Canada-born opera singer Jon Vickers, nicknamed "God's tenor" for his inimitable voice and strong Christian beliefs, has died. He was 88. The Royal Opera House opera, citing a statement from Vickers' family, said he died Friday in Ontario after a struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in 1926, Vickers sang as a child in church choirs and aspired to study medicine before winning a scholarship to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Vickers made his Royal Opera debut in 1957. A year later, he performed at Germany's Bayreuth festival, going on to become one of the world's leading performers of Richard Wagner. From 1960, he was a regular at New York's Metropolitan Opera.
Vickers stood out among dramatic tenors for the intensity of his performances and his richly powerful voice, described by critic John Ardoin as "holding a hundred colors and inflections." "Art is a wrestling with the meaning of life," Vickers once said, and his religious faith informed his artistic choices. Despite his association with Wagner's works, he found the German composer—whose anti-Semitism made him a Nazi favorite—morally objectionable. In 1977, Vickers pulled out of Wagner's "Tannhauser," saying he considered it anti-Christian. Vickers performed around the world, collecting numerous honorary degrees, companionship in the Order of Canada, and two Grammy Awards. He retired in 1988. A family statement said he was "a man of the land who was the most at home on his farm, surrounded by nature and his family." (Read more tenor stories.)