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Biography of Simon Keenlyside.

This is for information only.
For Simon Keenlyside’s official, downloadable biography, contact his agent, Askonas Holt

2009 The Young Keenlyside

Simon John Keenlyside was born in London on 3rd August 1959, son of Raymond and Ann Keenlyside. Both his father, Raymond and his grandfather, Leonard Hirsch, were professional violinists; Raymond played second violin in the Aeolian Quartet. “Where other children would have nursery rhymes, I’d go to bed to the sounds of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert.”


Above and below: The Aeolian Quartet

Raymond Keenlyside is on the far right (above) and 2nd from left (below)


“If you sang as a boy you got picked on. It was lucky for me that I was sporty and athletic.”

Simon studied the violin as a child, but never took it seriously. Singing was far more pleasurable, and aged  8 he joined the choir school of St John’s College Cambridge with George Guest, where he remained for six years. He described this as “an incredible start in my musical life”, but one that he did not enjoy in other ways. “We toured all over the world – Japan, America, Australia. No holidays. Recordings all the time. And professional little shits at nine, you know. I wouldn’t advocate it for children.” “Best place for the child is in the home.”

(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.”

There are several recordings of him singing treble solo with the choir, try Ceremonial music by Purcell, or the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” (on Simply Christmas).

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.


The Apprentice

Simon returned to St John’s College Cambridge in 1980 as a choral scholar, initially reading Anthropology (and playing rugby). He describes his voice at that time as “a nothing baritone voice – the best you could say about it is that it was undamaged”. At first he enjoyed the anthropology course, but changed to Zoology in his final year. “I found the whole canvass of evolution utterly wonderful. I had Adrian Friday on mammals, Adrian Lister on the Pleistocene and Jenny Clack on fish, all fantastic teachers…” A career in Zoology, however, was never an option.

Having graduated, he won a Peter Moores Foundation Scholarship (1985) and chose to join the Royal Northern College of Music to study voice with John Cameron, who opened up the world of German Lieder to him. He says “I wanted to learn to sing, and earning money at that point would have been, I’m sure, detrimental to learning how to sing”. “…when I was in my mid-twenties my voice wasn’t ready for opera.


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.Biography_Simon3

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.

Debuts and Early Recognition

On leaving the RNCM Simon went to Salzburg where he was encouraged by Rudolf Knoll at the Mozarteum. “It was just luck,” he says. “Knoll helped me and didn’t charge me a penny and didn’t tell anybody”. He also spent time in Graz, Austria, then went via Bremen to Hamburg.

Biography_almavivascalaklHis professional debut as a baritone was in 1987 (and not 1988 as is usually stated) at the Hamburg Staatsoper where he sang Count Almaviva in the Marriage of Figaro.

Being a house baritone in Hamburg introduced him to some realities of life on stage, ” The day I arrived I was walking around the set in jeans. The next day I was on. I had to make it or sink…” “I did 12 Counts in Figaro there, never meeting the conductor, and there’d be different Countesses you’d only recognise her by the costume. But nothing ever frightened me after that, so it was useful.”

Simon spent 18 months in Hamburg performing in roles ranging from the count to a transvestite in a German Cabaret (“deeply depressing”).

In 1989 he was lured to Scottish Opera where he stayed until 1994, performing as, among other roles,  Marcello (La Boheme), Danilo (The Merry Widow), Harlequin (Ariadne auf Naxos), Guglielmo (Cosi fan Tutte), Figaro (Barber of Seville), Billy Budd, Papageno  (Zauberflöte) and Belcore (L’elisir d’amore). “It was fantastic training for me, couldn’t have been better”.


During this period he made debut performances at The Royal Opera House, (1989 singing Silvio in I Pagliacci), English National Opera (Guglielmo), Welsh National Opera, San Francisco Opera, Geneva, Paris, and Sydney. In an interview with the Scotsman he says that he learned his trade over five years in leading roles in Scotland, and he feels a “huge debt of gratitude” to the company. He sang for Glyndebourne for the first time in 1993 and made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1996.


World Premieres

Biography_tempest12In 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.

Operatic roles

Biography_simon1Abayaldos (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”.


Other interests


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

The Future

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.

Click on the photo for more images of Mrs Keenlyside


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.

simon and owen

Warm congratulations from everyone at SK.info

Family KeenlysideFamily 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 on12th October 2004 and the CambridgeAlumni magazine, Lent 2006 edition.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Marina Donald April 3, 2020 at 9:40 pm

In lockdown have just managed to catch the Met Opera relay of Don Carlo before it vanishes. What a superb Posa! This quality of opera makes one forget the situation outside. It is so sad that, with the Festival necessarily cancelled this year, we will only have memories of his recitals in the Queen’s Hall.
Thank you for all the pleasure you have given us

Hannah Cohen March 22, 2020 at 5:52 pm

It was a great emotion to see and to hear you in Wozzek at Opera Bastille in 2008. Now we are locked in our houses but to remember these extraordinary moments is good for our souls.
You are a wonderful and sensitive comedian and to hear you made me happy and enthousiastic.
Sorry for my poor english.
Best regards.
Hannah Cohen

Nigel Miller March 4, 2020 at 5:34 pm

Dear Sir Simon, thank you so much for your beautiful contribution to SF’s service in Chester on 2 March. It added magnificently to how we will remember a kind and courageous man.

William McDevitt July 7, 2019 at 12:08 am


The Marriage of Figaro Saturday evening at the Royal Opera House was magnificent, thank you for a stunning performance and your marvellous Baritone singing. I started a part time BA Arts degree last year which had a classical music section and followed an Opera singers career. So last night was my first ever Opera and it blew my mind – Already booked for Carmen next week on the strength of it! Keep delighting your audiences.

Jim Holden June 25, 2019 at 3:22 am

Greetings. I am a now octogenerian and a lifelong opera fan. Recently I purchased a three-opera set of Royal Opera performances of Mozart: Don Giovanni, Marriage of Figaro, and Magic Flute. You were a fantastic Don Giovanni and Papagano. But of interest to me in this bio is that you are a flyfisherman, another passion of mine. I fish 70-90 days a year all over the U.S. and in some other countries. My interest inspired me to write a slim volume about the sport: Heron Thieves, a Bat out of Hell, and other Flyfishing Stories, Essays, and Poems. If you ever want to explore some of the many trout streams in the Driftless area of SE Minnesota (my home waters), NE Iowa, or SW WI, it would be a pleasure to show you around (if you come to Minneapolis or St. Paul to sing). Alas, I expect your busy schedule and your parenting duties might make that unlikely. Still, the offer stands. My best to you as you continue what has been an extraordinary career.

Eunsung Lee May 7, 2019 at 6:53 pm


I was long listener of your artistic works.
While I was listening your recordings today, I’ve decided to visit your website.
Reading your bio and your future goals, it showed me your honest and humble opinion about some rep.
I am a baritone who is still in school in NYC and trying to move on to the next step of my career.
The big repertoires are certainly tempting especially when the young singers nowadays sing in many competition and concert. But, your path as a singer gives me clear guideline and lesson how to manage your rep. and voice. I wish you and your lovely family well, and I am hoping to see you or even meet you at some point of my life. Bravo to your accomplishments and looking forward for more! Ciao!

Verena Schmidt March 6, 2019 at 5:54 pm

Thank you for your wonderful Don Giovanni yesterday evening at the Staatsoper in Munich!!! Hope to see you again in this opera house!

Helena Dearing January 19, 2019 at 7:22 pm

I am thrilled to have a ticket for next Sunday’s Falstaff in Vienna!! Thank you in advance, Helena

Jo Burnette August 12, 2018 at 3:00 am

It was only moments ago I began listening to Simon Keenlyside for the first time, prompted by a note on a website devoted to Jonas Kaufmann. I am impressed by his smooth legato singing in die Wintereisse. He goes from top to bottom in his range without the forcing that is so distracting in some other singers. The tone of his voice is beautiful. According to his biography, he came along in his career slowly and carefully without forcing himself to do roles that he was too young and immature vocally to do properly. It is truly a joy to hear this singer color his vocal output so marvelously. I only regret that I have discovered Mr. Keenlyside so late in my life and in his career. I shall be playing every recording I can lay my hands on.

Oksana P. Struk October 27, 2016 at 4:50 pm

Dear Simon,
As an 80 year old I have heard a few fabulous singers in my time. Your recent Don Giovanni has placed you way above everybody else in the opera repetoire. My wish on my bucket list would be to see! You in person sing ” An die Music” . Then I could happily, though with tears streaming down my cheeks

artmanjosephgrech October 23, 2016 at 2:38 am

A Wow performance of Don Giovanni relayed to the Cineworld Cinema, Bolden in the Northeast, from The Met at the Lincoln Centre New York which included the most articulate and controversial interpretation statement made during the Interval the activities of a Don Juan. I have come across, and where I immediately wondered about the reaction from some interests in the USA and the UK as we enter a new era of puritanism. Will review the opera tomorrow against the production at the Royal Opera House in February 2014.

Howard Carl October 23, 2016 at 2:23 am

Just heard SK in HD transmission of the Met “Don Giovanni.” A triumph for all, but especially for him. The athleticism of the part at his age is cause for celebration, but, of course, that voice–so enveloping, so convincing, so able to color for the differing needs of the role. Hope to see and hear more of this artist.

L. H. Carl, Jr.

serena martucci June 15, 2016 at 10:59 pm

Dear Simon,

Our daughter Leyla (26 months) is captured by your voice and your performances. Every day she wants to watch a scene of “papageno nostro” on you tube (she chose with her little finger by herself). She jumps from the sofà screaming” tuffo papageno” inspired by the ROH production and your captivating performance. She sings “pa pa pa pa” loudly through the staircases. We have to tell her that papageno is busy with his babies and that he can not always sing for her. The same for “Figaro”.
This silly message is just to say thank you. You made something special, you planted the seed of music appreciation in a very young girl’s mind.

Serena e Austin (Milano)

phil lodge April 18, 2015 at 8:28 pm

I looked up Simon and Susan Graham and found this site.

I just wanted to say that my favourite duet and my favourite performance of it is this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8PPvpjiNKI

And I play it every week/fortnight!

michaela kabelka December 12, 2014 at 9:59 pm

dear simon,
today i had the pleasure, to hear you at the rehearsal at wr. staatsoper,
it was marvellous…
have a good time in vienna!

Jonathan Newell September 20, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Saw you in todays matinee of Rigoletto at the ROH. Jusr wanted to say how much we enjoyed your performance. Fantastic 🙂

william colbert February 27, 2014 at 7:44 pm

My wife and, I are native GERMAN speakers and we normally detect instantly when a singer is non German

Simon Keenlyside sings Papageno without accent – how did he learn to do this?

appreciatively Gerti & William Colbert

Ulrich H. Knille January 7, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Congratulations to the wonderful performance of Schubert’s Serenade. I love this song which is
probably one of the most wonderful songs ever written and I am always emotionally moved when
hearing this song. The music of Schubert (and Brahms) touch my heart and let no one ever say
that the German language is not usable for songs. The language, once you dominate it like Simon
Keenlyside does, can have a wonderful sound. Fortunately, it’s my mother tongue and I do not
have to spend a lot of efforts learning it.
Mr. Simon Keenlyside: you have my highest appreciation and respect and I wish you and your
family of the best.

Kazuko Yoshida October 6, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Dear Simon, I was very glade to see again yesterday evning at Mezzo.TV, playing at Metroplitan Opera House of New York in 2010 with Rpberto Alagna and Marina Poplavskaya.I feel always a very great emotion seeing paticurally the sceans of duets -Don Carlo and Rodligo and the last duet of Carlo and Elizabeth, even I have seen it at my home by DVD with Rolando Villazon in 2008 just Monday evning, because I have lost my yonger sister who was ile in Japn since long time by the teefdepression.With whom I had mny things to speak –musik, fine arts and history ect. She has one son who is playing a trombone in the amateur orchestra at Osaka.
I’ll come to Londonfrom October 23th to 26th , and will sea at ROH the performence of of Verdi on 24 evening,because there is no performence of this opera at Oéra Bastille during this season. P’m sure it wll be nice stage performence.
I hope to see also of Veri by Simon and Anna Netrebko at Mûnchen this autumne, but it will
be to much during short time. I have already a DVD of with Simon ans Liudmyra Monastyrska – she is very great and impressionant – on June 2011. I wonder if Anna could be more perfom than Liudmyra, because her voice is more large and forcell than Anna’voice. I bought CD of ANNA-VERDI, and copare two performences. I like very much Anna Netrebko and I was at her concert or opéra, but I prefer her was much better at Wiennerstaatsoper with Elina Galanca and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo( I lile his voice).
I’ll finish my letter for today, but have many things to ask you. I wish you to continue to do many wonderfull performence in future. I thank you so much to hear you soon.
Kazuo de Paris

diana jones April 17, 2013 at 9:59 pm

The programme notes for Eugene Onegin said that cameras in the auditorium were for rehearsals of the cinema relay and “filming for future release of this production on DVD by Opus Arte…”. No date given for dvd release, but it certainly seems that there will be one eventually.

Paula April 17, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Is the BBC/ ROH planning to release Onegin on DVD? I’m sure lots of people would love to treasure it.

Sheila Scott April 13, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Last night I watched “Eugene Onegin” on BBC4. Such an original and intriguing production,beautiful designs and helpful subtitles! But above all the superb acting and glorious singing of Krassima Stoyanova and Simon Keenlyside have haunted me. I am now watching it on BBC catch-up.

Jacqueline Athram April 12, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I saw Simon at Zurich in 2007 playing the very physical role of Schumann’s ‘Scenes from Faust’ and was hugely
impressed .And as Eugene Onegin he brought a unique interpretation and showed that as a singer he’s also a good mover !

wendy holmes February 24, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Simon as Eugene Onegin was a fantastic experience at the Odeon cinema. These live performances are a wonderful way to bring opera and ballet to the general public at a reasonable price and convenient location. I look forward to seeing Simon in future productions.

Judith Ferguson February 23, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I just saw Eugene Onegin at the cinema – a first experience of watching Covent Garden on film. It was superb. I thought the whole production was excellent and was thrilled by the voices and acting of Krassimira Stoyanova and Simon Kennylside in particular. Having usually sat in the amphitheatre at Covent Garden in my opera hungry youth, I was never able to see the details of the acting, facial expressions, small bodily gestures, so this front row seat was a knock out!

Xavier Roca-Ferrer February 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm

I shall never forget your Hamlet (in Barcelona), Prospero & Papageno (ROH), Giovanni (on the screen) and a wonderful lieder-abend at the Liceu, and have tickets for your Onegin (ROH) and Wozzek (Vienna). A tip: there’s a wonderful barytone role in Humperdinck’s “Königskinder”: it would suit you like a glove! An the opera is real a gem. Listen to Prey’s recording! Why always “H. & G.” for Xms? Congratulations and all the best,
Yours sincerely,
Xavier Roca-Ferrer (Barcelona)

Ulrich Förster December 31, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Simon Keenlyside – endlich wieder ein Bariton von Weltgeltung. Endlich ein Bariton mit bezaubernder, berückender, ergreifender Stimme !

Paul ulrich Lanz April 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm

On Youtube I found two months ago the performance of the Nozze di Figaro in 2001 in the Wiener Staatsoper under Riccardo Muti. I have seen and heard it since certainly 50 times. It is without any doubt the most beautiful Nozze e v e r !!! Now, yesterday, I wanted to see it again. But, it disappeared from Youtube.
Could you do something about it? Could you ask the Wiener Staatsoper or the Austrian Television to put it again on Youtube. It would be great.

Edward Amos Brandwein March 21, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Dear Simon,
As a fervent admirer of your, I wish you all the best and hope
that you will continue to delight audiences worldwide with your
beautiful singing.
Shall I ever have the pleasure of seeing you peform in Israel//
(the country where I’ve been living since June 1999)?
Hoping to hearing from you soon,
Yours faithfully,

Ray Bristow February 20, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Hello, I have a copy of the Royal Opera House production of Die Zauberflote (Magic Flute) by Mozart and I regard Simon’s Papageno as probably the best I’ve ever heard – in probably the best production of the work ever put on stage – or screen for that matter. For me, there is no other baritone who has Simon’s superb voice or his acting ability, even with a broken arm. Congratulations are also due to him and his wife for sustainable farming in Wales. It would be far better for the rest of the world population to realise that the world is finite and using its resources without concern for future generations is wildly irresponsible. Thank you. Ray bristow

Willy Markvad June 8, 2010 at 9:37 am

For the first time I´ve listen to a DVD with you and Angelika Kirchenschlager. It was a grest experience and I hope I´ll find another CD with you.
Willy Markvad

Ann Lander May 15, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Thanks SK.info team for a very interesting biography.

Many congratulations to Mr. & Mrs. K. on the birth of their daughter. My niece is called Iona & I think it’s such a beautiful name.

John B Hills March 28, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Saw HD download of Met’s “Hamlet” yesterday, never have seen anything like it…acting, singing, orchestra!…Simon was transfixing! – My late wife has relatives on N Wales coast, Simon’s farm sounds splendid (simplicity’s splendor?) – Grateful greetings to children, wife, Simon, from West Michigan’s lakeshore! – John Hills, North Muskegon, MI, USA

Janet March 7, 2010 at 9:32 am

I think many of us are interested in visiting Simon’s farm but sadly I doubt it will never happen…

David Blackmore March 7, 2010 at 8:14 am

What a great programme on your farm was this morning. Is there any chance of visting the farm. I live in Pembrokeshire next door

Barbara Gloinson March 6, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Just watched DVD of Hamlet-fantastic! Living in SW Ireland does not make it easy to get to live performances – thank heaven for DVDs!

Barbara Gloinson

Elena Petrcich February 7, 2010 at 9:16 pm

We are looking forward to seeing and hearing Simon in the role of

Hamlet – at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Last week we

watched a clip of Simon (Hamlet) singing- with Natalie Dessay -WOW

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