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Tributes Ring Out For Tenor Vickers

Saskatoon Star Phoenix
September 26, 1987. p.D1

By Sheila Bean of the Star Phoenix

Prince Albert - Praise and admiration were showered on world-class tenor Jon Vickers in his hometown Friday night.

Prince Albert Mayor Dick Spencer said that hearing Vickers sing at John Diefenbaker's funeral was one of the most moving and inspiring moments of his life.

Diefenbaker had requested that Vickers sing at his funeral, and Spencer said the choirboys were moved to tears as Vickers delivered Mendelssohn's "Then Shall the Righteous Shine Forth." Spencer described the experience as "almost Biblical."

At the tribute dinner, the City of Prince Albert named a new street Jon Vickers Drive, and Vickers joined Diefenbaker, Marion Sherman, Sen. Davey Steuart and Terry Simpson as honorary citizens.

Earlier in the day, an addition to Vickers School was opened.

Vickers' brother David gave a retrospective of the honored guest's life, from his determination at the age of two to saw through his mother's clothesline platform, to his 1950s debuts at the world's seven great opera houses, to the time he sang for Queen Elizabeth II.

During his youth, Jon Vickers was noted for his voice, whether he was singing during his father's sermon at the Prince Albert Penitentiary or whether he was cheering and laughing at a sporting event, according to his brother.

Guests at the tribute banquet were treated to the famous laugh when Vickers accepted his honorary citizenship, then laughed heartily at his own joke.

"It's a strange emotion to sit and hear all these terribly nice things said," Vickers said. "I've always said that I'm just the son of a schoolteacher, who loved to farm and happens to sing.

"When I go home to my bed, to my home, I hope I'm just a dad to my kids, the son of a schoolteacher, just some guy who sings. I can't understand why they make such a fuss about it . But it's nice."

He says he feels he's talking about another person when asked to talk about his career, perhaps because he's so accustomed to portraying a character onstage. But his successful career all comes down to his strong, Bible-influenced upbringing.

"A lot of people see the opera world as a crazy sort of high-flying, jet-setting world where all sorts of immoralities take place. And it does, but they're just humans like everybody else."

Many people don't identify with opera because opera is an artform, and they can't come to terms with art, Vickers said.

"More and more, man denies he's a spiritual being. That kind of thinking infiltrates the art world, but art still asks important, penetrating question. If you grapple with those questions, they'll drive you to the centre of your being where you'll search for the answers," Vickers said.

He feels privileged to be a part of such a powerful artform.