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Simon Keenlyside

  • Baritone


Simon Keenlyside press reviews

‘Rigoletto’ – Welsh National Opera – June 2010

…there’s one excellent reason for seeing this revival and that is Simon Keenlyside, singing the title-role for the first time. Of course it will be years, possibly decades, before he looks decrepit enough to be the embittered hunchback. A lurching limp and a grotesque jacket cannot really disguise his clean-cut good looks, but his singing is magnificent: beefier and growlier than usual (especially as he rages at the world’s iniquities), but still noble and lyrical.
Richard Morrison, The Times, 28 June 2010

It's hard to believe that Keenlyside is new to the role, when his embodiment of the embittered but vulnerable Rigoletto is so complete. As his resentment towards his boss – for whom he fixes and pimps as well as lampooning – becomes pure poison, Keenlyside's voice reflects an acute volatility.
…Keenlyside makes this a must-see.
Rian Evans, The Guardian, 27 June 2010

Debuting as the deformed court jester Friday night (with a leg brace, instead of a hump), Keenlyside radiated his trademark sharp intelligence and nervous energy, creating a fascinating character study that avoided the usual grand opera stereotypes. His venom, his rage, his paternal devotion and his final heartbreak — all these were vividly dramatized and freshly potent.
…Keenlyside summoned unexpected reserves of power for Rigoletto's fierce outbursts, especially in his upper register, and caressed the vocal line with tenderness in his three duets with his daughter, Gilda.
Mike Silverman, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 June 2010

‘Hamlet’ – Metropolitan Opera Company – March 2010

…Simon Keenlyside spared nothing – vocally, dramatically, even physically. He went flat out in order to make his performance moving and gripping. He has a lieder singer's sense of text and nuance – a gift for coloring words and establishing mood. In Keenlyside’s performance, nothing was lost or neglected. He made every note and word count. He combined this sensitivity to the small and subtle with an extraordinary theatricality in the best sense of the term. He was one hundred percent present and committed to the character, whether it involved throwing himself against a wall and actually bouncing off of it or drenching himself with blood red wine as he tried to evoke from Claudius evidence of his guilt. His physicality as a performer was always there – in his downcast posture and in a walk that became almost a shuffle…Despite the gripping goings on, our eyes were always drawn to him. But it was not an opera singer we were watching; it was Hamlet.
Arlene Judith Klotzko,, April 2010

…he’s as dashing a Dane as you could hope for, and his resonant baritone aches with feeling…Keenlyside ruled the stage, with a performance that was both thrillingly physical…and searchingly musical, with nuanced phrasing to match each gesture.
Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 29 March 2010

…baritone Simon Keenlyside was mesmerizing in the title role, making the Prince a cauldron of smoldering anger, continually on the brink of explosion. His furious confrontation with Gertrude (Jennifer Larmore), for example, was brilliantly staged as an elemental mother-son battle of hatred and love.
Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal, 24 March 2010

The central attraction is Simon Keenlyside, who sings the title role superbly, with tireless, wide-ranging, sensitively inflected tone and keen expressive urgency.
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times, 18 March 2010

The opera is also a star vehicle for the right baritone in this punishing title role. Simon Keenlyside, the Ralph Fiennes of baritones, was the acclaimed Hamlet when this production was introduced, and he dominated the evening here. His singing was an uncanny amalgam, at once elegant and wrenching, intelligent and fitful. Handsome, haunted and prone to fidgety spasms that convey Hamlet’s seething anger and paralyzing indecision, Mr. Keenlyside embodied the character in every moment, and you could not take your eyes off him.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 17 March 2010

…the Met brought back "Hamlet," with one of the crucial ingredients for success — the fine English baritone Simon Keenlyside as the tormented hero...his interpretation is riveting. He couples athletic agility and grace with a brooding intensity as Hamlet confronts his father's ghost and then resolves to kill Claudius, the uncle who usurped the throne.
Blessed with an intrinsically beautiful voice, Keenlyside brings a tender quality to his love duet with Ophelia, a bracing bravado to his drinking song, and a sense of barely controlled fury to his encounter with his mother, Gertrude.
Mike Silverman, ABC News, 17 March 2010

Just about every other aspect of the evening earns high praise, starting with Simon Keenlyside, whose portrayal of the Danish prince is something that straight actors could learn from…And Hamlet’s music sounds as though it could have been written for his handsome baritone voice, which has ideal weight for the music. Keenlyside’s phrases in the melodic duet with Ophelia, Doute de la lumière emerge with succulent beauty and his fine French helps to keep the declamatory writing lively elsewhere.
George Loomis, Classical Review, 18 March 2010

Happily, Shakespeare's tragic hero was in the expert hands of Simon Keenlyside, whose compact, flinty baritone made poetry of even the blandest phrases of Thomas' music. His smoldering acting exploded into the evening's …moment of exciting drama in the mad scene closing the first half.
James Jorden, New York Post, 19 March 2010

Alice Tully Hall New York - Recital

Mr. Keenlyside, an elegant and intelligent artist, working with the pianist Pedja Muzijevic, gave a sensitive and remarkably immediate performance for the audience that packed the hall on Sunday...

...With his robust, warm voice, he brought a blend of yearning and reticence to his singing, without a trace of overwrought emotion...

...The ovation was tumultuous. (For the full superb review click here)
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 2 March 2010

'Macbeth' - Vienna State Opera

Simon Keenlyside scored an absolute triumph in the title role. His gorgeous lyric baritone is at its zenith, generous and positively glowing. He is a natural actor.
Larry L. Lash, Opera News, March 2010

Wigmore Hall / Malcolm Martineau – January 2010

The night was young when Simon Keenlyside sang his encores, Schumann’s Stille Liebe and Schubert’s Waldesnacht, and he sounded as though he could happily have gone on until past midnight. Many in the audience would clearly have stayed until dawn broke.
Few living singers can tap into Schumann’s nerve system as movingly as Keenlyside. Stille Liebe is from the composer’s little-known Kerner-Lieder and, with no immediate context or preparation, Keenlyside captured minutely the emotional diffidence and fragile ardour of the song.
And then the forest mysticism of Waldesnacht, with sudden hushed frissons of wonder, and with an elemental power surging through each rigorously etched rhythm and phrase.
Keenlyside’s programme had focused on Schubert, Wolf and Brahms, starting with the Song of Orpheus as he Entered Hell. Lament, tenderness and defiance all found their own momentum in a song not easy to pace or to structure. Because his baritone was in superb focus, the body was too. Keenlyside is an intensely physical performer: his entire body seems to want to be in on the act. But the edge of restless nervousness that used to distract is now controlled, and focused as an integrated part of the distinctive character of his performance. At the heart of this is a fearless honesty, a determination fully to inhabit and communicate the expressive world of each song. Keenlyside’s four Mörike songs by Hugo Wolf were sung as they were written: in an apparent single surge of imaginative energy. Malcolm Martineau’s piano playing here was outstandingly eloquent, stage-managing the emotional drama of a lover’s dawn song or a huntsman’s heartsick soul-storm. Martineau it was who rocked the cradle in the ambivalent and bittersweet lullaby of Brahms’s Nachtwandler, one of 11 songs in which Keenlyside powerfully balanced expansive ardour with innermost fear.
Hilary Finch, The Times, 27 January 2010

It was during the Hugo Wolf setting of Mörike’s “An eine Äolsharfe” (“To an Aeolian Harp”) in this marvellous Simon Keenlyside/ Malcolm Martineau recital that it became clear that the ever-delicate art of lieder singing had hit some kind of high, not just for this evening but for the craft in general. It really doesn’t get a whole lot better.
As Martineau’s seraphic strumming established the mystery and fragrance of that song and Keenlyside slipped effortlessly from one ravishing head-voice ascent to the next, a sound so honeyed and so enticing that whilst listening to it you can’t imagine that there is a lovelier lyric baritone on the planet, we edged as close to perfection as is reasonable to expect. The last three notes of Martineau’s postlude were as exquisitely placed as they were expectant. The atmosphere in the hall was transfixing.
And that was just one song. This is a partnership which one feels has aged and marinated to the point where it is now fully ready to savour. In the opening group of Schubert songs the intimacy of the playing and singing was a constant source of pleasure, Martineau’s deft touch seamlessly connected to the elegance of Keenlyside’s articulation in those characteristically graceful Schubertian turns. The very last line of “An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht” – “I will no longer be remembered on this fair earth” – found consonance on a cadence that seemed to be the invention of Keenlyside himself, so naturally and unassumingly did he arrive there.
This is a voice of many colours but more importantly a voice where the lyric and dramatic elements are held in such perfect balance. I’ve described the sweetness, the sheer beauty of his elegant mezza voce, but there is a darker trenchancy, too, and that chimed well with vivid imagery of Wolf’s bracing, wind-swept, word setting and the lustfulness of a song like “Der Jäger” (“The Huntsman”).
It was fascinating to hear in such close proximity the Wolf and Brahms settings of “To an Aeolian Harp” – the former rejoicing in rapt vocal effects, the latter achieving its rapture through aspirational melody and harmony. Brahms’ grateful vocal lines rolled out, so free and refulgent, while Martineau’s weighting and placing of chords brought many tiny revelations. Is there a stranger or more haunting lullaby than “Nachtwandler” (“Sleepwalker”)? Or a more startling premonition of Mahler than “Von ewiger Liebe” (“Eternal Love”)? Just two of the questions this terrific recital asked and answered.
Edward Seckerson, The Independent, 23 January 2010

'Macbeth' - Vienna State Opera

The sole triumph of the evening was Keenlyside’s brave performance...his was a masterful, elegantly-sung Macbeth, his big, burnished gold baritone flooding the house with true Verdian style. That he made it through the production without any sacrifice of dignity (when a pram containing an Uzi pushed onstage by Lady Macbeth kept rolling, Keenlyside kicked it far upstage, earning applause) was a further testament to the artistry that makes him one of the most intelligent and fascinating singers of our time.
Larry L. Lash, Musical America, 21 December 2009

Nur ein Top-Sänger…Simon Keenlyside verfügt über einen traumhaft schönen Bariton… und agiert beachtlich
Gert Korentschnig, Wiener Kurier, 8 December 2009

Der Fels in der Brandung des Publikumszorns aber ist Simon Keenlyside: Demonstrativen Applaus setzt es für diese Macbeth-Stimme, die virtuos zwischen Zartgefühl, baumstarker Virilität und Knurrigkeit changiert.
Christoph Irrgeher, Wiener Zeitung, 8 December 2009

Schubert Wolf Lieder - Wigmore Hall Live *****

Simon Keenlyside has no peers and few equals among English baritones, and this recital recorded in October last year demonstrates why. With the telepathic Malcolm Martineau as his pianist partner, he sings a generous selection of lieder and chansons by Schubert, Wolf, Fauré and Ravel, several of them about the birds and animals which are his special interest. Thus, Ravel's Histoires naturelles are invested with extra insights. In favourites such as Schubert's Serenade and Wolf's Gesang Weyla's, Keenlyside's velvety tone, expressive phrasing and immaculate diction are an example to all.
Michael Kennedy, The Sunday Telegraph, 22 November 2009

Brahms & Schumann Disc - Sony BMG 

The slightly husky, astringent quality of Keenlyside’s tone is ideally suited to these most full-blown romantic songs, allowing him to give full rein to the emotional outbursts yet still retain a sense of inwardness and restraint. From the first line of ‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’ the tone is set – manly without being too muscular, poetic without being maudlin, and always finely interwoven with Martineau’s playing, which scrupulously observes the composer’s wishes and never pushes itself too far into the foreground.
Keenlyside is at his best in the quieter, more-tender songs, especially ‘Hor’ ich das Liedchen klingen’ where his delivery of “Mein übergrösses weh” is poignant without being mawkish. The more tempestuous songs are well served however, ‘Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome’ being especially vivid. Particularly important is how a singer takes the crucial final stanzas of the penultimate song, and Keenlyside does not disappoint, with just enough pressure on words such as “dorthin” and “selig” to hit the emotional targets...
Melanie Eskenazi, The Classical Source, November 2009

Musikverein Vienna – Brahms Requiem – Cleveland Orchestra

Baritone Simon Keenlyside made for a dramatic vocal actor, sonorously imploring the heavens in "Herr, lehre doch mich" ("Lord, make me to know") and prophesying with conviction in the sixth movement. On his heels came the Singverein demanding with hurricane-like force an answer to "Death, where is thy sting?"
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer, 1 November 2009

Wigmore Hall Recital - October 2009

The Wigmore acoustic is like a graveyard for performers, so what a joy it was to hear Keenlyside and Johnson judge it perfectly in the first song, Brahms’ “Meerfahrt” (a Heine setting). The acoustic seemed the perfect vehicle for their expression, an impression reinforced by the ardent “Mainacht” (how perfectly judged was the neighbour note at the repetition of the phrase “In der Nacht”). The deliberate lightening and blanching of the voice for the brief “Die Nachtigall” seemed just right. The extended “Vor dem Fenster” emerged as a tone-poem, especially after another short song, “Sehnsucht”. Interestingly, this last song takes a folk text as its basis, and yet it is a sophisticated piece, moving from hypnotic lullaby to impressive climax.

Schumann’s Kerner-Lieder is not as well known as it should be. It is a miraculous cycle (‘Kerner’ refers to the name of the poet, Justinus Kerner) and, under the advocacy of Keenlyside, sounded every inch the true masterpiece it is. Contrasts were marked, and Keenlyside and Johnson delighted in Schumann’s own delight of setting up expectations and then confounding them. The linking of the final two poems, “Wer machte dich so krank?” and “Alte Laute” meant that the concentration was almost palpable. The capacity audience was reduced to complete silence. This close emerged as the natural climax of the cycle. Keenlyside and Johnson were as one mind, Keenlyside’s voice never faltering (wonderful high register in “Frage”, the ninth song). The impression as one listened was that this was Schumann’s greatest song-cycle. The emotional range was huge (climaxing perhaps at the impassioned climax of “Stille Tränen”. Risks were taken, and risks paid off. The encores (Wolf and Brahms) just set the seal on the evening.
Seen and Heard, 25 October 2009

Théatre des Champs Elysées – ‘Wozzeck’ - Philharmonia Orchestra
La distribution était dominée, comme on pouvait s’y attendre, par le Wozzeck de Simon Keenlyside qui, malgré l’absence de mise en scène, donna la sensation que son personnage était physiquement présent sur scène, avec toutes ses contradictions, ses fêlures, sa fragilité et sa violence, à la fois bourreau et victime. Tout en finesse et intelligence de jeu, il était simplement Wozzeck, musicalement irréprochable, portant, presque à lui tout seul, l’émotion contenue dans cette œuvre.
Patrick Georges Montaigu, ResMusica, 17 October 2009

Évoquons pourtant d’abord le plateau, où seul le rôle-titre de Simon Keenlyside se hisse aux mêmes hauteurs, qui confirment les immenses qualités éprouvées à sa prise de rôle à la Bastille en mars 2008. Simplement idéal, voici un Wozzeck capable de toutes les couleurs, de l’émerveillement enfantin à la peur panique, de la tendresse à la cruauté, de toutes les nuances, du plus infime murmure en voix de tête au crescendo le plus assourdissant mit voller Stimme, le tout d’une musicalité irréprochable, bref, l’une des incarnations majeures du rôle, et pas seulement à notre époque.
Yannick Millon, Altamusica, 12 October 2009

Keenlyside was essentially reprising the role from last month’s production by Christoph Marthaler at the Opéra de Paris, retaining the profile of a dysfunctional outsider pushed by despair to violence. Physically unstable with continuous nervous tics, Keenlyside’s Wozzeck is a portrait of psychopathic jealousy and near autistic isolation. Musically the baritone has found within the score a classical vocal beauty and intensity that few others have. With little recourse to Sprechgesang, he brings genuine vocal beauty to his high flying lines, coupled with a lieder singer’s attention to words and coloring.
Stephen Mudge, Musical America, 16 October 2009

Royal Festival Hall - 'Wozzeck' - Philharmonia Orchestra

But the evening belonged to Simon Keenlyside in the role of Wozzeck. Keenlyside is one of the few leading singers who can act as well as he sings. Avoiding the wide-eyed staggering that generally passes for acting on the opera stage, he brought a haunted intensity to the role. Wozzeck, alienated by the world, is described as a man “who runs through the world like an open razor” and Keenlyside captured the character’s danger and vulnerability even in the way he moved across the stage. It was a magnificent performance of one of opera’s greatest anti-heroes.
Paul Gent, The Telegraph, 9 October 2009

Simon Keenlyside delivered a stirring performance in the title role as with his every encounter with a soldier, doctor or lover, his body became stiffer, his face more withdrawn, and his mind less sound. That his own voice remained so firm and secure throughout only added to the sense of his alienation, as if he in turn was unable to adjust anything about himself in order to fit in with his surroundings.
Sam Smith, Music OMH, 8 October 2009 

At the centre was Simon Keenlyside’s superb wretch of a Wozzeck, ground down by inhumane superiors, haunted by visions and slowly sinking into mental disintegration. It’s a role that suits Keenlyside’s talents down to the ground.
Simon Thomas, Whats on stage, 8 October 2009

Brahms: Lieder / Schumann: Dichterliebe – Sony BMG

TWO masters of their art come together in this exquisite Lieder disc of Brahms and Schumann. That could, of course, refer to the composers themselves.
The Brahms songs here are gripping examples of the Romantic genre; Schumann's Dichterliebe cycle – consummate, soul-searching settings of Heinrich Heine – is no less satisfying.
But the true masters here are baritone Simon Keenlyside and pianist Malcolm Martineau, a performing duo of supreme eloquence.
Keenlyside imbues each song with an uncannily rich clarity, combining emotive passion with stylish delicacy.
He knits the Schumann, despite the brevity of many of its numbers, with arresting cohesion. Martineau's inimitable pianism is authoritative and characterful, supportive, of every subtle nuance explored by the singer. Pure genius.
The Scotsman, 5 October 2009