In art, there is a bright line of quality above which categories do not matter. The best works of Mozart, Picasso, Charlie Parker and Laurence Olivierto pick four names out of the stratosphereare at a level of expressiveness, humanity and emotion to which anyone with open mind, ears and heart can respond. With the death of Jon Vickers on July 10, we lost a tenor whose presence, magnetism and sheer vocal ability had the power to reach listeners who thought opera pointless, pretentious or silly. His roles in Pagliaci, Rigoletto, Carmen, Tristan and Isolde andperhaps most powerfullyPeter Grimes, made him one of the most compelling performers of the twentieth century, in any art form. Here he is in Verdi’s Otello at the Metropolitan Opera in 1978, with Cornell MacNeil as Iago.
For a lengthy appreciation of Jon Vickers see this article by Richard Osborne in Gramophone magazine. Osborne illustrates it with three videos of Vickers in full cry. They include a crucial scene from Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, a performance that brought Vickers huge acclaim.