Artist Profile: Jon Vickers, ‘God’s Tenor’

By David Salazar

Jon Vickers was once known as “God’s tenor.”

Born on Oct. 29, 1926, the Canadian artist would go on to a storied career with a voice that has become as immortal as God.

He was the sixth child of eight children and while his initial intention was to study medicine, he earned a scholarship to study at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and the rest is history.

Before long, he was singing at the Royal Opera House, the Met, the Bayreuth Festival, La Scala, the San Francisco Opera, the Vienna State Opera, and the Salzburg Opera.

The tenor was a devout Christian and his beliefs were so essential to him that he dropped out of a production of “Tannhäuser” at the Royal Opera House because he thought the opera was blasphemous.

In 1968 he was made Companion of the Order of Canada and also achieved the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 1998.

He retired from the stage in 1988.

Signature Roles

There are so many places to go with Vickers, who was undeniably one of the great tenors of the 20th century.

But we’ll zero in on two roles for which he left an indelible stamp.

The first of these is Verdi’s “Otello.” Vickers is often regarded as the heir to Mario Del Monaco amongst great interpreters of the role in the 20th century. His particular account is undeniably iconic, the tenor’s unique voice giving the heroic role a softer edge without losing any of the heft or power.

The second of these roles is the title role of “Peter Grimes,” for which Vickers is no heir to anyone and has had no peer since he stopped singing it. For many, Vickers was and continues to be the embodiment of “Peter Grimes” on the opera stage and almost every tenor that embarks on this most challenging of roles will inevitably be compared to Vickers at some point during the journey.

Read More on Vickers

His 5 Greatest Roles

Watch and Listen

Here is a full recording of “Peter Grimes.”

And here is the ending of “Otello,” where his singing is exquisite.


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