SPRING CITY, Sanpete County — Just hours after a big opera premiere, Brian Stucki found himself on his hands and knees cleaning up his kid’s vomit.
A guest artist with Polish National Opera, the shaggy-haired tenor had just performed the lead role in “The Fall of the House of Usher” on the stage of Warsaw’s Grand Theatre.
It was the Polish premiere of the Philip Glass opera (based on the Edgar Allan Poe story), and to celebrate, the company held one of the swankiest parties Brian Stucki and his wife, Ann Stucki, had ever attended. The couple couldn’t stay too late, though — they had two kids at home with a babysitter. So after some mingling, the Stuckis weaved their way through the glamorous crowd back to their little one-bedroom apartment in the theater, where a decidedly less luxurious scene greeted them: Their toddler, Colin, had gotten sick, and their infant daughter, Jane, was crying for her mother.
And just like that, the opera star was in dad mode and covered in throw-up.
“The family life kept him grounded,” Ann Stucki said with a laugh.
Understandably, that isn’t Brian Stucki’s favorite memory from six years of raising a family while traveling the world as an opera singer. But nearly 10 years later, that moment still makes Ann Stucki smile because it showed how even at the most inopportune time, she and her husband were making a seemingly impractical life on the road with kids work.
“We prioritized being together,” she said. “I didn’t want to be just raising my kids with a father that they didn’t know, and it was complicated and it was messy and it was wonderful and amazing.”
These days, the Stuckis are more rooted. Brian Stucki just finished his third year as director of vocal studies at Snow College, and his family, which now includes three kids, has lived in Sanpete County's Spring City for about five years.
To the Stuckis’ delight, living in a stone house from 1887 — in a city with a population barely over 1,000 — has been just as adventurous as living in a theater in Warsaw.
“Spring City is a classic small town; everybody knows everybody else’s business,” Brian Stucki said. “We will be newcomers our whole lives here. I think if our children were to stay here and have children here, then those children would be considered Spring City locals.”
Since moving to Spring City, the Stuckis have added a formal dining room and master suite to their stone house, which will be one of several historic homes open to the public during Spring City’s annual fundraising event, Heritage Day, on May 25. They’ve put their own stamp on the place, but five years is nothing in a town that thrives on history.
“For people in Spring City, I live in Donna Larsen's house — it's not my house,” Ann Stucki said. “Granted the Larsen family had it from 1935 to 2007, so I happily live in Donna Larsen's house. I enjoy her flowers, and I am so grateful that (she) took such nice care of the property.”
‘Most opera singers don’t do it that way’
Long before living in “Donna Larsen’s house,” Brian and Ann Stucki met as freshmen at Brigham Young University. They got married in 2003 — a decade later. That story, Ann Stucki said, is a “10-year drama” that could rival the most intense of operas.
“I was 18; I fell in love with him kind of quickly,” said Ann Stucki, who went on to receive a master’s degree in social work from the University of Utah. “Brian initially told me I was like a sister, but we stayed friends. I had this whole file of teenage poetry about Brian that's still so embarrassing. I couldn't even show him a lot of the poetry until we’d been married for several years.”
Nearly a decade into their friendship, Brian Stucki realized — thanks, in part, to a blunt brother — that he wouldn’t be spending all of his time talking to Ann if he wasn’t in love with her. He came to his senses and proposed.
But about three years into their marriage, life became fairly rootless. For six years, the Stuckis were gone nine to 10 months out of the year, and they moved to a new city every four to eight weeks. Brian and Ann Stucki took one kid, and then, with an inline double stroller in tow, two kids from Japan to Israel, throughout Europe and across the United States.
“Most opera singers don’t do it that way,” Brian Stucki said with a laugh. “Most opera singers would just kiss their families goodbye and they would keep in touch via Skype and just kind of do the distance thing and deal with that. And that was just something that Ann and I didn’t want to do. I wanted to be there and see my kids, be there for the milestones and actually be an in-person dad, not a Skype dad.”
That goal was often easier said than done. Many times, opera companies wouldn’t accommodate entire families.
“They’re not counting on you bringing your wife and your two children,” Brian Stucki said. “So we were usually responsible for the airfare and oftentimes for enhanced housing. That extra expense was on us.”
But it was a literal price the Stuckis were willing to pay in order to receive the best of both worlds.
“Are we going to look back on our lives and be like, ‘Wow, that was so great how (we) made money in Japan!’ or are we going to look back and think how incredible that we had this month with our family in Japan, having this experience?” Brian Stucki said. “I was able to pursue that performing-intensive part of my career, and I still got to be a dad. I got to come home from rehearsals and read stories to my kids.”
And, as Ann Stucki will never let him forget, clean up vomit.
A small-town family
The Stuckis knew a nomadic lifestyle with kids could only work for so long. Things began to change when their third child, Kate, entered the picture — around the same time their oldest reached school-age.
“There comes a time when Mom and Dad can’t sort of very successfully make a whole world for their kids,” Brian Stucki said. “They kind of need more.”
So the Stuckis returned to what had loosely been their home base for the last six years — Salt Lake City, where Ann Stucki’s parents lived — and began to develop a rooted life. Brian Stucki did some adjunct teaching at UVU and Westminster College before being tasked with creating an opera workshop program down at Snow College. As his role there gradually expanded, Brian Stucki was spending the majority of his time in Sanpete County.
And just as they’d done many times before, the Stuckis packed their bags and moved, this time to central Utah, so they could be together as a family. Five years later, they’re in the same place, living in the historic 19th-century stone house they fell in love with on KSL Classifieds.
Living in Spring City has given the Stuckis and their three kids, now 13, 10 and 7, a tight-knit community that was often missing during their years abroad. Ann Stucki is actively involved with Friends of Historic Spring City, which puts on the city’s annual Heritage Day that raises money to preserve and restore historic buildings. And as Brian Stucki actively repairs drywall and prepares his family’s stone house for the Heritage Day home tours, he’s reminded that they don't just have a community in Spring City — they’re at the heart of it.
“I very much have enjoyed my experiences on the road and around the world. I love traveling. Big cities are great and I enjoy what they offer culturally and otherwise, but I’ve discovered that I am a small-town guy,” he said. “I love living in a quiet place, I love the amazing stars at night … (and) I like being able to just push the kids out the door and say, ‘Here’s a dollar, go down to the gas station.’”
Note: During Heritage Day, Brian Stucki will give a free mini-concert in the Rock Church on Spring City's Main Street at 3 p.m.
If you go …
What: Spring City Heritage Day Celebration
When: Saturday, May 25, 10 a.m-4 p.m.
Where: Spring City, Utah
How much: $10 for adults, $5 for children