Neil Shicoff was born in Brooklyn in 1949, the son of New York cantor Sidney Shicoff. He was precocious, and took advantage, from a young age, of the opportunity to take lessons from his father, and was also both willing and (certainly) able to take advantage of such opportunities as presented themselves around New York and elsewhere to sing small parts, even prior to acquiring conservatory training . He sang, for example, with Tony Amato’s opera company in New York, and also in the Santa Fe Opera. Later, he formalized his training at the Juilliard School. His first opportunity to sing in a major opera venue came in 1975, when he appeared at the Cincinnati Summer Opera, singing the title role in Verdi’s Ernani under James Levine. It was clear from this point on that this was a major talent; an extraordinary, Italianate tenor voice, uncommonly possessed of an intense squillo and passionate Mediterranean inflexion that was perfectly suited to the French/Italian repertoire.
The following year, in 1976, Shicoff made his debut at the Met as Rinuccio in Gianni Schicci, also conducted by Maestro Levine. The success was considerable, and this debut performance was followed in rapid succession by Werther, Rosenkavalier, Boheme and Rigoletto. His singing was praised for its stylistic authenticity and his musicianship for its precision and careful preparation. The progress of the career was steady until a tricky period in the 1980’s, when problems not uncommon to even the most greatly talented of artists caused a detour for several years. Shicoff decided to leave America for a while and work abroad, where he sang in all the great opera houses of Europe and built for himself a significant European reputation, which endures to this day. He returned to the US in 1997, with a return engagement at the Met of Eugene Onegin, which was very successful.
It is from that year, 1997, that our first recording comes, one I just recently posted on Youtube. Here is Neil Shicoff, with soprano Galina Gorchakova, in “O Dolci Mani,” from Tosca. I believe you will immediately hear the squillo and Italianate inflexion of which I have spoken. It is quite rare for an American tenor:
That certainly speaks tomes about the extraordinary voice and singing of Neil Schicoff! To say that this is an Italianate voice is gross understatement! This is a great opera voice, without doubt. It is of course not the case that he only sings in Italian. Shicoff’s singing of the French repertoire is every bit as spectacular, and in fact some roles, such as Werther, are among his most famous. Here is “Pourquoi Me Reveiller”: (You might need to overlook the plastic fish-tackle box on stage, and the questionable acting of the soprano, who seems from time to time to be slipping into ecstasies of romantic passion while he reads what is in fact a declaration of suicidal despair.)
I honestly believe that it is simply impossible to fault this in any way: the voice, the style, the passion, the inflexions…..simply stunning! This is great singing!
Finally, one of the most heart-breakingly authentic, well-acted and well-sung renditions of Eleazar’s great aria, “Rachel, quand du seigneur,” that you are likely ever to hear:
What can I possbly add? This is a great American tenor, in whom all opera-loving Americans can take pride!