I’ve been thinking about Jean Cox.
Cox was a great American heldentenor, who died on Sunday. By coincidence it’s the same day that Franz Crass passed, and not many weeks after the death of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
I am pondering the workings of the culture machine, a bit mystified that whereas DFD is universally known and loved, and FC also well-known, Cox never made the same deep impression, at least in North America (but then again Cox is likely remembered far more in Europe than in America)
Of course nobody –certainly not me–can know objective truth. Maybe the way these male artists are remembered is the proper reflection of their ability.
Maybe. Yet I suspect that in fact other factors are involved.
Timing seems to be a big factor in fame. Singers have a window of opportunity to make an impression. For some that window is very brief indeed. If you listen to this sampling of tenors –all singing the same brief passage in the last act of Götterdämmerung –you get a sense of the brevity of careers. New cohorts of singers replace the older ones, and the changing recording technology may distort the singers’ actual voices.
If you come along at the right time for a key project you will be remembered.
- Wolfgang Windgassen came along at the right time to be the Siegfried on that first seminal Ring cycle conducted by Georg Solti.
- Manfred Jung was the Siegfried on Chereau’s Ring conducted by Pierre Boulez
- Helge Brilioth and Jess Thomas share the Siegfried duties on the von Karajan Ring
That’s where timing comes in.
I saw Jean Cox sing the Siegfried from Götterdämmerung at least a couple of times in 1973 (with the Canadian Opera Company, in the unfriendly confines of the O’Keefe Centre). His portrayal was riveting, a confident physical presence at ease moving, acting and singing. His voice combined power, lovely tone & nuanced expression in this difficult role.
I also heard him on CBC radio broadcasts from Bayreuth conducted by Horst Stein (another talent who somehow fell through the cracks). To my ear Cox sounded much better than Windgassen or Jung. While I adore the quirky interpretations of the von Karajan Ring (Brilioth for example), Cox never had a recording whereby he could stake his claim as one of the great heldentenors of the century.
Recently I saw a discussion online about tenors where some put forward the notion that Jay Hunter Morris –admittedly a reasonable performer in the Met’s Ring—was one of the great tenors of the century. Why? Again, it’s a matter of timing, being in the right place at the right time.
Here’s a little sample of Cox’s death scene from Götterdämmerung, beginning at 3:20 in a clip that also includes the unique voice of Franz Mazura.
I am grateful to have seen Cox.