Vickers, Jon

Canadian tenor, b. 1926

Biographical notes:

He was born Jonathan Stewart in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He intended to pursue a career in business until he was 22, singing in choirs and amateur musicals as a hobby. He then studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. After appearances in Canada as the Duke in Rigoletto, Don José in Carmen, in oratorios and operettas (!), he joined the Covent Garden Opera in 1957, making his debut as Gustavus III (Riccardo). He also sang Don José and Aeneas in Berlioz’ Les Troyens. In 1958 he added Radames to his repertory, he sang Don Carlo in Visconti’s production conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini and made his debut at the Bayreuth Festival as Siegmund. He appeared as Samson in Handel’s oratorio and as Jason to Callas’ Medea in Cherubini’s opera. In 1959 Vickers was invited to the Vienna Staatsoper, he made his San Francisco debut as Radames and was a successful Parsifal at Covent Garden. He joined the MET in 1960, making his debut as Canio, and stayed there for more than 25 years. He had a long career at Covent Garden where he was particularly admired. His repertory included not only roles such as Florestan, Aeneas (Enée), Tristan, Peter Grimes, Siegmund and Otello, but also Radames, Renato, Don José, Canio, Andrea Chénier and Don Carlos.


... passion, grief, tenderness, pride, jealousy, intimacy, power


Recordings: (selection)

Beethoven - Fidelio (Klemperer 1961/Jurinac, Hotter, Frick, Morison, Dobson)


Beethoven - Fidelio (Klemperer 1962/Ludwig, Frick, Berry, Crass, Unger, Hallstein)


Beethoven - Fidelio (Böhm 1968/Rysanek, Berry, Dickie, Blegen)


Beethoven - Fidelio (Karajan 1970/Dernesch, Kelemen, Ridderbusch, Laubenthal, Donath)


Berlioz - Les Troyens (Davis 1969/Veasey, Lindholm, Glossop)


Bizet - Carmen (Karajan 1966/Bumbry, Freni, Diaz)


Bizet - Carmen (Frühbeck de Burgos 1970/Bumbry, Freni, Paskalis)


Britten - Peter Grimes (Davis 1978/Harper, Summers)


Cherubini - Medea (Rescigno 1958/Callas, Vickers, Carron)


Cherubini - Medea (Rescigno 1959/Callas, Cossotto, Carlyle)


Cherubini - Medea (Schippers 1961/Callas, Ghiaurov, Simionato)


Saint- Saëns - Samson et Dalila (Prêtre 1963/Gorr, Blanc)


Saint- Saëns - Samson et Dalila (Fournet live 1964/Dominguez, Blanc)


Verdi - Don Carlo (Giulini 1958/Brouwenstijn, Barbieri, Gobbi, Christoff)


Verdi - Aida (Solti 1961/Price, Merrill, Gorr)


Verdi - Otello (Serafin 1960/Rysanek, Gobbi)


Verdi - Otello (Karajan 1971/Freni, Glossop)


Verdi - Otello (Karajan 1973/Freni, Glossop)


Wagner - Die Walküre (Knappertsbusch 1958/Varnay, Hotter, Rysanek, Greindl, Gorr)


Wagner - Parsifal (Knappertsbusch 1964/Ericson, Stewart, Hotter, Neidlinger, Hagenau)


Wagner - Tristan und Isolde (Karajan 1971/Dernesch, Ludwig, Berry, Ridderbusch)


Wagner - Tristan und Isolde (Stein 1971/Nilsson, Hoffmann, Crass)


Wagner - Die Walküre (Leinsdorf 1961/London, Brouwenstijn, Gorr, Ward)


Wagner - Die Walküre (Karajan 1967/Crespin, Stewart, Janowitz, Veasey)


Wagner - Die Walküre (Karajan 1969/Adam, Crespin, Talvela, Veasey)

Nuova Era

Italian Opera Arias (Serafin 1961)


Jon Vickers in Concert (New York 1967)


Schumann - Dichterliebe


Verdi - Messa da Requiem (Barbirolli 1970/Caballé, Cossotto, Raimondi)


Mahler - Das Lied von der Erde (Davis 1982/Norman)


Schubert - Winterreise (1983)



I must admit, it took me more than ten years to “get accustomed” to Jon Vicker’s voice. Today, he belongs to my favorite tenors... Some irritating reasons might be established in the voice itself. It is not a “beautiful” instrument. There is little head resonance lacking brilliance. High notes are not effortless, his vowels tend to be rather strange (e, i!).

But, one goes for Vickers because of his great and indeed unique art ! His interpretations are characterized by a complete thoroughness, every detail of expression and shape of phrase have been worked into an integrated whole. He has a particular gift for conveying the inner conflicts and agonies of introverted, passionate and often socially isolated characters (Peter Grimes, Tristan, Otello, Florestan, Siegmund). There is no singer who equals him in this “brutal honesty.”


As Don Carlos with Gré Brouwenstijn as Elisabetta


My favorite recordings:

- Tristan und Isolde, conducted by Karajan (Act 3!)

- Don Carlos, conducted by Giulini

 Io l’ho perduta! (Title role in Don Carlos / Verdi / 1961 / Tullio Serafin)

- Klemperer’s Fidelio with two outstanding singers, Christa Ludwig and Jon Vickers

- Peter Grimes was one of his greatest achievements at Covent Garden

- His introvert Otello, no macho singing here

- Enée in Berlioz’ Les Troyens. His French is not fluent but what a dramatic attitude!

- Händel’s Comfort ye, my people - Every valley conducted by Thomas Beecham. Amazing!

- The early recital under Tullio Serafin is a must!


Jon Vickers about Schumann’s Dichterliebe:                                                     

“The Dichterliebe, like all great works of art, is beyond any definitive interpretation. Love similarly defies definition. The history of art is overflowing with explorations of many aspects of love with their attempts to reveal it and to arrive at some sort of definition.

The great love relationship of Schumann and his wife Clara (with all of the demands laid upon that relationship by the juxtaposing of Clara’s successful career as a pianist with the struggling of Schumann as a composer) equipped Schumann to explore the agony and the ecstasy of love within the bond of marriage.

There are those who have seen in the Dichterliebe an opportunity to play the role of amateur armchair psychoanalysts and have delved into the music and the text in attempts to psychoanalyze Schumann and discover what they see as the real truth about the relationship of Schumann and Clara.

These attempts, I believe, diminish the greatness of Schumann and blind one to what can be learned from Schumann’s tender, loving and agonizing exploration of love from a unique point of view and his shedding new light upon love from a different perspective. In my recitals I did not consciously choose a theme of love, upon hearing it there can emerge the theme of love, from Divine love in the selections from Messiah, to the love of freedom and of the Gypsy way of life in the Dvorak songs.

Recitals are a privilege and a joy to sing because all the music together is a collection of pieces which constitute a gift of love from the composers to all and any who will be receptive to their offerings.”