Teresa Stratas: Jon Vickers was the love of my artistic life

We have received this tribute from the great Canadian soprano:

Jon was the love of my artistic life. He was the greatest artist that I have ever worked with, but was also the greatest artist I ever saw or heard sitting in an audience. One always had the feeling that you had to reckon with the whole wretched world, but also with the exquisite beauty found in it simultaneously.

Jon Vickers defies words and descriptions, and his magnificent voice carried the entire danger, volatility, and suffering of humanity within it and yet at the same time, the tender and positive redemptive power of love.

It was as if his voice knew everything about this world. Maybe that’s why we could always recognize his sound for it was unique and like no one else’s. His voice could be filled with fury and simultaneously filled with tenderness.

He was a mysterious man both on and off the stage. In my first Otello in Montreal with Jon in the mid 1960s, I had a feeling he could snap me in two, the element of danger loomed so large on stage. At the same time he was so vulnerable, that I wanted to run to him and cradle him in my arms, despite his fierceness.

stratas jon vickers

He always brought his high intelligence and those unique qualities to every one of his roles. For example in the Bartered bride you didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He was also such a perfectionist. I remember he would give a monumental performance in Pagliacci, then pick me up at the end when I was still in awe of the moment and ask me if he had been okay? He was always striving to make his art better.

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  • What a lovely tribute… I was enchanted by that production of The Bartered Bride, not least for the scenes between these two. Yes, of course I was drawn to the intensity both brought to the stage in their other roles, but this… pure magic!

    I would love to use a part of Ms Stratas’ comments in a sidebar about unforgettable performances, all of which involved Mr Vickers. It’s a question I asked dozens of interviewees, whether the memory was of something seen from the house, or participated in. I’ll email you a request and ask that you pass it along to her, if you would be so kind.

  • What a beautiful tribute from one truly great artist to another. Both of their careers were launched in the 1950s in Toronto.

  • I worked for the Houston Grand Opera in the 1980s when Jon was there doing Pagliacci. It was a rehearsal on stage with orchestra. He got so carried away in the commedia scene at the end that he hurled a chair away from Nedda’s path, as if was about to tear her to bits. The chair went flying into the orchestra pit and landed directly onto onto a violinist, who – though fortunately not hurt – had the instrument snap in half at the neck. We stopped rehearsal, of course, and Jon came to the lip of the stage. He had turned from a ferocious lion into a naughty puppy in a matter of seconds, apologizing in a heartbreaking tone. I know what Ms. Stratas means by his vulnerability. He was so lost in the moment of the drama that he forgot everything else, sometimes to his detriment and to the angst of those working with him. He didn’t express himself much in words either during or after rehearsal. He was in character from the moment he arrived at the theatre to when he left!

  • After the infamous MET broadcast debut of Kiri Te Kanawa in Otello 2/9/1974 Teresa Stratas sang Desdemona to the Otello of Jon Vickers.Sadly no documentation of those performances exist. Did anyone see any of these performances.

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