By Susan Meister
Peter Tuff is a tall, handsome man with a powerful, beautiful baritone voice. As everyone knows who has seen him perform he is not only a talented singer but also a talented actor. If you want to check out the validity of that statement, you have only to go to the San Francisco Opera over the next couple of weeks and see him in Bellini’s famous Norma, which has drawn sensational reviews. He’s in the chorus, a gathering of solo-level singers who support and augment the opera stars who perform on that stage. He would be hard to miss.
The Salinas native grew up in a musical family with both his parents and four siblings singing and playing instruments together. He played the trumpet and the French horn with what he describes as a series of great teachers in this area, but didn’t start taking voice lessons until he went to college. It was then that he realized his voice was at a much higher level, and sang in his first opera.
Eventually he wound up singing opera in the Bay Area, when one of the conductors, Jan Popper, encouraged him to go to Europe and get some experience there. His San Francisco teacher agreed. He was married with two kids and a third on the way, but his supportive wife agreed, and off they went to the prestigious American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria. It was there that he recognized that Europe, and particularly Vienna, was the place for him to develop his opera skills. “It was a combination of faith, ignorance and naïveté that prompted the move, and if I had known what red tape I had to go through, I would probably not have done it. So it was good I didn’t know.” After running into issues with work permits and visas, he ended up with a job as a clerk at the UN offices, where he didn’t need either one. And eventually he got the singing opportunity he came for. He and his family ended up staying ten years while he sang with the Vienna State Opera, and at the Salzburg Festival. He performed over 125 leading and supporting roles there, and was a regular soloist in the Imperial Chapel with the Vienna Boys Choir and members of the Vienna Philharmonic.
Coming back to the US in 1999, the Tuffs moved to Colorado, feeling it was a good place to raise their children and for him to continue his singing career. But five years ago, they came back to the Monterey Area, where Peter decided to pursue another branch of his career: arts management. He served in executive administrative capacities with the Monterey Symphony and the Carmel Music Society, both of which suffered financial pressure that required his position to be cut. Looking at what seems to be the diminution of support for classical music as evidenced not only by these reversals but also by the disappearance of the Monterey Symphony chorus, Tuff the optimist nevertheless believes that the future of live music in Monterey County is rosy. “We have such great depth in the musical world – classical, jazz, and other areas as well—that as we figure out how to make concerts affordable for a wide variety of people and expose our youth to great music, it will inspire people to continue to support it. Great things are in store for this area.”
Now that his children are grown and out of the house, he and his wife, LeAnna, are free to explore new opportunities both on the performing side and possibly on the executive management side. He says he likes to think that nothing is wasted, and the skills that he’s learned in the arts administration world will be waiting for him at the right opportunity. “It is bittersweet to leave,” he says. “We have wonderful friends, family, and colleagues, and we look forward to staying connected.” He is headed to Minnesota, where he has children and grandchildren, and is looking forward to participating in the classical music scene there. “I have lots of opportunities to sing for people, and some great connections that my colleagues have made on my behalf. There is a rich field that I am looking forward to exploring.” He expects to be busy soon.
He also says he plans to come back here regularly to sing. To that end, he will be here on October 11th with the Monterey Opera at the Golden State Theatre’s free concert of opera arias. He’ll be singing with two others in a highly varied “Best of” program that will allow people with limited exposure to opera to enjoy its glories. And there is another recital planned.
A risk taker, optimist, and generally wonderful guy, Peter Tuff will be greatly missed. “It’s been a rich five years here,” he says, “and we will treasure them. We hope to visit often to keep our relationship with this incredible area alive.”
It is worth saying, Peter Tuff, that so do we.