Sunday, November 15, 2015

Jon Vickers sings Otello

This is my post from this week's Once or Twice a Fortnight.

OTF returns with a full-length opera this month, but first a few words on the life and career of the late great Canadian Heldentenor Jon Vickers, who passed away this past July.

Jonathan Vickers was born in the prairie hamlet of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, the suxth if eight children if a devoutly religious family. Jon's father was a teacher - a school principal no less - and the children were involved in their community, singing and performing music at church and in the local jail!

Coming of age in World War II, Jon chose to defer his studies and contribute to the labour workforce, which took him as far Easr as Winnipeg. He worked in Grocery stores and in Department stores, whilst still performing and singing as an amateur.

Finally, in 1950, he earned a scholarship to attend the Royal Conservatory in Toronto and, soon after, made his professional debut with the local opera company and, later, on the airwaves of the CBC. It must have been through performances at the Toronto Opera Festival that he was dispatched to London with a plane ticket - after a short audition - to be featured at Covent Garden productions of Un Ballo in Maschera and Carmen in the 1956-57 season.

When one compares Vickers to his peers of that era, one should not look at other opera singers, but rather at the great "method actors" of the time, folks like Marlon Brando, who not only take on a role, they inhabit it. And the range of characters is impressive - Tristan, Otello and Aeneas (Les Troyens); sining all of these (including five Otellos), in a six-week period at the Met in 1974.

As stated in a recent obituary, a Vickers performance in the opera house was a grand, sweeping, overriding affair, often a performance of extremes, 

Vickers' voice was recorded in dozens of performances. Many critics praised his interpretation of Verdi's Otello, which he recorded twice: in 1960 with Tullio Serafin and 1973 with Herbert von Karajan. As we remember the great tenor, I am sharing today a complete recording of the former (1960) recording.

Happy Listening!

Libretto -

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