OP2925. FIDELIO, Live Performance, 25 May, 1962, w.von Karajan Cond. Vienna Staatsoper Ensemble; Christa Ludwig, Jon Vickers, Eberhard Wächter, Walter Berry, Walter Kreppel, Gundula Janowitz, Waldemar Kmentt, etc. (E.U.) 2–Myto 00334. - 0801439903340
“Christa Ludwig was one of the most admired mezzo-sopranos of her generation, with a wide repertoire of both lieder and opera. She brought a fine sense of musicianship as well as drama to her performances. Her rôles ranged from Dorabella in COSÌ FAN TUTTE to Brangane in TRISTAN UND ISOLDE and Clytemnestra in ELEKTRA, and she was the creator of the role of Claire in Gottfried von Einem's BESUCH DER ALTEN DAME. Her technique and upper register were solid enough to let her sing the Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER and the Dyer's Wife in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, parts almost exclusively sung by sopranos -- though she did retreat from plans to sing Isolde and Brünnhilde. She was also a noted lieder performer, especially of Mahler.
She made her operatic début as Prince Orlofsky in Strauss' DIE FLEDERMAUS in 1946, at the Frankfurt State Opera, where she was a member of the company until 1952. She then moved to Darmstadt to study acting with the director Gustav Sellner. After two years, she and her mother (who was still teaching her) moved to Hanover, where she began to sing leading rôles such as Carmen, Ortrud, and Kundry. Her Salzburg début was in 1954 as Cherubino, and followed by her 1955 début in the same rôle at the Vienna State Opera, at the invitation of Karl Böhm, where she sang for more than 30 years. In 1957, she sang with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who encouraged her husband Walter Legge, the famous producer, to sign Ludwig with EMI records. Ludwig's United States operatic début was in 1959 in Chicago, as Dorabella. In the 1970s, she went through a vocal crisis due to menopause, and she took some of the most demanding rôles out of her repertoire and began to give more attention to songs. Again she challenged the typical views of repertoire, and sang material, such as WINTERREISE, that is most often associated with male voices, especially baritones. Working with Leonard Bernstein, she developed a special affection for Mahler (whose music Bernstein championed when Mahler was relatively obscure.)”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com
“The Canadian tenor Jon Vickers brought a colossal voice and raw dramatic intensity to everything he sang, including legendary portrayals of Wagner’s TRISTAN, Verdi’s OTELLO, Beethoven’s Florestan and Britten’s Peter Grimes, had few rivals. Yet, even in subdued passages, whether posing questions as the clueless title character of Wagner’s PARSIFAL or singing tender phrases of a Schubert song, Mr. Vickers’ voice had penetrating body and depth. For all his power, he was a master at singing high pianissimo phrases with ethereal beauty. Making every word he sang matter was another hallmark of his artistry. Mr. Vickers was incapable of fudging a text for the sake of vocal effect, a priority he traced to his Christian upbringing, in which hymns and prayers were revered. Still, Mr. Vickers had his share of detractors, who found his singing burly and gruff.
He identified intensely with the characters he portrayed, especially misfits, like Peter Grimes, and misunderstood heroes, like Verdi’s Otello, who are outwardly strong but struggling against brutal destinies. Yet he readily admitted that in taking risks and giving his all, his singing could be inconsistent and uncontrolled. That Mr. Vickers lost himself in his roles did not surprise those who knew him. He was a volatile and enigmatic person, in many ways decent and principled, but hot-tempered and quick to jump on any perceived slight.
The soprano Birgit Nilsson, the great Isolde to his Tristan, said that Mr. Vickers ‘was almost always unhappy’, and that his ‘nerves were outside the skin, not inside the skin’, as she told Jeannie Williams, the author of JON VICKERS: A HERO’S LIFE. In her book, Ms. Williams recounts stories of Mr. Vickers bullying underlings and dressing down colleagues. When a 1986 Metropolitan Opera production of Handel’s SAMSON traveled to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Mr. Vickers insulted the conductor, Julius Rudel, during a rehearsal in front of the entire cast and orchestra, shaking Mr. Rudel so much that he offered to quit. Yet in interviews he often spoke of how his rural roots and Christian convictions had shaped his life philosophy, as he explained in a 1974 documentary for the Canadian Broadcast Company: ‘The understanding, which slowly and surely developed in me, of the necessity of human contact and an understanding of the needs of others and their problems has probably, more than anything else, given me the ability to analyze my roles, to come to grips with a score, to study a drama, to project my feelings into the life of someone I’ve never met except on a piece of paper’.
Encouraged to pursue singing seriously, he auditioned for George Lambert, a voice teacher who recruited students for the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, and was offered a scholarship, beginning with the 1950-51 academic year. While at the conservatory, Mr. Vickers met Henrietta Elsie Outerbridge, a child of missionaries who had worked in China. Hetti, as she was called, had studied medicine for several semesters and taught English and art. They married in July 1953. A devoted couple, they were ‘one of the great love stories of our time’, in the words of the soprano Teresa Stratas.
Mr. Vickers considered his professional stage début to be a performance in 1954 as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO at the Toronto Opera Festival, which in 1959 became the Canadian Opera Company. Over the next two years with the festival he sang Alfredo in LA TRAVIATA, Don José in CARMEN and other roles but preferred singing for radio and television because the work paid better.
In 1957, for his first season at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, he sang Don José, Riccardo in BALLO IN MASCHERA and Enée (Aeneas) in Berlioz’s epic opera LES TROYENS. Mr. Vickers would later sing Enée in a new production of the opera at Covent Garden in 1969, the centennial of the composer’s death. The conductor was Colin Davis, an inspired Berlioz interpreter. During the run, the Covent Garden forces recorded the opera in a London studio, and the sessions were tense. The cast, especially Mr. Vickers, complained of the strain of recording the work while also performing it on stage. Some rough patches in Mr. Vickers’s singing come through. Still, he brought a heroic cast to the music, and the recording remains a classic.
Mr. Vickers’ first performances at the Metropolitan Opera came in early 1960, singing Canio in Leoncavallo’s PAGLIACCI, Florestan in Beethoven’s FIDELIO and Siegmund in Wagner’s WALKÜRE, all within two months. It was on the Met stage in 1967 that Mr. Vickers introduced what many consider his greatest achievement, the title role of Britten’s PETER GRIMES, conducted by Mr. Davis and directed by Tyrone Guthrie. Working with a libretto by Montagu Slater, Britten conceived the title role of the loner fisherman in an English village for his lifelong partner, the tenor Peter Pears, who gave the first performance in London in 1945. With his ethereal voice, Pears portrayed the fisherman as an alienated dreamer, a misfit in a narrow-minded town. While yearning to be accepted, Grimes takes out his thwarted anger on homeless boys who are drafted into work as his apprentices. Britten described the opera as depicting the struggle of an individual against the masses. But many see Grimes’ persecution as a metaphor for the oppression of homosexuals. Mr. Vickers, who was, as many of his colleagues recounted, quite homophobic, could not abide such an interpretation. For him [the role of] Peter Grimes was a study in the ‘psychology of human rejection’, a view shared by Mr. Davis and Guthrie. With his powerful heldentenor voice, Mr. Vickers revealed the danger within the twisted psyche of the ostracized fisherman. His Grimes was one moment lost in reverie, the next exploding with brutality. His bleakly poignant portrayal and fearsome singing altered the public perception of the role. Though they did not like to voice their attitudes publicly, Britten and Pears were dismayed by Mr. Vickers’ Grimes. But they could not argue with success. Companies around the world mounted productions of PETER GRIMES for Mr. Vickers.
He sang more than 280 total performances at the Met, including the company premiere of LES TROYENS in 1973, and the title roles of Verdi’s OTELLO and Wagner’s PARSIFAL. For years Mr. Vickers resisted the role of Wagner’s Tristan, to the frustration of Birgit Nilsson, the great Isolde of her day, who had been searching for a powerhouse tenor who could match her in the opera. Mr. Vickers finally came through in Buenos Aires in 1971, singing Tristan to Ms. Nilsson’s Isolde. It was a triumph. They went on to sing it many times, though not as often as Ms. Nilsson had hoped. ‘I told him at the time that I waited and waited for my Tristan for 14 years’, Ms. Nilsson told THE NEW YORK TIMES, ‘as long as Jacob waited for Rachel in the Bible’. He sang the role just twice at the Met, and only one of those was with Ms. Nilsson, on 30 Jan., 1974.
Mr. Vickers lived in Toronto at the start of his career and then settled in London before returning to Canada and buying a farm about an hour’s drive from Toronto. After his retirement in 1988 he gave occasional master classes but mostly kept a low profile. He once touched on the impetus of his artistry in a graduation address in 1969 at the Royal Academy of Music in Toronto. ‘I sang because I had to’, he said. Singing, he explained, was ‘an absolute necessity, fulfilling some kind of emotional and even perhaps physical need in me’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 July, 2015
“This busy tenor established his reputation early as a reliable artist in Mozart and Bach. With a voice less sensuous than those of Léopold Simoneau or Anton Dermota, Kmentt nonetheless was frequently engaged for stage performances, concert work, and recordings. Eventually, he ventured as far into a heavier repertory as Walter von Stolzing, a role he sang at the Bayreuth Festival. Kmentt's Metropolitan Opera début -- in a speaking role -- awaited the new millennium, but still brought encomiums from audiences and the press. First intending to pursue a career as a pianist, Kmentt later studied singing at the Vienna Academy of Music with Hans Duhan, Elisabeth Rado and Adolf Vogel. At that time, he was selected to tour Belgium and the Netherlands with a student opera ensemble that included two singers who would later achieve considerable fame: tenor Fritz Uhl and bass baritone Walter Berry. Kmentt's formal début took place in 1950 with a performance in Vienna of Beethoven's Symphony #9 conducted by Karl Böhm. In 1951, he made his professional stage début singing in a Wiener Volksoper production of Prokofiev's THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES. The year following, Kmentt became a member of the Wiener Staatsoper. For the first three years of his tenure, the company performed at the Theater an der Wien while awaiting reconstruction of the company's own house. For the reopening of the Staatsoper in 1955, Kmentt was cast as Jacquino in FIDELIO, sharing the stage with such luminaries as Martha Mödl, Anton Dermota, and Ludwig Weber. That same year, he made his début at the Salzburg Festival singing Dandini in Pfitzner's PALESTRINA. Mozart served for his introduction to La Scala in 1968 when he sang the title role in IDOMENEO. Kmentt made his début at Bayreuth the same year, singing Walter in DIE MEISTERSINGER. During the years of his prime, he also appeared frequently in operetta. When Kmentt gradually relinquished leading roles, he moved into comprimario parts, such as the Major-Domo in DER ROSENKAVALIER. Ironically, it was another Major-Domo, this one in Strauss' ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, who finally brought Kmentt to the Metropolitan Opera in spring 2001. Among Kmentt's roles captured in recording are the tenor part in Bach's ST. MATTHEW PASSION under Møgens Wöldike, his Froh under Solti, and his Ferrando with Böhm, taped live at La Scala.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com