Jason McVicker 1962-2016

bolenaThis is the hardest piece I’ve ever tried to write for parterre. For days now, it has just refused to work, and every time I hit a snag, the first thought in my mind would be, “Jason would have written this so beautifully.” 

Jason McVicker died last Thursday of a heart attack in Chicago at the absurdly early age of 54. His busy and generous career as a clinical social worker and faculty member are detailed elsewhere; by some miracle of determination or sheer love he managed to carve out enough time not only to attend opera performances but to write about them in specific and loving detail.

As noted above, Jason’s absolute forte was the in memoriam piece, a personal reminiscence of how a singer’s artistry affected him emotionally. This kind of writing can so easily turn mawkish, but with Jason there was always such a bedrock of honest sentiment there. He couldn’t be insincere if he tried.

Appropriately, Jason’s final piece written for parterre was in reaction to the death of Jon Vickers, an artist he admired immensely. In the midst of Jason’s insanely busy schedule, he turned this piece around in less than 24 hours. What’s more, his intense emotional involvement with the subject matter (he mentions how he was so overcome by weeping when he heard the announcement of the tenor’s death on his car radio he had to pull over the road) seems not to have hindered his writing at all; in fact, grieving seemed to fuel the process.

Jason cried a lot. I used to find it a bit of a joke how little it took get him welled up. And yet it now seems to me that this emotional openness is something he has given me as a gift. Admittedly it’s a little unsightly being reduced to a quivering sobbing mess only 10 minutes into La fanciulla del West (for example), but now I wonder how I could have gone so long without being overwhelmed by the sheer liquid sadness of Jake Wallace’s ballad. Jason set the example, and for that I cannot thank him enough.

Under the pseudonym “Enzo Bordello,” Jason was one of about half a dozen writers who formed the backbone of parterre box in its zine form, and when we went completely online in 2001, he wrote what was in retrospect the most perceptive and moving farewell to that era. As I’ve indicated from the beginning of this piece, I’m going to attempt to compete with Jason here, so I’ll let him close this out with his “Farewell Rant”

[I]t’s not for me to judge what – if any – impact parterre box had on the opera world. It’s not what prompted me to put words to paper. I didn’t do it because I knew I’d be read and critiqued by Peter G. Davis, Stephanie von Buchau, Albert Innaurato, Martin Bernheimer and other writers far more accomplished than I.  I didn’t write for pb because it got me mentioned in major newspapers and other mainstream publications. I didn’t write for pb because it opened doors and created opportunities I never could have imagined. That was all icing on the cake. I wrote for pb because I thought opera was in danger of losing its soul. Maybe it already has. But at least we cared enough to say something about it.

His final opera writing appeared barely two weeks ago: appropriately for the eternally optimistic and forward-looking Jason, it was of an opera about beginnings: Das Rheingold. When I read such perceptive and generous criticism, I am filled with proud joy.