Castel was born in Lisbon, Portugal, and raised in Venezuela by multilingual parents and a German nanny and attended a French school. He is the descendant of a Sephardic Jewish family with roots in 15th century Castile. He moved to New York City at the age of 16 to pursue a singing career. In 1958, he became the first winner of the "Joy in Singing" award, which launched his career with a New York Town Hall debut recital. In June 1958 he made his debut with the Santa Fe Opera as Fenton in Verdi Falstaff. On the following July 16 he portrayed Joseph in the world premiere of Carlisle Floyd's Wuthering Heights in Santa Fe. Soon afterwards he made his debut with the New York City Opera, and then the Metropolitan Opera in 1969, where he has sung for over 35 years and has served for over 25 years as staff diction coach. A polyglot, Castel speaks Portuguese, German, French, Spanish, Italian and English with native or near-native fluency. Castel is an internationally known language and diction coach and teacher.
Castel also has over 200 operatic roles in his repertoire. His singing career has taken him around the world to work with such companies as Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City; Finnish National Opera, Helsinki; The New Israeli Opera, Tel Aviv; Opera Metropolitana, Caracas; Teatro São Carlos Opera, Lisbon; Spoleto Festival, Spoleto, Italy; Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Florence; Semper Oper, Dresden; and in the United States, the Opera Company of Philadelphia, Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera, Chicago Lyric Ravinia Festival, San Antonio Grand Opera Festival, New Orleans Opera, Baltimore Opera, Miami Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Central City Opera, and the St. Louis Opera, among others.
Castel is on the faculties of The Juilliard School of Music and Mannes College The New School for Music in New York and is a noted lecturer, teacher and Master Class leader at universities and conservatories throughout the world. His language and diction classes are taught at The Juilliard School, Manhattan Music Division, Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, New York University, Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Chicago Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, The Opera NUOVA Vocal Intensive Program in Edmonton, Alberta, and AIMS (Graz, Austria). Since 1992 he has been Adjunct Professor of Music at Boston University. Castel and his wife, director and voice teacher Carol Cates Castel, also teach on the faculty of the Spoleto Vocal Arts Symposium in Spoleto, Italy (www.spoletoarts.com), recognized as one of the finest training programs in Italy for singers. The Castels are founders of the New York Opera Studio (NYOS), a training program for young artists that hosts summer intensives at Vassar College. Castel annually presents the Nico Castel International Master Singer Competition, notable for its acceptance of competitors up to age 40.
Castel lives in New York City with his wife, Carol Castel, who is also a voice teacher and frequent collaborator. He has one child (with Nancy Castel), Sasha Castel, who currently lives in Canberra, Australia.
Castel has also translated numerous libretti and diction manuals. His publications include:
- Complete Opera Libretti Translation Series edited by Marcie Stapp (published by Leyerle Publications, Geneseo, New York)
- The Nico Castel Ladino Song Book (published by Tara Publications, Cedarhust, New York)
- A Singer's Manual of Spanish Lyric Diction (published by Excalibur Press, New York)
- "Spanish Ladino Repertoire Books by Nico Castel". Castelopera.com. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
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- "The Juilliard School". Juilliard.edu. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
- "Master Classes :: Mannes College The New School for Music". Newschool.edu. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
- "New York Opera Studio". New York Opera Studio. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
- "New York Opera Studio". New York Opera Studio. 2010-11-30. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
- "Marcie Stapp :: Collegiate Faculty :: San Francisco Conservatory Of Music". Sfcm.edu. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
- Castel's website
- Nico Castel at the IMDB database
- NY Times review of a Castel recital
- Recording of Castel singing in the nearly extinct language "Ladino"[dead link]
- Castel profile and description of some of his publications
- Castel's Juilliard School profile
- Mannes College The New School for Music