Aug 7, 2013
07:45 PMArts & Entertainment
Bounty Hunter Turned Star Tenor to Perform in Middlebury; Harkness Show Canceled
When internationally renowned Metropolitan Opera star Carl Tanner is on stage, he sings in a tenor that’s so mighty it could move furniture or tackle defiant fugitives. Well, his voice couldn’t actually do so but his bull-moose frame certainly could. In fact, he used to do such things professionally.
The truck driver, the hauler, the bounty hunter—that was another time and a younger man. Today, the star of theaters around the world is in his early 50s and uses that barrel diaphragm to push forth works by legendary composers such as Verdi, Puccini, Bellini and Strauss.
His talent is in such high demand that Mr. Tanner is on the road, away from his Virginia hometown of Arlington, performing approximately 10 months of each year.
In an Aug. 17 event dubbed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Romantic Arias and Delicious Desserts,” Mr. Tanner will grace the stage at Westover School in Middlebury. The evening is presented by the Woodbury-based Connecticut Summer Opera Foundation in collaboration with Connecticut Lyric Opera.
“No, I’m not doing Shakespeare,” Mr. Tanner said with a gruff chuckle, dispelling any misconceptions about the evening’s affairs.
Instead he is going to perform between six and eight operatic pieces—he’s not sure yet exactly how many or which ones he’ll sing—with the accompaniment of the Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra. The performance will be his second in Connecticut; the first was 14 years ago at the Opera Theater of Connecticut.
Technically, it would have been his third performance in the Nutmeg State. The second was to be two nights earlier at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, as part of an initiative by the arts enrichment program known as Bring Our Music Back. However, a post on the site says, "Due to unforseen circumstances our event on August 15th, "Opera Under the Stars," is cancelled.
“A close friend of mine knows the Bring Our Music Back organization,” Mr. Tanner had said in a telephone call from Virginia in late July. “They were hoping to get Carl Tanner and [my friend] said, ‘He’s a friend of mine.’”
Then, when Dr. Vincent de Luise, president of the Connecticut Summer Opera Foundation, learned that Mr. Tanner was coming up, he contacted the tenor and asked if he would stick around to do a show in Middlebury.
Dr. de Luise, an avid fan of the art form born in 16th-century Italy, was familiar with Mr. Tanner and his incredible backstory. The head of the young nonprofit music advocacy program became even more familiar after reading a 2010 article about Mr. Tanner in The New York Times.
“He’s in his 50s, which already is an older age to be singing,” said Dr. de Luise. “I know he has realistic expectations about his future, and you know his story, so he’s exactly the kind of role model kids should have.”
It’s such an inspirational tale that anything written about him would be a slipshod job without telling it. Mr. Tanner’s life story is tailor-made for the movie screen—who knows, maybe even the opera house.
When he was a teenager, it seemed that the best bet for success for the stocky Virginia boy from a big family with little wealth would be his athletic prowess. He was a champion wrestler at his high school and later was recruited by the University of Maryland football program, a prospect that did not work out.
Mr. Tanner was a renaissance teenager of sorts, as he enjoyed the violin, and with it classical music. His musical skill became the catalyst for a change of direction, but effecting that change really grew out of pure happenstance. While singing in the shower one day, a friend overheard him and urged him to try out for a choir.
He recalled his response: “Football players do not join choir.”
This one did, however. He practically had no choice after his first audition left his high school instructor almost speechless.
“He said, ‘Are you joking?’” Mr. Tanner said, recalling his initial feeling of dejection.
“Then he said ‘I’ve seen you wrestle; I’ve seen you play football and you’re going to be a soloist,’” Mr. Tanner remembered, stressing that it wasn’t a knock at his athletic skill but more a reminder of his capabilities. “I thought everybody would laugh at me, but even the football players stopped and had their mouths opens when they heard me.”