|Neil Shicoff (born June 2, 1949) is an American
Jewish opera singer and cantor known for his lyric tenor singing and his
dramatic, emotional acting.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and studied at the Juilliard School of Music, with his father, the hazzan Sidney Shicoff and others, including Franco Corelli in the early 1980s. He sang in small theaters in New York before music school, including a Don Jose in Bizet's Carmen at Amato Opera and small roles at Juilliard, and was an apprentice at the Santa Fe Opera in the summer of 1973. His professional debut as a tenor lead in a big opera house was in the title role in Verdi's Ernani, conducted by James Levine in Cincinnati in 1975.
In 1976, Shicoff made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi conducted by Levine. Shicoff was then engaged by the Met to sing the tenor leads in Rigoletto, La Bohème, Der Rosenkavalier, and Werther, which was to become one of his signature roles. He soon sang in the major opera houses in the U.S. and Europe, winning great notices and recording some of his roles. Shicoff experienced severe stage fright well into his career, which caused him to cancel a number of performances. He was known to be a perfectionist, carefully researching and preparing each role, both dramatically and vocally.
In 1978, Shicoff married fellow Juilliard graduate, lyric soprano Judith Haddon. After the death of his mother in 1984, Shicoff suffered emotional problems, technical vocal difficulties and increasing performance anxiety. He cancelled numerous performances, and by the end of the 1980s he had developed a reputation for unreliability.
Shicoff continued singing at the Met, but in 1991, he left America, fleeing the stresses and headlines engendered by his ongoing divorce proceeding and custody battle concerning his daughter, into a self-described European exile. He lived for three years in Berlin, then Zürich, performing throughout Europe (with a handful appearances in Buenos Aires), and he slowly rebuilt his reputation for reliability. He appeared at Vienna State Opera, La Scala, Paris Opera, Covent Garden, Berlin's Deutsche Oper, Bavarian State Opera, Zurich Opera House and numerous other opera houses and concert halls throughout Europe.
By 1997, Shicoff and Haddon finally reached a divorce settlement. Their final decree left Shicoff free to marry soprano Dawn Kotoski, with whom he had lived since 1990, and to renew his relationship with his daughter, Aliza. Shicoff also returned to the Met, as Lensky in Eugene Onegin, to good notices. He has now been heard in nearly 200 performances of 20 roles at the Met.
Due to his personal friendship with the Austrian Federal Chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, Shicoff was widely expected to follow Ioan Holender as director of the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) in 2010. In a surprise decision, and in defiance of Gusenbauer's publicly stated wish, Austrian Culture Minister Claudia Schmidt appointed Dominique Meyer as director, and Franz Welser-Möst as musical director on June 6, 2007.
Shicoff's most famous roles (besides Werther), include the title roles in Tales of Hoffman,and Peter Grimes, Lensky in Eugene Onegin, and Eleazar in La Juive, as well as a number of the Romantic French and Italian lyric and spinto tenor roles. In addition to his opera performances, he has also sung concerts with the Israel Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein, the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Claudio Abbado, the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Edo de Waart, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa, among others, and at many festivals.
Shicoff became Head of Opera at the Mikhailovsky Theatre of St.
Petersburg, Russia in 2015.
In recent seasons, Shicoff sang the roles of Cavaradossi in Tosca
and Hoffmann at La Scala and Paris’ Opéra Bastille; Des Grieux in
Manon Lescaut; Don José in Carmen at the Lyric
Opera of Chicago and the Zurich Opera House and Eleazar in Halévy's
La Juive at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, with Wiener Staatsoper
and the Zurich Opera House, Peter Grimes at the Teatro Regio di Torino.
He has sung also Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, the title role in
Idomeneo, and Rodolfo in La bohème at the Wiener Staatsoper;
Rodolfo in Luisa Miller at the Met; Gabriele Adorno in Simon
Boccanegra at Covent Garden and in Paris; Hermann in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's
Pique Dame; and Manrico, Cavaradossi and Pinkerton in Madama
Butterfly at the Zurich Opera House, among others. A regular at Wiener
Staatsoper (where he attained the rank of Kammersänger and the rarely
awarded honorary lifetime membership in the company [shown in photo
below]) he continues to triumph mostly in the verismo repertoire,
and in February 2011 he repeated his huge success in the role of Captain
Vere in Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd which he sang in the company
premiere of the opera in 2001.
-- Throughout this webpage, names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website. BD
Neil Shicoff at Lyric Opera of Chicago
1979 - Bohème (Rodolfo) with Mitchell/Soviero, Romero, Ramey, Zilio, Nolen, Tajo; Chailly, Pizzi, Frisell, Schuler
[Note: A photo of Shicoff as Peter Grimes appears with the Zilio interview.]
1986-87 - Bohème (Rodolfo [one performance only]) with Daniels, Corbelli, Washington, Brown, Kreider, Capecchi; Mauceri, Pizzi, Copley, Schuler
Lucia (Edgardo) with Gruberová, Raftery, Howell/Giaiotti; Mackerras/J. Rescigno, Bardon, Reichenbach, Schuler
1987-88 - Faust (Faust) with Gustafson/Soviero, Ramey, Raftery, White, Vozza; Fournet, Samaritani, Diaz, Tallchief, Schuler
1990-91 - Carmen (Don José) with Golden, Cowan, Mazzaria/Hartliep/Lawrence, Foster/Futral, Maultsby; Mata/Pappano, Ponnelle, Calábria.
Marlena Malas has taught at Juilliard for almost
30 years. Her students can be heard in the world’s major opera houses
and concert venues and her graduates also hold teaching positions at
many esteemed conservatories and universities worldwide. In addition
to Juilliard and her private voice studio, Malas teaches on the faculties
of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Manhattan School of Music.
She is the chairman of the voice department of the Chautauqua Institute,
a summer vocal program for young singers. She also serves as a vocal consultant
and teacher for the Canadian Opera Company (since 1979), the Metropolitan
Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, the English National Opera, the
Santa Fe Opera, the Castleton Festival, the Chicago Lyric Opera Young
Artist Program, and has also taught voice at the Hartt School of Music.
Malas has taught singing master classes at the Blossom Music Festival, the San Francisco Opera Center, the Santa Fe Opera, the European Center for Opera and Vocal Studies in Brussels, the Israel Vocal Studies Center, the English National Opera, the Metropolitan Opera National Council, Westminster Choir College, and Rutgers University. She has also served as a judge for the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions. Most notably, in 1993, she taught master classes in collaboration with her mentors Joan Sutherland, Richard Bonynge, and Luigi Alva in association with the Sydney Opera House, at their first Opera Symposium.
A native of New York City, Malas, a mezzo-soprano, graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music. She then sang with opera companies including Santa Fe, Boston, Miami, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, San Diego, and Milwaukee, and made appearances with the Marlboro and Casals Festivals as well as concert appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. She is featured on a definitive recording of Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes under the direction of Rudolf Serkin and Leon Fleisher.
Malas lives in Manhattan with her husband, renowned operatic bass and voice teacher Spiro Malas. They spend wonderful times there with their two sons Alexis and Nicol and their families, including their five beautiful grandchildren: Sascha, Reed, Grant, Max, and Flynn.
© 1986 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on November 20, 1986. Portions were broadcast on WNIB twice in 1989, and again in 1993, 1994, and 1999. This transcription was made in 2018, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.