The American mezzo-soprano, Joanna Simon, began piano lessons at the age of 6, and then became interested in acting whilst at 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 Zürich and at Spoleto with Gian Carlo Menotti.
Joanna Simon made her operatic debut in 1962 with the New York City Opera Company 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 USA singing with orchestras and she became a particular favourite 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, Joanna Simon gained a reputation primarily as a singer of contemporary music. She also also sang the standard song literature of oratorios, masses and cantatas, George Frideric Handel, Mozart, Gustav Mahler, L.v. Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms by J.S. 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”. In 1969, she performed at the Carmel Bach Festival under Sandor Salgo.
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 Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein and the Countess Gerschwitz in the American National Opera Company’s production of Alban Berg’s Lulu. She also began to appear on television, including Ed Sullivan, the Tonight Show and the talk shows of David Frost, Dick Cavett, Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin.
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 is the daughter of Richard L. Simon, co-founder of book publishers Simon & Schuster, Inc. and Andrea Louise Simon (nee Heinemann), a civil rights activist and singer. 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 Simon was married to the late Gerald Walker (1928-2004), 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.
Joanna Simon also enjoyed a career as an Emmy Award winning Arts Correspondent with The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour from 1986-1992. 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.