It was his audition for Covent Garden in 1957 that pushed the Canadian Jon Vickers onto the scene. His early parts included Gustavo in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, Don José in Bizet’s Carmen and the title role in the historic Visconti/Giulini production of Verdi’s Don Carlos; but the potential of his voice to take on the most demanding roles in the repertoire led him towards Berlioz’s Aeneas, Beethoven’s Florestan and Wagner’s Siegmund, Parsifal and Tristan, plus Britten’s Peter Grimes – a role he effectively redefined. With his dramatic presence allied to a burnished bronze tone that could ride over any orchestra, Vickers became the tenor of choice in such roles at Bayreuth, Vienna, the Met and other leading houses. An actor of volcanic power – he was arguably the only tenor partner in whom Maria Callas found an equal match when he sang Jason to her Medea in Cherubini’s opera – Vickers’s art was founded on philosophical and religious beliefs; he withdrew from a production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser, citing the work’s blasphemy. His Canio and Otello were terrifying, his Grimes a harrowing study in rejection, his Tristan unbearably moving.
In his own words: 'Whenever an artist takes his eyes off the ultimate… from what I would call “the Eternal”, then he diminishes himself, and the quality of his art is thereby diminished.’
Greatest recording: Beethoven Fidelio, Klemperer EMI 567 6412 (2 discs)