Three Tenors

Tired of Netflix, I took refuge, the other night, in YouTube and found myself binge-watching and listening to three of my favourite Wagnerian tenors of yesteryear – Jon Vickers (1926-2015), Siegfried Jerusalem (1940-) and Alberto Remedios (1935-2016), all of whom I saw performing in London in the ’70s and ’80s. I was a huge enthusiast for Vickers and Jerusalem even then, but have only more recently come to appreciate how splendid and exceptional Remedios was.

Great heroic Wagner tenors, such as these, are ever thin on the ground. They must be heroic in two senses at least – both stylistically and emotionally. They need voices resonant enough to convey the heroism of the characters they sing, and personal heroism in order to be able to walk onto the stage and sing the arduous roles that composers such as Wagner have written for them. Few can keep it up for long. They peak and they fade. I was lucky to hear and see all of them at their best.

Jon Vickers was probably the most extraordinary of the three. Indeed, he had one of the most extraordinary tenor voices of the 20th century, an elemental force that he could barely control (he’s probably loved rather less by those who know how singing works). It suited the operatic characters he inhabited, men struggling with feelings and faults that they, also, could barely control – Otello, Siegmund, Tristan, Peter Grimes, Canio, Samson – rough physical men, acting violently and impulsively.

Here he is as Siegmund (in Die Walkure):

And here as Canio (in Pagliacci):

He was also a profoundly religious man, and temperamental. He had his own strong views as to how a character should be portrayed and sung and, like Peter Grimes, he was averse to ‘interference’.  He viewed Wagner’s Tannhauser as blasphemous and withdrew from a Covent Garden production in the 1980s.

He also sang lieder, but to my ears and eyes he never sounded or looked quite right in the more domestic setting of the lieder recital hall, straining at the leash like a wild animal tamed.

So besotted was I by Vickers the singer/actor that I even wrote to him in the 1980s to ask for his autograph, which, courteously, he sent me. I still have it, scrawled across a photograph of him as Samson, in chains.


I was turned on to Siegfried Jerusalem by an article the great journalist Bernard Levin wrote in The Times in the early 1980’s after hearing Jerusalem sing at Bayreuth, hailing him as the yearned-for newcomer heroic tenor, possesed of a splendidly easy, heroic and burnished voice. There was certainly a dearth of good heroic tenors at the time. Peter Hoffman and Rene Kollo were already sounding strained.

Here he is, also singing Siegmund:

It’s a beautiful and eloquent performance. The sheer quality of his voice, the sound itself, is amongst the most beautiful I’ve heard. But in comparison with Jon Vickers it seems emotionally light.

So besotted was I by Jerusalem the singer that I wrote to the Royal Opera House to suggest they engage him more frequently. They replied, courteously, that he lacked the tessitura required for the larger Wagner roles. I think they were wrong about that. He sang Siegfried at Bayreuth and Parsifal at the Met to great acclaim.


I heard and saw Alberto Remedios in the ENO English-language production of the ring, conducted by Reginal Goodall, who was famous for making Wagner’s operas last longer than any other conductor.

Remedios was Liverpudlian through and through, his grandfather an immigrant from Spain. Semi-professional footballer, shipyard welder, laddish, I suspect, to the day he died, he possessed a naturally wonderful voice and an aversion, sadly, to learning roles in foreign languages – one of the reasons he never sang at Bayreuth (they also considered his voice too lyrical). I read somewhere that he had difficulty in learning roles in English, too, and on one occasion gave the flowers he was presented with at the end of an opera to his prompter.

Here’s his Siegmund (in German):

And Peter Grimes:

Listen also (on Spotify) to the last act of Reginald Goodall’s Twilight of the Gods. I’ve never heard Siegfried sung more ardently or gloriously.

To learn more about Remedios, you might watch him as he’s cornered by Eamonn Andrews for This is Your Life. You will marvel at how awful TV used to be.


They were three wonderful tenors, and though there are equally great Wagnerian tenors singing today (Jonas Kaufmann, amongst a few others) I miss these three particularly – and Jon Vickers most of all.

Crash Bang Whallop!

It’s always been my plan to return to London at some stage and to make it my base. It’s not only that I want to be close to the Royal Opera House – it’s also that I’d like to live somewhere where English is the predominant language, where there are English bookshops, and where I know what I’m looking at in butcher’s shops.

If I’m asked when this might happen, I always say five years, and I’ve been saying this for twenty years at least. In fact, I’ve no good reason to return to live in the UK. I love Prague and I live happily there, even if I’ve been too lazy to learn the language. I can be in London in about five hours, door to door, and I still get to the Opera House from time to time. I also love my work, which must be based in Prague, and now that M&S foodstuffs are sold in Wenceslas Square, I even know what I’m cooking and eating. So I have no plan to retire. Last, but not entirely least, the tax regime of the Czech Republic is more generous than Britain’s. Five years still sounds about right.

But I’ve been saving up for a London flat in the belief that one day I’ll buy one and live in it. As I save, prices rise. The inner boroughs of the city are still beyond my means (I want two bedrooms, a garden, lots of wall space for the paintings I’ve bought in Prague, and room (a room?) for the grand piano).


So, most of my savings are on the stock market, chasing the rising value of property. And yesterday was a bad day, so I’m probably now looking at NE99 not NW1.

But of course, it’s up and down all the time, and you can’t afford to worry about it. What amuses me, though, is the predicament of the stockbroker. I don’t doubt that they know a lot about investments, and I do believe that it’s more than witchcraft when they grill you about your financial plans and appetite for risk and then craft a particular portfolio to suit your needs. But about what might happen a day, a week, a month, a quarter or a year from now, it seems to me they have no special knowledge. They promise a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but you can’t ask them where that end can be found.

Stockbrokers are in a difficult position because they can’t control the day to day. So they do a defensive dance with careful words when you ask them anything particular about their expectations for your investments. What they’re saying, in reality, is what you read in the small print at the bottom of any advertisement for financial products – the value of your investments may fall as well as rise, etc. They are anxious to please, anxious that you should stay the course, above all anxious that you should not blame them for not knowing the immediate future. And I do not.

A week ago I read a very pessimistic article by a Telegraph journalist predicting imminent disaster, so I sent it to my stockbroker for her comments. Now, I’ve been happy with my stockbroker. She writes to me in plausible language. But we all know that whilst in the long term stock markets are a good investment, in the short term or medium term their level is unpredictable.

What’s amusing is how careful they must be in what they say.

I think we have to be very careful with how we are led by the media and while I’m not dismissing the issues out there, it’s also important to look at the reasons for staying the course, being true to your objectives, regularly rebalancing to ensure no one asset class gets out of sync etc. Otherwise we can react to short term trends rather than sticking with our long term, strategic plan.

Which is to say, long term I will be fine. But how long is the long term? I want that flat in London – NW1.

And then things started to go very wrong and staying the course suddenly didn’t look like the best strategy after all.

To which, my stockbroker’s response, putting a very brave face on things, is BUY MORE! Her company issued another careful note:

Share prices have suffered a sharp correction in the last few weeks, albeit after many stock markets reached all-time highs in the spring. Valuations are around the average for the last twenty years, so the current weakness offers a good entry point.


Anyway, the value of my portfolio doesn’t make the slightest difference to how I live, so it doesn’t really matter to me now. As for the future, a flat in the outer suburbs of Sheffield might yet have some appeal.