Richard Tucker (1913-1975) is in the running for best American tenor, and even to be in the running for such a title is pretty impressive. He grew up singing Jewish liturgical music in Brooklyn and was eventually offered a contract by the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera: “If you can hold an audience of 2000 in a synagogue you can hold an audience of 3600 in an opera house.” Tucker debuted at the Metropolitan in 1945. Over the next thirty years he did a whopping 734 performances there, in over thirty leading roles. He is the only person to have had his funeral service on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House.
By all accounts Tucker had a fierce drive to excel, a great natural talent and great technique. In addition he had a phenomenal aural memory. Singing dozens of roles in Italian, Tucker had a diction so pure he was often mistaken for a native of Florence – although he didn’t understand a word of Italian. Neil Kurtzman commented
His vocal production was pure, like silver seems the most apt comparison. Like a silver trumpet is even better. While his physical acting was inept, his vocal characterizations were passionate and intense. He was an Italian tenor through and through. He sounds more Italian than most native singers from the boot. I can think of no Italian singer of his worth and vocal size who could match his technique. Of the non-Italians only Björling is in the same league and he couldn’t trill very well and had a much smaller voice…. In brief, he’s on the very short list of the greatest Italian tenors of the last century. -Neil Kurtzman (alas, the page where I found this is now defunct)