Tenors are often expected to either have great voices, or brains. Jon Vickers had both.
According to a statement from Vickers’ family, the great Canadian heldentenor Jon Vickers, known as “God’s tenor”, died on Friday in Ontario after a lengthy struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Vickers started singing in church choirs in his hometown of Price Albert, Saskatchewan, and eventually landed in Toronto on a scholarship to study at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
By the mid-1950s, he sang at the Toronto Opera Festival, where local audiences took notice of his extraordinarily powerful voice. The following year Vickers was in the Bayreuth festival as Siegmund in Die Walküre.
He made his debut role at the Metropolitan Opera in 1960 as Canio in Pagliacci and stayed for 22 seasons performing in over 17 roles.
Vickers was a consummate artist with a complex personality. The soprano Birgit Nilsson described him as “always unhappy,” and that his “nerves were outside the skin, not inside the skin,” (Jon Vickers: A Hero’s Life”). He was a proud Canadian and held fast to his Christian roots.
In 1977, Vickers pulled out of a production of Wagner’s “Tannhauser,” saying he considered it anti-Christian.
With a career lasting over three decades, Vickers earned devoted fans worldwide and was honoured with several honorary degrees, a companionship in the Order of Canada and two Grammy Awards. In an address to the graduating class of 1969 at the Royal Academy of Music in Toronto, Vickers said, “I sang because I had to.”
In 1988, Vickers retired with his wife, Henrietta, who later died in 1991. He spent most of his time on his rural farm in Ontario surrounded by nature and his family.
He is survived by a sister, five children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
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