

, tenors Richard Leech, Stephen Costello, James Valenti and other opera singers of international renown.

Audio examples


External links

.