Joanna Simon (mezzo-soprano)
Joanna Simon was born in New York City, the daughter of the co-founder of the book publisher Simon & Schuster, Inc., Richard L. Simon and Andrea (Heinemann) Simon, a former switchboard operator, civil rights activist, and singer. Her father was Jewish and her mother was Roman Catholic of half Spanish and half Swiss descent. Family lore holds that Joanna's grandmother was also of partial "Moorish" origin based on her exotic looks.
Simon grew up in Fieldston, a section of Riverdale in the Bronx. The eldest of four, her sisters are rock musician, singer and songwriter Carly Simon (b. 1945), musician and composer Lucy Simon (b. 1943), and younger brother, Peter Simon (b. 1947), a photo journalist.
Joanna began piano lessons at the age of six, and then became interested in acting while in high school, deciding that was to be her career. Acting continued until half way through college, when she became interested in the art of musical comedy. Singing lessons commenced at this point with Dr. Marion Freschl, who advised her to switch to opera. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, majoring in philosophy. Opera studies continued with Dr. Freschl and then at the International Opera Studio directed by Herbert Graf in Zurich and at Spoleto with Gian Carlo Menotti.
Simon made her professional operatic debut in 1962 at the New York City Opera singing Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, opposite Norman Treigle in the title role. That same year she won the Metropolitan Opera auditions and the Marian Anderson Prize. Engagements followed around the United States singing with orchestras and she became a particular favorite at Bach festivals.
Receiving a huge amount of publicity for her performances in the world premiere of Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s Bomarzo in 1967, for the Washington Opera Society, creating the role of the courtesan Pantasilea., she gained a reputation primarily as a singer of contemporary music. She also sang the standard song literature of oratorios, masses and cantatas, Handel, Mozart, Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms and Bach, whom she regarded as “medicine for the voice”. Interviewed in 1971 by William Livingston for Stereo Review she said “if I were forced to choose a single favorite work, it would be the St. Matthew Passion”.
Nonetheless, the reviews for Bomarzo and its repeat season in New York in 1968 were superlative and her success brought national and international attention to the 28-year-old singer, which was a turning point in her career.
New roles she sang in the next few seasons included Carmen at the Bordeaux Opera and later in Israel with Zubin Mehta, Brangaene in Tristan und Isolde with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the Countess Gerschwitz in the American National Opera Company’s production of Alban Berg’s Lulu. In 1972 she originated the role of Raquel in the world premiere of Thomas Pasatieri's Black Widow with Seattle Opera and reprised the role at Lake George Opera that same year. Other notable appearances include Atlanta Civic Opera Association and the role of Fenena in Verdi's Nabucco with the New York City Opera in 1981.
Her opera career then continued with appearances in major roles in the opera houses of the world including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Vienna, Munich and Berlin, appearing under such conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy, Carlo Maria Giulini, James Levine and Herbert von Karajan.
Joanna Simon was married to the late Gerald Walker (April 16, 1928 – February 19, 2004), a former articles editor for The New York Times Magazine and author of the book Cruising, published in 1970 by Stein and Day, which describes a series of crimes against gay men in New York City. It was adapted to film in 1980.
In the recent past, Joanna Simon is reported to have established a relationship with now-deceased broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, who stated in an interview for the New York Post in January 2006: "We are keeping company, as the old phrase used to be. I'm not making any moves immediately. I don't think it's proper. My wife has only been gone less than a year. I'll wait until that year has passed, at least." Walter Cronkite’s wife Betsy had died on March 15, 2005, aged 89. In 2007, Joanna Simon was described in the press as Cronkite's "girlfriend."
Her current career sees her based in Manhattan as Vice President of the Fox Residential Group, real estate brokers, a company which she joined in 1998. She is currently a member of the Real Estate Board of New York, the Manhattan Association of Realtors, the New York State Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors.
- Weller, Sheila Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--and the Journey of a Generation Washington Square Press 2009
- The Bill Miller Show: "Carly Simon - YOU PROBABLY THINK THIS SONG IS ABOUT YOU - An Interview With Carly Simon 2007
- Jackson, Nancy Beth. "If You're Thinking of Living In/Fieldston; A Leafy Enclave in the Hills of the Bronx", The New York Times, February 17, 2002. Accessed May 3, 2008. "After World War II, Richard Simon, founder of Simon & Schuster, bought a Georgian red-brick Baum house where he brought up his three musical daughters: Joanna, Lucy and Carly."
- "In a Gloomy Garden". Time, 26 May 1967.
- New York Times 1981
- Amy Odell, "Walter Cronkite Can't Walk" New York (magazine), May 23, 2007.