|Born||Jonathan Stewart Vickers
October 29, 1926
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada
|Awards||Order of Canada|
Born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, he was the sixth in a family of eight children. In 1950, he was awarded a scholarship to study opera at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. In 1957 Vickers joined London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden company. In 1960 he joined the Metropolitan Opera. He became world famous for a wide range of German, French and Italian roles. Vickers' huge, powerful voice and solid technique met the demands of many French, German and Italian roles. He was also highly regarded for his powerful stage presence and thoughtful characterizations.
In 1968 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.
Vickers studied with George Lambert at The Royal Conservatory of Music and sang professionally in Canada from the early- to mid-1950s. His international career began with his 1957 Covent Garden Riccardo in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. He continued to appear there into the 1980s, putting his personal stamp on the roles of Énée in Berlioz's Les Troyens, Radamès in Aida, the title role in Don Carlos, Handel's Samson, Florestan in Fidelio, Tristan in Tristan und Isolde, Canio in Pagliacci, and the title role in Britten's Peter Grimes. Some critics praised Vickers' Tristan as the best since Lauritz Melchior's.
He debuted at the Bayreuth Festival in 1958 as Siegmund in Die Walküre and sang Parsifal there in 1964. Later negotiations with Wieland Wagner concerning appearances as Siegfried in Götterdämmerung ended with Wieland's death in 1966. His debut role at the Metropolitan Opera in 1960 was Canio in Pagliacci. He appeared at the Met for 22 seasons in 277 performances of 17 roles, including Florestan in Fidelio, Siegmund, Don Jose in Carmen, Radamès in Aida, Erik in The Flying Dutchman, Herman in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, the Samsons of both Handel and Saint-Saëns, Otello, Don Alvaro in La forza del destino, Peter Grimes, Énée in Les Troyens, Tristan, Laca in Jenůfa, Vasek in The Bartered Bride, and Parsifal, giving his farewell in 1987. At the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London he sang Tristan, Britten's Peter Grimes, Handel's Samson - and, above all, Énée. He later recorded Énée with Sir Colin Davis. In 1959, he was the tenor in a legendary and controversial recording of Handel's Messiah with Sir Thomas Beecham.
Although scheduled to sing Tannhäuser at Covent Garden in the late 1970s, Vickers dropped out, claiming he could not empathize with the character, and that the opera itself was blasphemous in nature. He did, however, sing Nerone in L'incoronazione di Poppea at the Paris Opéra, plus Alvaro in La forza del destino at the Met (1975). His roles also included Don Carlos, Andrea Chenier, Herod in Salome, Giasone in Medea (with Maria Callas in the title role), Pollione in Norma and such rarely heard parts as Cellini in Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini, Ratan-Sen in Roussel's Padmavati and Sergei in Shostakovitch's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Many critics praised his interpretation of Verdi's Otello, which he recorded twice: in 1960 with Tullio Serafin and 1973 with Herbert von Karajan. Vickers also was a long time collaborator with American pianist Richard Woitach.
In 1953 he married Henrietta (Hetty) Outerbridge. They had five children.
- Giasone in Cherubini's Medea, with conductor Nicola Rescigno, live recording from Dallas Civic Opera 1958.
- Don Carlo in Verdi's Don Carlos, with conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, live recording from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 1958.
- Siegmund in Wagner's Die Walküre, with conductor Hans Knappertsbusch, live recording from the Bayreuth Festival 1958.
- Samson in Handel's Samson, with conductor Raymond Leppard, live recording from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 1959.
- Otello in Verdi's Otello, with conductor Tullio Serafin, RCA 1960.
- Siegmund in Wagner's Die Walküre, with conductor Erich Leinsdorf, Decca 1961.
- Radames in Verdi's Aida, with conductor Sir Georg Solti, Decca 1961.
- Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio, with conductor Otto Klemperer, EMI 1961.
- Samson in Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah, with conductor Georges Prêtre, EMI 1962.
- Gustavo III in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, with conductor Edward Downes, live recording from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 1962.
- Parsifal in Wagner's Parsifal, with conductor Hans Knappertsbusch, live recording from the Bayreuth Festival 1964.
- Siegmund in Wagner's Die Walküre, with conductor Herbert von Karajan, Deutsche Grammophon 1966.
- Énée in Berlioz Les Troyens, with conductor Colin Davis, Philips 1969.
- Don José in Bizet's Carmen, with conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, EMI 1969-70.
- Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio, with conductor Herbert von Karajan, EMI 1970.
- Tristan in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, with conductor Herbert von Karajan, EMI 1971-72.
- Otello in Verdi's Otello, with conductor Herbert von Karajan, EMI 1973.
- Pollione in Bellini's Norma, with conductor Giuseppe Patanè, live recording from the Festival d'Orange 1974.
- Grimes in Britten's Peter Grimes, with conductor Colin Davis, Philips 1978.
- Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, with conductor Sir John Barbirolli, live recording Rome 1957
- Handel: Messiah, with conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, RCA 1959
- Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music, with conductor Leonard Bernstein, live recording from the Lincoln Center NY 1962
- Verdi: Requiem, with conductor Sir John Barbirolli, EMI 1969-70
- Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde, with conductor Sir Colin Davis, Philips 1981
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 9, "Choral", with conductor Zubin Mehta, RCA 1984.
- Italian Opera Arias: Arias by Cilea, Flotow, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Ponchielli, Puccini and Verdi, with conductor Tullio Serafin, RCA 1961.
- Richard Strauss: Enoch Arden op. 38, with pianist Marc-André Hamelin, VAI 2006.
- Kuhn, Laura (ed.). "Vickers, Jon(athan) Stewart" in Baker's Student Encyclopedia of Music: R-Z, p. 1952. Schirmer Books, 1999. ISBN 0-02-865315-7
- Macdonnell, W.M. and Norman, Barbara. "Vickers, Jonathan Stewart". The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Further reading
- Jon Vickers: A Hero's Life by Jeannie Williams, Northeastern University Press, 1999. ISBN 1-55553-408-2
- The Essential Jon Vickers.
- Interview with Jon Vickers by Bruce Duffie (originally published 1981 in Wagner News, the newsletter of the Wagner Society of America)
- Jon Vickers at IMDB