Richard Tucker
Arias, Duets, and Songs by Halevy (La juive), Flotow (Martha), Verdi (Rigoletto, Un ballo in maschera, La forza del destino, Aida and Otello), Meyerbeer (L’africana), Ponchielli (La gioconda), Bizet (Les pÍcheurs de perles), Mascagni (Cavalleria rusticana), Leoncavallo (I pagliacci), Rossini, Fusco-Falvo, De Curtis and Di Capua.
Richard Tucker, tenor, with Daniza Ilitsch (soprano); Columbia Opera Orchestra; Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera Association; Columbia Concert Orchestra/ Wilfred Pelletier, Emil Cooper, Max Rudolf, Fausto Cleva, and Alfredo Antonini, cond.
Preiser 89552 ( F) (AAD) TT: 77:02

Richard Tucker made his Metropolitan Opera debut January 25, 1945 as Enzo in Ponchielli's La gioconda. It was the start of a Met career that included an incredible 724 performances in 30 different roles. And it was a career that was still in full swing when the American tenor died of a heart attack January 8, 1975, at the age of 61. In fact Tucker had plans to meet in New York the following day to discuss the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, performing Halevy's La juive at the Met. The new production was to feature Tucker, Beverly Sills, Nicolai Gedda, and Paul Plishka, with Leonard Bernstein conducting.

So perhaps it's fitting that this Preiser CD opens with Tucker's beautiful and heartfelt rendition of ElČazar's great aria, "Rachel, quand du Seigneur." The remainder of the disc includes excerpts from operas closely associated with Tucker's Metropolitan Opera career—Martha, Rigoletto, Un ballo in maschera, Aida, La gioconda, Cavalleria rusticana, and I pagliacci. The CD also features excerpts from two operas that were not part of Tucker's performing repertoire (The Pearl Fishers and Otello), as well as L'africaine, which the tenor did sing in concert performance, but not at the Met.

The Preiser disc includes recordings made between 1947 and 1950. At this stage of his career Tucker's voice was still on the lyric side, with a clear, bell-like sonority. From the very beginning Tucker possessed a superb technique that served him well for three decades. Everything on this disc is sung with the greatest security, and there is never a sense that the tenor is approaching the limits of his resources. In fact, these recordings evidence a restraint one doesn't necessarily associate with Richard Tucker. I have to confess that I think Tucker became a more involved and compelling artist just a few years later. But those who are put off by the intensity of his later recordings will, in all likelihood, prefer what is included here. And I should emphasize that these early recordings are hardly bland.

Tucker is joined by Daniza Ilitsch for duets from Ballo and Otello. The soprano certainly sings with passion, but I don't think her rather harsh timbre is well matched to Tucker's more attractive tone. The disc also includes four Neapolitan songs, performed by Tucker with style and verve.

The transfers of the 78rpm recordings are generally fine, with some surface noise and distortion. The booklet contains German and English-language essays on Tucker's life and career.

K.M. (March 2003)