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Jon Vickers, Opera Singer Known As 'God's Tenor,' Has Died

ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's hard for me to believe a voice like this could ever go silent.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESULTALTE")

JON VICKERS: (Singing in foreign language).

RATH: That's magnificent tenor, that voice cutting right through the tempest, is Jon Vickers. This weekend, London's Royal Opera House released a statement from Vickers' family. Jon Vickers has passed away from what they called a, quote, "prolonged struggle with Alzheimer's disease." Jon Vickers was born in rural Saskatchewan, Canada in 1926. He was a natural singer.

VICKERS: I've always sung from the time I was a little boy. My family was very, very, very involved in church activities, and most of my early singing, of course, was in churches. But I never ever thought, not in my wildest dreams, that I'd ever be a singer.

RATH: That was Jon Vickers in an interview with documentary maker Jon Tolansky, released in 2010. Vickers had everything you could want in a tenor - superb technique, raw power, and a fantastic emotional range. From grand opera...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRISTAN UND ISOLDE")

VICKERS: (Singing in German).

RATH: ...To intimate songs...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINTERREISE")

VICKERS: (Singing in German) Was soll ich laenger weilen, dass man mich trieb hinaus? Lass irre Hunde...

RATH: And he was always his own man. Vickers famously pulled out of the production of Wagner's "Tannhaeuser" because he found its treatment of Christianity offensive. That was Vickers the fighter. But let's go out with Vickers the lover. Here he is as Cavaradossi, in Puccini's "Tosca."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RECONDITA ARMONIA")

VICKERS: (Singing in Italian).

RATH: Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, who died on Friday - he was 88.

RATH: And before we go this evening, I'm sad to say this is our last show with our senior editor, Muthoni Muturi. She's headed back to the NPR mothership in Washington to take over as NPR's congressional editor.

It's hard to convey what an editor like Muthoni means for a show like ours. It's not just making sure we get our facts straight, write well and report fairly - though that would be monumental enough. Think of it this way - imagine having a brilliant advisor by your side all the time, someone who stops you and makes you think before you say something stupid. Even better - someone who also gives you a push when you should go for it.

Now, imagine that advisor was invisible and only you could hear her so everyone you encountered just assumed you were naturally poised and clever all the time. That's the magic of a great editor. Muthoni, on behalf of everyone who's worked on this program, we won't be the same without you, and you will be deeply missed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.