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Jon Vickers

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Jon Vickers
Jonathan Stewart Vickers

(1926-10-29)October 29, 1926
DiedJuly 10, 2015(2015-07-10) (aged 88)
Ontario, Canada
EducationThe Royal Conservatory
OccupationOpera singer (tenor)
AwardsGovernor General's Awards

Jonathan Stewart Vickers, CC (October 29, 1926 – July 10, 2015), known professionally as Jon Vickers, was a Canadian heldentenor.

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.[1] (Conversely, he was sometimes criticized for "scooping"—beginning a note below pitch and then sliding up to the correct pitch—and for "crooning".[2])

In 1968 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. Vickers received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts, in 1998.[3]


Vickers studied with George Lambert at The Royal Conservatory of Music[4] and sang professionally in Canada from the early- to mid-1950s. In 1952 he won the Nos futures étoiles competition on CBC Radio.[5] 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 Verdi's Aida and the title role in his Don Carlos, Handel's Samson, Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio, Tristan in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Canio in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, and the title role in Britten's Peter Grimes.[6] Some critics praised Vickers' Tristan as the best since Lauritz Melchior's.[7]

He debuted at the Bayreuth Festival in 1958 as Siegmund in Die Walküre and sang Parsifal there in 1964.[4] Later negotiations with Wieland Wagner concerning appearances as Siegfried in Götterdämmerung ceased on Wieland's death in 1966. His debut role at the Metropolitan Opera in 1960 was Canio in Pagliacci.[8] He appeared at the Met for a period of 27 years in 280 performances of 17 roles, including Florestan in Fidelio, Siegmund in Wagner's Die Walküre, Don Jose in Bizet's Carmen, Radamès in Aida, Erik in Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer, Herman in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, Samson in both Handel's oratorio and Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila, the title role of Verdi's Otello, Don Alvaro in Verdi's La forza del destino, Peter Grimes, Tristan und Isolde, Laca in Janáček's Jenůfa, Vasek in Smetana's The Bartered Bride, and the title role in Wagner's Parsifal, giving his farewell in 1987.[8]

Among Vickers' more notable recordings were Tristan und Isolde in 1972 with Herbert von Karajan (Vickers became one of Karajan's favourite singers at the lavish Salzburg Easter and Summer Festivals in Der Ring des Nibelungen, Carmen, Otello, Fidelio as well as Tristan und Isolde), Les Troyens, singing the part of Énée (Aeneas), with Sir Colin Davis in 1969,[9][10][11] and a legendary and controversial 1959 recording of Handel's Messiah with Sir Thomas Beecham.[11][12][13]

Although scheduled to sing Tannhäuser at Covent Garden in the late 1970s, Vickers dropped out, claiming he could not empathize with the character,[14] and that the opera itself was blasphemous in nature.[6][15] He sang Nerone in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea at the Paris Opéra, and 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[11] and rarely heard parts such as Cellini in Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini,[16] Ratan-Sen in Roussel's Padmavati and Sergei in Shostakovitch's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.[10] Many critics praised his interpretation of Verdi's Otello,[17] 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.[18][19]

Vickers further sang at the 'home' of Italian opera, Milan's La Scala, as well as in the major opera houses of Chicago, San Francisco, Vienna, and at the Salzburg Festival. He retired in 1988.[20]

Personal life and death[edit]

Vickers was born into the musical family of William, a teacher and school principal, and Myrle (née Mossop). As a youth he sang in his father's church, and his initial intention was to study medicine. He worked on a neighbour's farm and acquired the muscular stature that characterized him. During a semi-professional production his leading lady made a recording of his voice and sent it to The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. He auditioned there with Every Valley Shall be Exalted and was offered a scholarship.[21]

In 1953 he married Henrietta (Hetti) Outerbridge. They had five children. After her death in 1991, he married Judith Stewart.[21] Vickers died of Alzheimer's disease on July 10, 2015, in Ontario.[22][23]


He was a dedicated, outspoken Protestant; one writer referred to him as "God's tenor" for this reason.[24]


Vickers' voice was recorded in dozens of performances, including:[10]

Opera recordings[edit]

Concert recordings[edit]

Recital recordings[edit]


  1. ^ "Jon Vickers, tenor – obituary". The Telegraph. July 12, 2015. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  2. ^ "Reputations – Jon Vickers". Gramophone. Retrieved August 29, 2021.
  3. ^ "Jon Vickers biography". Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Foundation. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Jon Vickers Archived July 14, 2015, at the Wayback Machine (in German) Bayreuth Festival. Retrieved July 14, 2015
  5. ^ Suzanne Thomas (December 15, 2013). "Nos futures étoiles". The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  6. ^ a b "Canadian-born tenor Jon Vickers dies". Royal Opera House. July 11, 2015. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  7. ^ Classical Music: The Listener's Companion (2002), ed. Alexander J. Morin, pp. 1038
  8. ^ a b "Remembering Jon Vickers 1926–2015". Metropolitan Opera. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  9. ^ "Mort du ténor Jon Vickers, interprète inoubliable d'Enée et d'Otello". Le Monde (in French). July 13, 2015. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c Jon Vickers: A Hero's Life (1999) by Jeannie Williams and Birgit Nilsson
  11. ^ a b c Cooper, Katherine (July 13, 2015). "Obituary – Jon Vickers". Presto Classical. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  12. ^ "Messiah". Classical Net. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  13. ^ "Jon Vickers obituary". The Guardian. July 12, 2015. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  14. ^ Baker, John (July 13, 2015). "Farewell to Canadian-born Tenor Jon Vickers". Texas Public Radio. Retrieved July 14, 2014.
  15. ^ Cohen, Steve (January 1, 2011). "Tannhäuser': Blasphemy or piety". Broad Street Review. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  16. ^ Henahan, Donal (May 10, 1983). "MUSIC: BERLIOZ'S 'CELLINI'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  17. ^ "Chicago Classical Review » » Vickers' Moor revisited and Domingo's "Otello" farewell". Retrieved August 29, 2021.
  18. ^ Crory, Neil (June 30, 2001), "New York", Opera Canada, vol. 42, no. 1, p. 34, retrieved September 9, 2013
  19. ^ Winters, Ken (April 16, 2005), "Classical: Recital will long shine in the memory", The Globe and Mail, p. R6, retrieved September 9, 2013
  20. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (July 12, 2015). "Jon Vickers, Opera Star Known for His Raw Power and Intensity, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  21. ^ a b Barker, Frank Granville; Blyth, Alan (July 10, 2015), "Obituaries", The Guardian, p. 35, retrieved July 14, 2015
  22. ^ William R. Braun (July 11, 2015). "Jon Vickers, 88, Heroic Canadian Tenor, Has Died". Opera News.
  23. ^ Anthony Tommasini (July 12, 2015). "Jon Vickers, Opera Star Known for His Raw Power and Intensity, Dies at 88". The New York Times.
  24. ^ Rhein, John von (July 12, 2015). "'God's tenor' Jon Vickers dead at 88". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved August 29, 2021.
  25. ^ Performed in English, OCLC 54404309.


External links[edit]