Home Music festivals Obituary: Mezzo-soprano Joanna Simon dies at 85

Obituary: Mezzo-soprano Joanna Simon dies at 85


Mezzo-soprano Joanna Simon has died aged 85.

Simon died of thyroid cancer in Manhattan on October 19, 2022, a day before her 86th birthday.

Born October 20, 1936 in New York, Simon grew up in Riverdale, Bronx. Her father, Richard L. Simon, was the founder of the publishing house Simon & Schuster and she had two younger sisters, singer Carly Simon and singer-songwriter Lucy Simon, and a brother, Peter Simon, a photographer.

Simon went to school at Riverdale Country School and Sarah Lawrence College where she graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1962. She then studied with Marion Freschl who redirected her career towards opera.

Later, she went to the International Opera Studio in Zurich under the direction of Herbert Graf and with the composer Gian Carlo Menotti at the Spoletto Festival and made her debut in November 1962 with the New York City Opera in “The Marriage of Figaro ” by Mozart where she played the role of Cherubino.

That same year, she won both the Metropolitan Opera National Council Regional Audition Division and the Marian Anderson Award.

In 1965, she made her debut with the New York Philharmonic under William Steinberg and recorded Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 for Command Records, this time with Steinberg conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This would be followed by performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Philadelphia Academy of Music. There will also be a recording of “Le Martyre de saint Sébastien” by Claude Debussy and performances at the Tanglewood Music Festival.

In 1967, Simon performed in the world premiere of Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera’s “Bomarzo” at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC for the Washington Opera Society. The role won her accolades and she went on to sing opera with the New York City Opera and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. The opera will also be recorded for CBS Records in 1968 with conductor Julius Rudel.

From there, she made her debut with the Salzburg Festival, the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, the Little Orchestra Society and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Zubin Mehta in Tel Aviv.

In 1970 Simon sang the role of Irene for the first ever recording of Handel’s “Tamerlano” with conductor John Moriarty and the Copenhagen Chamber Orchestra.

She has also sung with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Museum of the City of New York, Nevada Opera and the Philadelphia Academy of Music. In 1972 she created the title role in the world premiere of Thomas Pasatieri’s “Black Widow” at the Seattle Opera and in 1975 she sang the world premiere of Robert Starer’s “The Last Lover” at the Caramoor Music Festival.

She would go on to sing internationally, and in 1985 Simon was one of several New York City Opera singers hired to perform in a concert of the music of Richard Rodgers at Carnegie Hall.

From 1986 to 1992, Simon was the arts correspondent for the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour and had an extensive interview with tenor José Carreras about her battle with leukemia. She won an Emmy Award in 1991 for her work on this program creating a documentary about manic depression and creativity.

In 1999, she returned to the stage to perform in a concert of Weill’s music at the Weill Recital Hall with soprano Angelina Réaux and baritone Kurt Ollmann.

Simon has also appeared on television numerous times, including as a presenter at the 13th Annual Grammy Awards and was one of the featured performers on the very last episode of The Ed Sullivan Show.

Simon’s sister, Tony and Grammy Award winner Lucy Simon, 82, died of metastatic breast cancer on October 21 and Carly released a statement: ‘I am filled with grief to speak of the passing of Joanna and Lucy Simon. Their loss will be long and haunting. As sad as this day is, it is impossible to mourn them without celebrating the incredible life they have lived. We were three sisters who not only took turns blazing trails and laying out routes for each other, but we were each other’s secret parts. The co-custodians of each other’s memories.