Kiwi crowds still get opera star Simon O’Neill’s heart thrumming

He’s used to performing to thousands of Europeans, but it’s the small crowds in New Zealand that get his heart racing. “That was my thing and I thought, ‘I want to be like that!’ And I’ve gone on to work with two of those people which has been amazing.”
Now he’s booked out years in advance, with a performing schedule packed until 2023. “That’s what got me into opera was Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras – they did the world cup soccer,” he says. “I don’t know if I’m even going to be alive in 2022-23, but it’s amazing that that happens.”
But for now O’Neill is enjoying being back home, reflecting on a somewhat unexpected career. “I usually sing in the Mediterranean where it’s like a carpet of people – here you see people, it’s terrifying,” he says. Simon O’Neill is regarded as one of the finest tenors in the world and has been back in New Zealand for a series of shows. “They’re right up close, it gives me great nerves.”
The 44-year-old got his big break in 2004, when he went for an audition for a small part in New York but ended up as understudy to his idol Placido Domingo. An Ashburton-born, globally renowned opera star has swapped the international stage for something a little closer to home. “My dream was to be in the band or to be a teacher but this is the route I took and it really is a great life, I thank my lucky stars.”