Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gene Boucher

Tonight I want to introduce to you someone from Jefferson City, a local who made it big in the big city--New York City, to be exact--in the world of opera.

He was a classmate of my mom's. His rise to prominence as a baritone is one indication of the strong community of singers Jefferson City has maintained over the decades.

Here's a link to a Wikipedia page listing all the performers at the Metropolitan Opera who appeared in at least 250 performances. Scroll down to "Gene Boucher," and you will see that he was in 1,094 performances during his career at the Met, which lasted from June 25, 1965, to March 17, 1984.

And here's a link to his New York Times obituary; he died in 1994. His mother survived him; he never married and had no children (to my knowledge). (These facts, combined with the stereotypes that often accompany his profession, tempt me to read between the lines somewhat.)

I should mention that around Jeff City, his surname was always pronounced "BOW-tcher." Everyone called him that, including, I understand, even him. But in New York City, where this immensely gifted man truly spread his wings, it became "Boo-SHAY."

I don't suppose there are many around here anymore who remember him. I think that once he left podunk, he rarely returned (though I think I recall my mom saying he came back for a high school class reunion or two). But he's someone worth remembering, a man worth claiming, and a life worth celebrating, even if he left no direct descendants to hang his picture on their walls.

After some Internet sleuthing, I found the following YouTube video, a scene from the opera La Fanciulla del West ("The Girl of the Golden West") by Giacomo Puccini (1910). This recording is from a Metropolitan Opera performance of January 8, 1966. (Recall that Boucher's career with the Met began in 1965, so he was probably still a newbie at this point.)

You can hear Gene Boucher's expressive and powerful voice in this early scene, where a group of miners in a California saloon are moaning about their homesickness; they've been away from their mothers and families for oh, so long; will they ever make it home again? ("And my dog, after so long--will my dog recognize me?")

The character of miner Jim Larkens is played by Gene Boucher. His solo begins at approximately 4:00. Among the sorrowful miners, Larkens in particular is having an emotional breakdown; weeping and sobbing, he cries out that he has to go home. Understanding his plight all too well, the empathetic miners take up a collection to help send him back home.

To Mr. Gene Boucher, wherever you are . . . welcome home.

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