Jon Vickers (1926-2015)

1998 Lifetime Artistic Achievement (Classical Music)

"Anyone can own a Stradivarius but not everyone can play it." Among the thousands of beautiful voices in the world, only a handful of singers have the knowledge and ability to analyze and understand the most difficult scores and language, and communicate their full meaning to listeners. Jon Vickers is one of the greatest of these. Dismissing the word "artist" as applied to himself - "I interpreted the work of great artists, Verdi, Wagner, Berlioz" -, he is nevertheless this century's foremost "heldentenor". As Wagner's Tristan or Siegmund, as Britten's Peter Grimes, or as the only tenor in history ever to perform Aeneas in the uncut, untransposed version of Berlioz's The Trojans ("The most difficult role I have ever done!"), his brilliant operatic performances in the world's greatest opera houses remain unsurpassed.

He sang from earliest childhood, accompanying his lay preacher father and seven siblings to churches and penitentiaries near their Saskatchewan home. Business might have been his forte but a Royal Conservatory scholarship sent him to Toronto in 1950 to try music. He credits a forgotten Canadian musical hero of those days, Herman Geiger-Torel, founder of the Canadian Opera Company, with "teaching me more than anyone else about interpreting music." Within a month of a self-imposed deadline to give up his singing career, he was signed by Covent Garden in 1956, and the rest is history.

The root of his work? "Christianity, the rock of my life." And opera? "A great art form to be approached with reverence and humility; to serve and reveal, if you have the power to do it." Jon Vickers is a Companion of the Order of Canada.