In Memory of Richard Tucker
IN OUR house, during the war, we listened to the radio on Saturday nights, and at ten o’clock, nine o’clock Central Time, on Mutual, there was the Chicago Theater of the Air offering condensations of the great operas and operettas in English. I remember that every week at the beginning of the program the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Colonel Robert R. McCormick (“a notorious reactionary,” my father said) would deliver a boring history lecture and that the regular soprano, Marion Claire, sang dreadfully (but was, according to my mother, “very beautiful and a very good friend of the Colonel’s”). A reactionary, I gathered, was a menacing person (“certainly no friend of the Jews”), and mistresses, while perhaps not potential anti-Semites, were people a Jewish tenor and “family man” should approach with great caution. So that when I first heard Richard Tucker, as Rudolfo, on that program in 1944, when I was nine, and wept real tears when he sang the final “Mimi, Mimi,” with that pinched poignance which was his characteristic sound and dead center on the G sharp with only a hint of a sob, lie came to me under the sponsorship not only of the Chicago Tribune, but, as it were, my parents, who prompted me to take pride in a Jew’s achievement (“he’s a hazzan, you know, Reuben Ticker”), and to ponder, not for the last time, whether there is something vaguely unkosher in the idea of a Jewish opera star.
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