We lost a huge talent and true gentleman when John Wegner AO left this earth last week, after years of battling Parkinson’s Disease.
Of course, he wasn’t MY John Wegner – that privilege belonged to his devoted wife Mignon, as they managed a wonderful relationship with John travelling between Australia and Europe, as plenty of places there wanted his beautiful Heldenbaritone voice.
However, I think the fact that John always returned periodically to grace Australian stages, despite his success and acclaim in Europe, made most of his audiences think of him as ‘our John’!
This tribute is simply a collection of personal reminiscences of one of the singers I have most admired in the last 30 years. And that’s a lot of singers, if you are an arts interviewer and reviewer!
John was one of the best. Every time he played a favourite role, such as Scarpia in Tosca, he sent shivers down our collective spine, because he was so charismatic and beautifully wicked. He had a stage charisma that many envied, along with that powerful voice.
Yet John never over sang. He credited my former singing teacher, the late Joan Arnold OBE, with giving him the courage to embark on a professional career, when she heard him in eisteddfods. Joan had a remarkable “nose” for picking raw talent that was going to emerge to be something special, and she could hear the huge potential in John, a schoolteacher by day and amateur musical singer by night. Joan had a favourite saying: “never sing louder than lovely”. John was living proof of how to put that maxim into action, and Joan was very proud that she lived to see the success she predicted for him.
Many readers will have fond memories of his various Wagnerian roles, and whatever John did, he did it superbly.
Away from the stage, he was a charming man whose ego never got in the way – he kept that for the stage and left it there, for our benefit. He was terrific company and had so many strong friendships; I have happy memories of some wonderful coffees and conversations with this beautiful man.
Friend and colleague Suzanne Johnston expressed her feelings for John in these heartfelt sentiments, and I think she speaks for everyone who was close to him.
“John was a unique artist, and those of us who worked with him or indeed watched his powerful performances as audience members, have them etched indelibly on our hearts and souls. Thank you for the magic. Farewell my precious friend.”
Fly with the angels, darling John.