(with Steven Isserlis)
However, Simon credits Guest with teaching him “almost everything I know as a musician”. “He’d tell us stories to kindle our imagination and would dramatise an anthem by getting us to imagine we were marching to Jericho with our trumpets. His feeling for words is what set me on my path as a singer.”
When he left St John’s Simon moved to Reed’s school in Cobham where he completed his A-levels, and during school holidays he spent time as a warden with the Royal Society for Protection of Birds. As a teenager “I knew most European bird songs”, he says.
John was rightly concerned that I should not force my natural vocal weight, like some singers do – a Faustian pact you pay for later with wobble and nodules.”
Whilst at RNCM he joined the Sale Harriers to indulge his love of running – the quarter mile in particular.
At RNCM he made his first stage appearance in 1987 as Lescaut in Manon. Opera magazine remarked on it being an “astonishingly mature” performance, and that he “used his warm and clear baritone with notable musicianship”. At this time he realized that singing Lieder on the music club circuit was never going to be a living.
In 2004 he created the role of Prospero in the World premiere of Thomas Ades’ The Tempest at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
In 2005 he created the role of Winston Smith in the World premiere of Lorin Maazel’s 1984 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Abayaldos (Dom Sebastien), Count Almaviva (La Nozze de Figaro), Andrei (War and Peace), Arthus (Le Roi Arthus), Belcore (L’elisir d’amore), Billy Budd, Catechiste (Briseis), Dandini (La Cenerentola), Danilo (The Merry Widow), Donald (Billy Budd), Don Giovanni, Falke (Die Fledermaus), Faust/Dr Marianus (Szenen aus Goethes Faust), Figaro (il barbiere di Siviglia), Flemish Deputy, (Don Carlo)Fiorello (Il Barbiere di Siviglia), Ford (Falstaff), Gendarme (Les Mamelles de Tiresias), Giorgio Germont (La Traviata), Golaud (Pelléas et Mélisande), Guglielmo (Cosi fan Tutte), Hamlet, Harlequin (Ariadne auf Naxos), Lescaut (Manon Lescaut), Ned Keane (Peter Grimes), Macbeth, Marcello (La Boheme), Mercurio (La Calisto), Montano (Otello), Morales (Carmen), Nachtwaechter (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), Olivier (Capriccio), Eugene Onegin, Oreste (Iphigenie en Tauride), Orfeo – usually a tenor role ( La Favola d’Orfeo), Papageno (Die Zauberflöte), Pelleas – usually a tenor role (Pelleas et Melisande), Ping (Turandot), Posa (Don Carlo), Prisoner (Fidelio), Prospero (The Tempest), Rigoletto, Steuermann (Tristan und Isolde), Tarquinius (The Rape of Lucretia), Silvio (I Pagliacci), Tonio (I Pagliacci), Ubalde (Armide), Valentin (Faust), Winston Smith (1984), Wolfram (Tannhauser), Wagner, (Faust), Wozzeck, Yeletski (The Queen of Spades).
He was already noted as a recitalist, and “a talent to cherish” as far back as 1989. Since appearing in La Scala in 1998 he has performed recitals all over the world, his repertoire including: Schubert, Schumann, Strauss, Brahms, Fauré, Wolf and Mahler. He has also recorded many English songs. Gramophone described him as the finest baritone singer of Lieder this country has ever produced.Then there’s Winterreise performed with athletic grace along with the Tricia Brown Dance company “The most satisfying art I’ve ever been involved with”.
When he’s not singing he enjoys anything zoological, diving, walking, drawing (see doodles page), painting and fly-fishing. “Travelling to places like Australia and California, I get the chance to see things that no one else except David Attenborough would!” He has a farm by the sea inWaleswhere he plants trees, digs ponds and encourages the wildlife to flourish, in his own words, “leaving that tiny little patch a little bit better than I found it”.For a taste of life chez Keenlyside, see the “diary” written by Simon for Gramophone, Dec 2006.How would he sum himself up? “I sing because I love it”, “If you don’t take any risks, then it’s too comfortable”, and “honest is important”. Along with Gerald Finley and Julius Drake, Simon is one of the artists involved with the Jean Meikle Music Trust, an organisation which seeks to encourage outstanding young voice and piano partnerships and funds the Song Duo Prize in the Wigmore International Song Competition.
(Above) SK and Zenaida Yanowsky, Schwarzenberg 2005
In Simon’s own words “I’ve probably got around 15 years, and think I can see the end of the tunnel. I’ve done most of the roles that suit me and some, like Papageno, I’ll never want to drop…” “In Wagner I shan’t go beyond Wolfram in Tannhauser. I know there’s Beckmesser, but I’m afraid it’s not a role that excites or fascinates me. I’ll never get tired of the stand-and-sing roles like Germont in Traviata and Posa in Don Carlos – parts where you really have to act with your voice and pin the audience to their seats with inflexion, nuance and colour. I probably shan’t sing Billy Budd again… and am moving down from Pelleas to Golaud. The two new roles I’m most excited about are Wozzeck and Rigoletto, which are both great theatre and call on a huge palette of colours. Wozzeck in particular, is a mountain any baritone wants to climb…”Taken from The CambridgeAlumni magazine, Lent 2006 edition
The Future (II)
Simon Keenlyside and Royal Ballet Principal, Zenaida Yanowsky, married on 19 August 2006.
Simon and Zenaida had their first child, a baby boy called Owen, on 12th October 2008. Their second child, a baby girl called Iona, was born on 7th March 2010.
Family Keenlyside 2014
The Future (III)
Sir Simon Keenlyside was knighted in The Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2018.
Quotes from the Scotsman, the Metropolitan Opera Family Interview, the Opera interview, the BBC Radio 3 Voices interview on 12th October 2004 and the Cambridge Alumni magazine, Lent 2006 edition.