RICHARD TUCKER: A Biography by James A. Drake


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Written with family/friend cooperation: an undistinguished, pleasantly homey biography of super-tenor Tucker--with more texture in the domestic details than the musical ones. Drake lovingly follows brash young Rubin Ticker through his early years on the Lower East Side: orthodox-Jewish background; carousing and gambling; cantorial studies; a hectic mixture of synagogue jobs and pop/classical singing dates; and courtship of Sarah Perelman--whose brother Jan Peerce was already an established opera tenor. (The brothers-in-law would never get along. ""Peerce labeled Tucker an ingrate. . . . Tucker, in turn, saw Peerce as a spiteful, jealous man who hid petty hatred under the cloak of religion."") By the early 1940s, after intensive vocal studies, Tucker's radio appearances led to auditions for the Met; he turned down an unsatisfactory initial offer, soon got a better one--bringing vocally supreme (if histrionically limited) appearances in La Gioconda, La Traviata, and all the other lyric-spinto showcases. Season after season of Met stardom followed--though Rudolf Bing would later shift his favoritism from Tucker to France Corelli. International celebrity came too, including the La Scala Aide with a rude, insecure Maria Callas. Television helped make Tucker a ""public figure."" And, instead of slowing down in middle-age, Tucker (despite heart trouble) ""advanced his career into nothing but high-risk territory"": becoming a total actor/singer in a dangerously intense Pagliacci (thanks to France Zeffirelli, who saw the ""volatile energy"" beneath Tucker's businesslike exterior); obsessively seeking productions of La Juive, for artistic/ethnic reasons; singing most often in Italy and on tour with Robert Merrill--with his fatal heart attack coming just before a performance in Kalamazoo. Drake leaves the musical close-up to a brief, solid afterword by George Jellinek, concentrating instead of backstage anecdotes, sentimental family-chat, travel data (Israel especially), and contract negotiations. But undemanding fans will find this an agreeable, reasonably detailed tribute--un-probing, rarely dramatic, but only occasionally too gushy.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1983
Publisher: Dutton