Bounty Hunter Turned Tenor Set to Make Met Debut

By Amy Zimmer on December 27, 2010 12:15pm 

Tenor Carl Tanner, a former bounty hunter, divides his time between Arlington, Virginia and the Upper West Side. He debuts at the Metropolitan Opera on Dec. 27.
Tenor Carl Tanner, a former bounty hunter, divides his time between Arlington, Virginia and the Upper West Side. He debuts at the Metropolitan Opera on Dec. 27.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

By Leslie Albrecht and Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo staff

UPPER WEST SIDE - Carl Tanner spent years toting three guns around when he worked as a bounty hunter for the state of Virginia.

Monday night — despite the treacherous blizzard conditions — Tanner will tote a shooter that fires blanks as he makes his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Puccini's La Fanciulla del West.

The Metropolitan Opera said the show will go on.

Tanner, who moved to New York in the early 1990s to pursue his singing dreams, was discovered after he performed his signature song, "O Holy Night," in a restaurant. An official with the Santa Fe Opera House was in the audience, and Tanner was hired by the company shortly afterward.

Since then, he's worked steadily and toured the world. He's sung at the White House, appeared on the "Today Show" and recorded a Christmas album.

Singing is more "peaceful" from his previous occupation.

As a bounty hunter, he carried a loaded 9-millimeter Beretta, a loaded 25-caliber pistol strapped to his ankle, and a Mossberg 500 sawed-off shotgun, unloaded.

"That one was mostly for show," he said. The other tools of his trade included a Taser, a stun gun and, once in a while, brass knuckles. "They're illegal," Tanner said. "I only carried them because, if I was going to have to fight somebody, I knew that one punch would take them out."

Nowadays, the only thing Tanner is knocking people out with is his voice.

In his Met debut as Dick Johnson, he’ll appear on stage dressed head-to-toe in "cowboy black" with a gun shooting only blanks.

The tenor grew up in Arlington, Va., and earned a degree from Shenandoah University's music conservatory. Finding work as a singer after college proved tough, so Tanner took a job as a truck driver in the Washington, D.C. area.

But that gig didn't pay as much as he needed. 

Tanner didn't even know what a bounty hunter was, he said. (They track down fugitives from justice who are wanted by law enforcement, usually for skipping out on bail or racking up too many arrest warrants.)

Upper West Sider Carl Tanner was once a bounty hunter in Virginia. Today he's an opera tenor about to make his debut at the Metropolitan Opera.
Upper West Sider Carl Tanner was once a bounty hunter in Virginia. Today he's an opera tenor about to make his debut at the Metropolitan Opera.
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Courtesy of Carl Tanner

But when he heard they make $100,000 a year, he signed up. He got certified to carry a weapon and learned self-defense techniques.

He realized he needed a career change after Tasering one bad guy who refused to let him and his partner take him into custody. Most people drop to the floor when they're Tased, but this fugitive simply pulled the Taser darts out of shirt, then sucker punched Tanner.

When he was finally cuffed, the man told Tanner, "I'm gonna find out where you live, I'm gonna find out the names of your family and I'm gonna come kill you."

As he prepares for his debut at the Met, he's living on West 93rd Street and Broadway with his partner of 18 years and 2-year-old son.

Tanner is happy to tell colorful tales from his bounty hunter past, but he's also proud of the fact that he's one of about six tenors in the world who can sing the challenging role of Otello, he said.


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