Farewell to Jon Vickers 1926-2015 July 23 2015
On July 10th, 2015, the legendary Canadian tenor Jon
Vickers died after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 88 years old.
A peerless performer, showman, and friend Jon Vickers was a legendary opera singer for almost four decades. During his lengthy career, Jon accumulated many awards and accolades for his demanding and driving performances in opera houses across the globe.
The Early Years
Born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada, on October 29th, 1926, Jon was brought up in a devoutly religious family of eight children. His father, a schoolteacher, and bandleader conducted Jon and his seven siblings in musical performances. These performances included singing and musical instruments and took place at home, in the church, and at the local jail and prison. These performances continued throughout his childhood until he began his college career.
Jon's college was deferred, however, because of World War II. Jon was asked to accommodate the return of servicemen from the European theatre. Jon graciously did so by taking employment at Safeway and Woolworths. His career in retail continued into 1950 where he was a tool salesman at Hudson Bay Company in Winnipeg. While at Hudson Bay, Jon received a small scholarship to study at the Toronto Conservatory. During his studies at the Toronto Conservatory, Jon married his wife, Henrietta, in 1953 and made his professional opera debut as the Duke in Rigoletto in 1954.
A Rising Star
Jon quickly made an impact on the opera world. After his first performance, Jon quickly took on more than a dozen roles for the CBC. Jon's performances for the CBC went on to include a live television broadcast of Pagliacci. Following his performances for CBC, Jon was allowed to perform in London for the 1956-57 Convent Garden season. Jon's international performances planted him at the forefront of globally recognized tenors.
A seminal role in Les Troyens, directed by John Gielgud, cemented Jon's position as one the most talented tenors currently performing. His daring and remarkable duets with Tito Gobbi elevated Jon to one of the all-time greats. By 1959 was singing at the top opera houses in the world. In 1960, Jon made his debut at the Met as Canio in Fidelio. Jon's performance as Canio was received tepidly. Despite the halfhearted reception of his Canio, Jon's later performance as Florestan at the Met was met with rave reviews.
Jon's global tours continued well into the 1960s and 70s. Known as a powerful and emotive performer, it was not uncommon for Jon to admonish the audience for perceived insolence. In one case in Dallas in 1975, Jon was reported as telling the audience to "shut up your damn coughing", during the death of Tristan. Jon was also known for his commanding presence in roles that intimated his co-stars, though his peers always recognized Jon's talent and artistry.
Later Years and Retirement
Jon's career continued well into the 1980s with performances in Das Lied Von der Erde in 1981 and Winterreise in 1983. Jon retired from opera in 1988. In 1991, after the death of his wife Henrietta, Jon married Judith Stewart. Jon and Judith remained together until Jon's death from Alzheimer's, last July 10th, 2015. Jon's legacy remains and he will forever be known as a dynamic operatic powerhouse, as well as the consummate man of God he was and forever will be.
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