Saturday, February 04, 2006


One of the truly bittersweet aspects of my life now that my operatic aspirations are over is watching my friends succeed. I'm so very, very happy for them, but at the same time, I can't help thinking, "Damn...I was so close."

I passed a new milestone today: I added a recording of one of my friends to my iPod.

In the fall of 1998, during the first year of my graduate program at the Manhattan School of Music, Iwas privileged to meet the promising young tenor Simon O'Neill. Simon, who is about a year older than I am, was already on a stamp in his native New Zealand. Pretty damn impressive.

Simon and I were in several of the same classes and performed together frequently: I was Renato to his Riccardo in Act I of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera and Clodomiro to his Berengario in the New York premiere of Handel's Lotario, among other things.

Still, my favorite memory of Simon is Thanksgiving weekend of 1999. As both of us were "New York orphans," a mutual friend invited us out to his parents' home in suburban New Jersey for the holiday. The family had a grand piano in their large, beautiful living room, and we spent the afternoon before dinner singing our heads off. Simon is also an accomplished pianist, so he accompanied me, our friend Brace and himself while we sang whatever we wanted. Brace's dad kept us plied with wonderful bottles of expensive red wine, enough to make us crazy enough to sing all sorts of crap. I think I sang everything from "Il lacerato spirito" (with a low F-sharp) to "Largo al factotum" (with high A's). Simon sang Il Trovatore and Otello, among other things.

But what really sticks out in memory was Simon's "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot. While Simon was happily sustaining a clarion high B-natural, we heard a strange noise: his wine glass shattered. Fortunately it was empty.

So yes, if you've ever wondered if opera singers can really shatter glass with their voices, they can.

Simon is now off having an illustrious career; his first engagement with the Metropolitan Opera was last fall, where he was given the responsibility of understudying the great Placido Domingo in performances of Richard Wagner's Die Walküre, an assignment he continues this year with the Met on tour to Japan. Also this year at the Met he understudies the world's leading Wagnerian tenor Ben Heppner as Lohengrin and this summer makes his debut with the Salzburg Festival.

And now, if you'd like to hear Simon sing "Nessun dorma" for yourself, you can, by purchasing a recording of a gala concert he sang in with New Zealand native and operatic superstar Kiri Te Kanawa.

* The photograph is Simon giving a strictly platonic birthday kiss to our friend Stephanie Woodling, who is presently singing Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf.


Matthew said...

I think it's one of the hardest points of friendship to be happy for someone acheiving something you want for yourself. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

Oh, jeez. Can you please Photoshop me out of that? I was so fat then.


Anonymous said...

P.S. Coincidentally, you posted this blog on my birthday (this time -- my 30th! There. I've said it! Uch.) But it's like I get the platonic Simon birthday kiss all over again.