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O'Neill was born in Ashburton, New Zealand, and received his musical training at the University of Otago, Victoria University of Wellington, graduating with an honours degree in music, before receiving scholarships to the Manhattan School of Music (where he earned a Master of Music degree in 2000) and the Juilliard Opera Center.
While studying at the Juilliard Opera Center, he sang the title role in Idomeneo, Sam Polk in Susannah, and Chevalier de la Force in Dialogues of the Carmelites under the baton of Julius Rudel. Subsequently at San Francisco's Merola Opera Program, he performed Rodolfo in La bohème as well as the title role in La clemenza di Tito with Wolf Trap Opera. In 2004, O'Neill was the subject of a TVNZ, BBC documentary The Understudy about his contract at the Metropolitan Opera to cover Siegmund for Plácido Domingo in the Met's Otto Schenk production of Die Walküre.
Currently principal artist with the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala and both the Salzburg Festival and Bayreuth Festival, he has worked with conductors such as James Levine, Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim, Valery Gergiev, Antonio Pappano, Sir Charles Mackerras, Seiji Ozawa, Donald Runnicles, Julius Rudel, Daniele Gatti, Christoph Eschenbach, Christian Thielemann and Fabio Luisi.
He made his Metropolitan Opera debut as the Gran Sacerdote in Mozart's Idomeneo with James Levine, his Covent Garden debut as Jenik in Smetana's The Bartered Bride with Sir Charles Mackerras followed by Florestan (Fidelio) with Antonio Pappano and Salzburg Festival in Die Zauberflöte with Riccardo Muti. O'Neill toured Japan with the Metropolitan Opera covering Plácido Domingo in the role of Siegmund (Die Walküre). Other roles include Mitch in Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire at Theater an der Wien, Don José (Carmen) and Tito (La clemenza di Tito) at Wolf Trap Opera, Chairman Mao in John Adams' Nixon in China with Minnesota Opera and San Francisco Opera, Dimitri (Boris Godunov) with New Zealand Opera, Skuratov in Janáček's From the House of the Dead with the American Symphony Orchestra, Sam in Floyd's Susannah at the Wexford Festival and recorded the role of Lancelot in Chausson's Le roi Arthus with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Leon Botstein.
At extremely short notice he made his 2009 debut in the title role of Verdi's Otello with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra and in 2010 he debuted at the Bayreuth Festival in the title role of Lohengrin, returning in the title role of Parsifal in 2011. The same year, O'Neill made his role debut as Walter von Stolzing in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Covent Garden. Other performance highlights have included the title role of Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House and Houston Grand Opera, Sergei in his Opera Australia debut in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Florestan with Daniel Barenboim at the BBC Proms with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and made his Carnegie Hall debut as Caesar in Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra for New York City Opera, returning with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and James Levine for Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and sang in Beethoven's Missa solemnis with the Boston Symphony.
He has performed the role of Siegmund in Richard Wagner's Die Walküre at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with Antonio Pappano, Teatro alla Scala and Berlin Staatsoper with Daniel Barenboim, Hamburg State Opera with Simone Young, Opéra National du Rhin, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, at the Metropolitan Opera with Donald Runnicles and in the 2013 Otto Schenk production and in the Robert Lepage production with Fabio Luisi.
O'Neill appears on the 1998 New Zealand one-dollar performing arts postage stamp.
- Wagner Scenes and Arias (EMI) New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Pietari Inkinen
- Otello (LSO Live) London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis
- Der Freischütz (LSO Live) London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis
- Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (Phantom) Sydney Symphony, Vladimir Ashkenazy
- Der Sturm (Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra), Thierry Fisher Hyperion Records
- The Magic Flute (Decca) Salzburg Festival, Riccardo Muti
- Le roi Arthus (Telarc) BBC Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein
- Kiri and Friends (EMI) Auckland Philharmonia
- 2005 Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award
- Grand finalist in the 2002 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions
- 2003 Sullivan Foundation Award of New York
- 2003 United Kingdom Wagner Society Prize
- 2001 Circle 100 Career Grant
- 1999 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Encouragement Award
- 1998 Fulbright Scholarship
- 1996 Tower Opera Scholar
- Creative New Zealand Professional Development Award
- Inaugural Young Artist-in-Residence with New Zealand Opera
- Official site
- New Zealand Arts Laureate
- Simon O'Neill at the Internet Movie Database
- The Understudy at the Internet Movie Database