Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Thursday 2nd of August 2007 7:00 pm
An interview with our magnificent but ever modest tenor.

"The clarion-voiced tenor Simon O’Neill was a formidable Florestan" (so said a critic in The New York Times).

Simon O’Neill sings the role of Florestan in Auckland on Friday 1oth of August, with Erika Sunnegårdh as his faithful wife Leonore alias Fidelio. I don't know whether we will hear it on the radio at any time in the future (operas are not usually recorded here, in contrast to the performances we receive on Sunday afternoons from New York, London, and Vienna). True, we were able to hear Simon as Parsifal (more than once, and so I recorded it twice!).

When Erika Sunneghårdh was being interviewed by Eva Radich, she told how they had met at the Met, and she described Simon as "awesome". Well, thanks to Aunty Arnzy (she really is a dear), we heard them both with the Auckland Philharmonia, as Tosca and Cavaradossi. Simon's solo was the rarely heard prayer of Rienzi (though the tune appears prominently in the marvellous overture that the young Wagner composed for his early successful grand opera). I have Josef Traxel singing it, and a complete recording of the opera, with René Kollo; so I rushed to grab the box and get the libretto out and find the place in the text, while Simon was singing, with fine German pronunciation and diction. That is something that the great Placido Domingo is famous for, but his Deutsch is not always "akzentlos" (accentless).

TVNZ (bless their black hearts, for once) gave us the story of Simon's audition with Placido, to be his stand-in for Siegmund in Wagner's Valkyrie. Placido declared that New Zealand had given the world Kiri, and now Simon. So, what an honour it is to have Placido Domingo as the patron of the new opera company in Canterbury, Opera South, Southern Opera, Southerly Opera (blow the wind southerly, whatever its name is). It is said that Maestro Domingo will not be able to attend their first production, which is Bizet's Carmen. That is where many people first encountered him, with the seductive Julia Migenes-Johnson, at the movies in 1984.

At least Julia Migenes is appearing in Christchurch, with her own show, talking about opera and singing her examples; it has been on the Arts Channel (bless 'em).

In the sidebar of Operawonk is a link to Simon O'Neill's website. It is a thrill to see all the things he is doing and to read the enthusiastic reviews of his performances; and he will sing Lohengrin for you, and other roles. I have a clip of him doing Nessun Dorma on my video recorder, and as I graze around on the list of movies and operas and ballets, I come upon it and stop to marvel at him (and sometimes sing along with my double bass voice). Click on the link and gaze with wonder at the riches on Simon's website

Post Script (2011):

Simon has been back to his homeland many times: Mahler's 8th symphony; recording Father and Son, a selection of Wagner  excerpts relating to Lohengrin and Parsifal, Siegfried and Siegmund; singing with Christopher Doig, who is now lost to us. He has performed at the Bayreuth Festival as Parsifal; and in 2009 at the Barbican Hall as Otello (he came in at the 12th hour) with Gerald Finley (Dr Atomic) as Iago, and the reviews Simon got for that are awe-inspiring. 

And Wellington has its own operatic legend coming and going and going and coming:
Willow Productions proudly present:
Cynthia Fortitude's Farewell - her first
Wellington Chamber Orchestra, Conducted by Michael Vinten
An evening of music, madness and delight
Featuring - The Return of a Legend, Dazzling Arias, Brilliant Cadenzas, A Newly Commissioned Opera for the Rugby World Cup 2011, A Courageous Attempt at a Speed Record held by Cecilia Bartoli, for singing Non So Piu from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, Guest Tenor, Romantic Duets, the Distinct Possibility of Chaos.
With Helen Moulder and Jeff Kingsford-Brown
Directed by Danny Mulheron
WHERE: Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, Wellington
WHEN: Friday, September 28 7.30pm; Saturday, Sept 29 7.30pm
LENGTH: 1 hr 20 mins (approx) - no interval
BOOKINGS: Ticketek (Service Fees will apply)

On a more sombre note, we have just lost a great soprano. I am listening to her voice as I write this. Strangely, I have been thinking about her lately, plotting to give my video-opera group a blind test, to guess who this dramatic soprano was, singing Verdi and Wagner, and yet she was French. What a unique voice Régine Crespin had, with sweet-toned strength. Herbert von Karajan invited her to be in his recorded Ring cycle (it is not one I have ever owned, strange to tell); she said that she turned up for Die Walküre expecting to sing Sieglinde and found that her allotted role was Brünnhilde.

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