Neil Shicoff led a “textbook” opera career that slowly turned into something completely unexpected.
The American Jewish tenor was born on June 2, 1949 in Brooklyn. He studied at the Juilliard School of Music with his father and others, including renowned tenor Franco Corelli. Then he started performing all around the city in smaller theaters before performing at Santa Fe Opera as an apprentice. Then came a successful debut in Cincinnati that opened the door to the Metropolitan Opera. From there, he went on to an international career. All seemed on course for Shicoff, until tragedy struck.
He struggled emotionally after the death of his mother in 1984, leading to numerous cancelations and a career on the wane. Companies saw him as unreliable. A gossip-filled divorce and challenging custody battle forced him out of New York to pursue a career in Europe. It proved a success for Shicoff, the tenor making headlines at all the major houses around the old continent.
You don’t have to stray too far to understand Shicoff’s greatest strengths in the opera world. The French repertoire was one he dominated with his lyric voice and incredible acting abilities.
His interpretation of “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” is a reference point for singers interpreting the role for the first time, the tenor able to immerse himself in the madness and pathetic tragedy of the lead character. He also dominated the role of Eleazar in “La Juive,” one that few tenors have sung as much as he has in recent times. There are video recordings of each of these works that emphasize the tenor’s incredible abilities in the roles.
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Watch and Listen
Here is Shicoff in the famed aria from “La Juive…”
… and here is his interpretation of the famous aria from “Hoffmann.”