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Jess Thomas (August 4, 1927, Hot Springs, South Dakota—October 11, 1993, San Francisco, California) was a lyric and Wagnerian tenor. As a child he took part in various musical activities and later studied psychology at the University of Nebraska and Stanford University. He was awarded the Wagner medal at Bayreuth, Germany in 1963. His many appearances in North America and Europe between the late 1950s and early 1980s included 15 seasons in 109 performances of 15 roles at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Operatic career

Thomas made his operatic debut in 1957 for the San Francisco Opera performing in Der Rosenkavalier as the Haushofmeister. In 1958, he debuted in the title role of Lohengrin for the Karlsruhe Staatstheater at the commencement of a career in Germany. Thomas appeared as Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Munich Festival.

It was at Bayreuth that he established his reputation as a Wagnerian tenor performing in the following roles:

  • Parsifal 1961-63, 1965;
  • Lohengrin 1962, 1967;
  • Walther in Meistersinger 1963,1969;
  • Tannhäuser 1966-67; and
  • Siegfried 1969, 1976.

In 1963, he joined the cast of the Metropolitan Opera and went on to sing 109 performances of 15 roles with the company, including all the major tenor roles of Wagner[1]. Amongst the highlights of his career with the Metropolitan Opera was appearing at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in the first performance of Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra with Leontyne Price.[2]

On December 9, 1981, San Francisco Opera general director Kurt Herbert Adler called Thomas an hour before a performance of "Die Walkuere." Heldentenor James King had lost his voice, and Adler asked Thomas if he would like to sing the role in in an hour. "But I haven't even shaved yet," Thomas said. Though he hadn't looked at the score in years, Thomas performed the role at age of 54, relying on a strong memory of the Siegmund role and some expert prompting. The next day, headlines proclaimed Thomas’ 11th-hour rescue for "Die Walkure".[3][4] Thomas's farewell performance took place in Washington DC in a guest performance of Parsifal by the Metropolitan Opera in 1982.

His recordings include Die Meistersinger (with Claire Watson, 1963), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1963), Siegfried (conducted by Herbert von Karajan, 1968-69), Ariadne auf Naxos (conducted by Karl Böhm, 1969) and, from Bayreuth, Parsifal (with Irene Dalis as Kundry, led by Hans Knappertsbusch, 1962) and Lohengrin (with Anja Silja and Astrid Varnay, 1962).


  1. ^ "Classical Music Dance and Guide". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-09.  
  2. ^ "When did the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center open?". The Metropolitan Opera FAQ. Retrieved 2006-08-03.  
  3. ^ "No Time To Shave". LA Times. Retrieved 2009-06-09.  
  4. ^ "My First Walkure". The Berkeley Daily Planet. Retrieved 2009-06-09.  

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