Jon Vickers

29 October 1926 Prince Albert/Saskatchewan – 10 July 2015 Ontario

Picture ofJon Vickers

Jon Vickers sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (1)
In RA format

Jon Vickers sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (2)
In RA format

Jon Vickers sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (3)
In RA format

Jon Vickers sings Die Walküre: Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (4)
In RA format

Jon Vickers sings Parsifal: Nur eine Waffe taugt

Jon Vickers singsFidelio: Gott, welch Dunkel hier
In RA format

I would like to thank Imogen Norcroft for the recording (Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond 2, 3 and 4).
I would like to thank Thomas Silverbörg for the recordings (Parsifal, Fidelio).
I wish to thank Thomas Silverbörg for the picture.

Some reminiscences

Back in the 1960's, I first heard from Jon Vickers through French and English (Rosenthal) reviews. While English reviews were all unanimous in their praise, the French critics of that time were pretty negative, complaining about his lack of top notes, his abuse of pianissimi in difficult passages and so on. Soon after, I acquired the Walküre version with him and conducted by Leinsdorf. On record and in a low tenor role, Vickers sounded pretty good. Having admired the Samson et Dalila recording with Luccioni, I purchased the version with Vickers after reading the excellent English reviews. I put it on and started listening to Arrêtez ô mes frères. Remembering the Luccioni, Verdière, Escalaïs etc renderings, I was stunned by the lack of power and the insignificance of Vickers's presence and singing. After sampling more of his singing, I never played the set again. Even the miracle of modern electronics could not save that mediocre performance. After spending a lot of money to get a ticket, I went to hear Vickers in Carmen during the Salzburg summer festival. I heard, or rather barely heard, a non-heroic voice, necessary in the last two acts, going through the part with overuse of pianissimi. As usual there was praise from the English, condemnation from the French. During the following years, I heard him in different roles, especially Canio and Otello, not at all the voice for these roles. He was particularly ridiculous in Otello, where he overacted faute de mieux, wiggling his rear-end while crawling on the stage. The only time I was satisfied with him was in Peter Grimes, an opera I went to hear because it was part of my subscription. Since I could not care less for Britten's operas, I never repeated the experience. Now French critics have also lowered their standards, Segalini finds him the greatest heroic tenor!? But this is the same person that found that Ninon Vallin was singing like a fishmonger.

Born Jonathan Stewart, he wanted to study medicine, but failed to get a place at university, so he worked as a department store manager, and sang as an amateur in church and in operetta in Winnipeg. After studying voice at the Toronto conservatory, he started as a concert tenor in 1951, followed by his operatic debut as Duca in 1954 in Toronto, where he stayed for two years. In 1957, he made a successful debut at Covent Garden as Riccardo; he would sing at Covent Garden regularly until 1969 (Don Carlo, Radames, Florestan, Samson, Énée, Siegmund, Tristan...).

In Bayreuth, he was Siegmund in 1958 and Parsifal in 1964. Regular guest appearances at the Vienna Staatsoper (from 1959), at La Scala in Milano (from 1960), at the Salzburg Festival (from 1966) and in San Francisco (1959–70), also at the Paris Opéra, in Dallas (from 1975) and in Chicago. From 1960 to 1987, he sang at the Met, a total of 280 evenings: Florestan, Siegmund, Canio, José, Radames, Erik, two Samsons (Saint-Saëns and Händel), Otello, German, Peter Grimes, Énée, Tristan, Alvaro, Laca, Vašek (!) and Parsifal.

One of his greatest successes was Jason to the Medea of Maria Callas in Cherubini's opera (Dallas 1958, Covent Garden 1959, La Scala 1961/62). He was one of the favorite singers of Herbert von Karajan.

He was hailed (and staged himself) as an intellectual singer, one who could create overwhelming portrayals of his stage characters. But he was also, quite incompatibly with intellectuality, a pretty intransigent Christian believer (his father had been a Presbyterian lay minister), and constantly refused to sing Tannhäuser, claiming that Wagner "challenged the redemptive work of Jesus Christ". Vickers was totally devoid of any irony (let alone self-irony), and not exactly easy to deal with. In a 1975 Dallas Tristan, he called on the audience "to shut up your damn coughing". Frankly, the whole fuss he used to make about artistry and art's mission and serving mankind and so on and so forth could seem pretty affected, mannered and pretentious – just as his musical interpretations. He positively did grate on some listener's nerves, and ears (yours truly included).

His career ended in 1988. In his final years, he suffered from Alzheimer disease.

Reference 1, reference 2: Kutsch & Riemens, reference 3, reference 4: obituary in The Guardian, 12 July 2015, reference 5: Kutsch & Riemens, reference 6


The school for fathers (Filipeto) – Toronto, radio, 26 November 1952
The rake's progress (Sellem) – Toronto, radio, 22 April 1953
Così fan tutte (Ferrando) – Toronto, radio, 25 November 1953
Rigoletto – Toronto, Opera Festival, 25 February 1954
A tale of two cities (Charles Darnay) – Toronto, radio, 5 May 1954
Die Fledermaus (Alfred) – Toronto, TV, 16 May 1954
Down in the valley (Brack Weaver) – Toronto, TV, 1 August 1954
Evgenij Onegin – Toronto, radio, 17 November 1954
Manon Lescaut (act 2) – Toronto, TV, 30 December 1954
La traviata – Toronto, Opera Festival, 1 March 1955
Tosca (act 1) – Toronto, TV, 26 May 1955
Pagliacci – Montréal, TV, 3 November 1955
The ruby (Albert) – Toronto, radio, 30 November 1955
Il trovatore (act 4) – Toronto, TV, 5 January 1956
Le nozze di Figaro (Basilio) – Toronto, TV, 22 January 1956
Die Walküre (act 1) – Toronto, radio, 6 February 1956
Carmen – Toronto, Opera Festival, 24 February 1956
The rape of Lucretia (Male Chorus) – Stratford, Festival, 7 July 1956
The yeoman of the guard – Toronto, radio, 5 September 1956
Troilus and Cressida (Troilus) – Toronto, radio, 10 October 1956
H.M.S. Pinafore (Ralph Rackstraw) – Toronto, TV, 31 October 1956
Médée – Philadelphia, American Opera Society, 17 November 1956
Fidelio (Florestan) – New York, American Opera Festival, 20 November 1956
Gianni Schicchi (Rinuccio) – Toronto, TV, 26 December 1956
Un ballo in maschera – Cardiff, Royal, 4 March 1957
Les Troyens – London, Covent Garden, 14 June 1957
Aida – London, Covent Garden, 26 November 1957
Don Carlos – London, Covent Garden, 9 May 1958
Die Walküre – Bayreuth, Festspielhaus, 14 August 1958
Samson – Leeds, Royal, 14 October 1958
Parsifal – London, Covent Garden, 28 May 1959
Andrea Chénier – Wien, Staatsoper, 13 January 1961
Otello – Buenos Aires, Colón, 17 May 1963
Samson et Dalila – Buenos Aires, Colón, 28 June 1963
Lady Macbeth Mtsenskogo uezda (Sergej) – San Francisco, War Memorial, 23 October 1964
Der fliegende Holländer (Erik) – New York, Met, 1 March 1965
Pikovaja dama – New York, Met, 28 September 1965
Peter Grimes – New York, Met, 20 January 1967
Padmâvatí (Ratan-Sen) – Buenos Aires, Colón, 23 July 1968
Tristan und Isolde – Buenos Aires, Colón, 25 September 1971
Dido and Aeneas – Dallas, Opera, 3 November 1972
Salome (Herodes) – Orange, 13 July 1974
Norma – Orange, 20 July 1974
Její pastorkyňa (Laca) – New York, Met, 15 November 1974
La forza del destino – New York, Met, 17 January 1975
The diary of one who vanished – Guelph, Spring Festival, 27 April 1975
Benvenuto Cellini – Boston, Opera, 3 May 1975
L'incorazione di Poppea (Nero) – Paris, Opéra, 17 March 1978
Prodaná nevěsta (Vašek) – New York, Met, 25 October 1978
Reference: Jeannie Williams A hero's life. Jon Vickers, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1999

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