Friday, October 19, 2018

The Hard Bargain: Music, Medicine, and My Father
A review from Kristen Seikaly

For better or for worse, tabloids obsess over the lives of celebrities. The obsession does not stop there, though, as publications will often pay just as much (if not more) for information on and photographs of a celebrity’s children. What’s it like to have a famous parent? This question presses on the minds of many, but the question is not a new one.

Richard Tucker as the Duke of Mantua
Photo:  Metropolitan Opera
Dr. David Tucker, the middle son of the esteemed operatic tenor Richard Tucker, gives as much of an answer to this question as possible through his memoir, The Hard Bargain: Music, Medicine, and My Father (Richard Tucker, Opera Legend). Coauthored with historian Burton Spivak, the title eludes to the younger Tucker’s own ambitions to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an operatic legend, a dream which Richard Tucker did not share for his son.

The title refers to an agreement father and son came to in Dr. Tucker’s college years: he agreed to study medicine if his father would arrange and pay for voice lessons. Each entered into the agreement with the belief that the other will ultimately concede to their own dream.

The reader discovers throughout the book not only how Richard Tucker’s dream for his son won out, but also how Dr. Tucker himself came to accept this dream as his own. Along the way, Dr. Tucker shares intimate details about his father and his relationship with him. Additionally, the authors offer unique insights into opera, ophthalmology, and the life of a Jewish American family in the 20th century.

As is true for most fathers and sons who attempt to understand their relationship, Dr. Tucker reflects on how his father made him the man he became without arriving at a clear answer. He seems to agree that his father’s dreams for him were for the best, but he also readily points out conflicts they had along the way. It is also clear that Dr. Tucker loves opera. The pain he felt every time his father rejected his operatic dreams can be felt, despite his best attempts to downplay it.

In other words, while on the surface Dr. Tucker writes with confidence about his life, his choices, and his relationship to the great Richard Tucker, the syntax and tone suggest otherwise. Readers may enjoy this book on either level.

In this way, this book will appeal to more than simply opera fans or fans of Richard Tucker. Those interested in medicine will also find a wealth of information and history, particularly in the second half of the book. The insights into a Jewish American family and how the Holocaust affected both Richard Tucker’s career and his personal life are given considerable attention throughout, as well. This viewpoint is one of the book’s greatest strengths.

While this memoir may read more like history than news to modern audiences, readers may gain an understanding about their own loved ones through it, for better or for worse. In this way, Richard Tucker’s legacy and his dreams for his son have gone far beyond anything the legendary singer could have hoped.

Materials for this review were provided by the publisher. The views and opinions expressed here are completely those of the reviewer.

Kristen Seikaly is a freelance writer, singer, and voice teacher in the Philadelphia area. Additionally, she runs Operaversity, a website geared towards providing resources on opera for artists and audiences.

She tweets at @KristenSeikaly.