Cher Public

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.

  • actfive

    A beautiful tribute,James. We will all miss Jason terribly, especially those of us in Chicago. A very fine writer and a kind and sensitive friend.

  • Joshua Kosman

    Thank you for this tribute, and my condolences. Jason’s (pseudonymous) byline was one of the first things I looked for in every new issue of the zine. A great loss.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    Jason regularly hosted opera talks for members of Chicago Prime Timers of which I was formerly a member. I regret never having the opportunity to meet Jason, even though I knew of his good work for CPT. RIP.

  • Niel Rishoi

    Wonderful tribute to a wonderful guy. I too, have been trying to summon up the words I want to express: but that damned “past-tense” factor…you cannot bring yourself to referring in that sense, especially when it comes to someone like Jason.

  • Whenever I saw Enzo Bordello at the top of a piece, I knew I’d be reading something of great authority. I never knew him. My condolences to La Cieca and all those who did.

  • rhinestonecowgirl

    Condolences to you all, especially La Cieca, and a sad farewell to somebody who we all admired so much.

  • Nicola Lischi

    Thank you James; we all loved Jason and his alter ego. I still can’t believe it. He was a fantastic person and a wonderful writer, and I had a special connection with him because, as you said, he was one of those who believed in your project since the very beginning. I am also proud to have been able to convince him to write for the Italian GBopera. Rest in peace, Jason.


    This is very sad news indeed and I remember Mr. McVicker’s writing well. Especially as Enzo Bordello from the ‘Zine days. Wow. I did enjoy his piece on Vickers immensely and will have to revisit. It’s wonderful he has a legacy here. My condolences to all his friends and family.

  • Donna Annina

    What a beautiful tribute to a man whose writing was never less than superb, passionate and erudite. And he was no less committed to his other professional life, his colleagues, clients and family. Condolences to all he knew and cherished him. His memory is for a blessing.

  • Southern Gal

    oh man that sucks ! my heart is with you in your grief. your eloquent tribute is a memorial to Jason, whose writing i always enjoyed.

  • erstegeiger

    James thank you for a moving tribute to a true lover of opera. I’m very sorry for all who knew and loved Jason.

  • Krunoslav

    Can’t quite believe the news. Had always assumed we’d meet eventually. Loved Enzo Bordello’s series of New Orleans memory pieces, funny and moving. Ave.

  • Rowna Sutin

    Although several days have passed, I am still in shock. What a terrible loss for all who knew him. Thank you James, for your very heartfelt tribute to your friend and colleague.

  • manou

    This Enzo was indeed adorato it seems. His posts and comments will be sadly missed.

  • Armerjacquino

    Condolences to all who have lost a friend.

  • How does one find words? I have found grief is nearly impossible to
    express verbally. I have wanted to write something for this post since it appeared, but I am thrust back into memories of being totally frozen when I first had to write an obituary. Where does one begin?

    We have lost a member of our community, one who was loved by some, certainly appreciated by many, and taken from us all too soon. And see? How do I say this without resorting to clichés?

    Grief is simply indescribable. Three year ago, in the last week of October 2013, I literally stumbled across my mother’s obituary while having a rare look at my hometown newspaper online. No one thought to call or attempt to contact me. I read the words, and then, as if an afterthought, realized that they were about my mother. And I felt
    nothing. A few days later my 15-year-old cat, Sputnik (a gorgeous, tiny Russian Blue), died in his sleep in his bed next to mine, and I was inconsolable for a week. I also experienced for the first time digging a grave with my own hands and laying Sputnik to rest. To this day, I dread every February, as that is the month in which my father committed suicide more than 50 years ago. I was the last person he spoke to, and I am still shaken about that event. I go out to Zentralfriedhof a few times a year to visit Leonie’s grave (she was a dear friend for 28 years). Sometimes I keep busy with clearing away dead bouquets, trim the rosebush, and install and light new candles. And sometimes I just fall to my knees in front of her tombstone and sob.

    I have swayed way off course. Please excuse me for getting so personal, and for blabbering on.

    But let me go back to one word that I feel is most appropriate as we react, all in our own ways, to Jason’s death: community. He was a vibrant part of this little family we have formed called Parterre, and I share your grief with all of you, to those I have met, those with whom I correspond outside of the Web site, and those with whom I exchange banter online. You all mean something to me and continue to enrich my life, as did Jason.

    • Magpie

      Sway off course all the way to the antipodes Mm Leitmetzerin, all of us will keep you company silently but surely, and feel La Cieca’s and your losses.

  • RudigerVT


  • often admonished

    Enzo Bordello vive sempre!

  • Cicciabella

    A life cut short, but lived to the full. I enjoyed reading him and had no idea about his other accomplishments. Condolences to everyone who knew and was inspired by Jason McVicker.

  • Charles

    Jason was actually my therapist. We shared a love for opera and symphonic music. I didn’t know him the way some of you do. But we had a friendly professional relationship with a special understanding. He guided me through healing after losing both of my parents 10 months apart and a really intense case of unrequited love. My last session with him was on October 12th , the day before he left us. I only found out today, November 25th that he had passed. I’m saddened beyond words. I’m feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to have met him and I will miss him so much. My condolences to all of his friends, his partner and family. God bless you all. Love to all .Charles.