Singers mourn a supportive Met tenor

Singers mourn a supportive Met tenor


norman lebrecht

June 01, 2015

We regret to share news of the death of Nico Castel, a Lisbon-born comprimario tenor who sang 700 times at the Metropolitan Opera and was, besides, a prodigious language coach and opera translator. Nico died on Sunday, aged 83.

The US bass-baritone Alan Held remembers a warm and supportive friend:

nico castel


Many of my colleagues today have posted of our sadness concerning the loss of an phenomenal genius and friend.

Nico Castel was, simply, one of the greatest gifts to opera. His talents were obvious on stage. Over 700 performances at The Met showed us his great creative abilities. His support off of the stage, especially to young singers, was incredible. His scholarship, which will remain in the training of young singers, will last forever.

Nico first heard me in a master class that he gave at Wolf Trap in the summer of 1987. He was so complimentary and supportive when I sang Wagner for him. From then, he became a good friend and mentor in so many ways. A few months after that master class, I showed up, for the first time, at the Met’s door, for coaching on Alban Berg’s “Lulu”, an opera that is fiendishly difficult and one that I had been given a contract for to cover. This was a tall order for someone who was as green as I (and only 27 years old). He was so patient but yet demanding.

He pushed me to get the diction right. He did that on every role I did with him–and there were many. He returned to Wolf Trap, the following summer, and coached our production of “Don Giovanni”. Every time I sang the opera after that (and Leporello is one of my most performed roles), I thought of his lessons. And, how proud I was, in the spring of 1989, to have Nico onstage with me during my Met debut in “Billy Budd”.

Many of you have seen the video of Nico performing the many interpretations of the Haushofmeister in “Ariadne auf Naxos”. He used so many accurate and incredible accents. But, imagine sitting at a table in the Met cafeteria, with him and other colleagues, and have him do that routine for you—LIVE. Oh, my!!! He was an absolute GENIUS (he spoke fluently, with many different dialects within, at least 7 languages).

But, I have a memory of Nico that I cherish perhaps even more than any of these. In 1988, Nico, his daughter Sasha, and a few others of us from Wolf Trap, went to Baltimore to see the Orioles play (in the old Memorial Stadium). It was absolutely hilarious to hear Nico call for a hot dog or peanuts or whatever else using whichever NY accent or foreign accent he wished. The entertainment at the game came far more from our friend in the stands than from the game on the field. I am saddened to hear of this great man’s passing. He gave us all so much. I have students who look at Nico’s books for diction advice and help with translations. Thankfully, they will continue to learn from this absolute master, as will I. His work is not finished…it will live on.


  • Lars Woodul says:

    He was so enlightening – what a gift. I’m so grateful to have learned from him.

  • Edgar Moore says:

    There are so many Nico stories, so I’ll just share a couple of personal ones. I first met Nico in 1969 in a production of Turandot at the Ft. Worth Opera which we were in. And as the say, the rest is history. We became fast friends, a friendship that has lasted for over 45 years. He was a close friend, became my mentor, and taught me everything that I needed to know about opera, performing, auditioning, etc.I shall be forever grateful.
    One very humorous remembrance occurred in 1970 during a production of Tales of Hoffmann here in Houston. On a night off we all, Nico, myself and Norman Treigle decided to go the the baseball game at the Astrodome. No sooner than we sat down and the game began, Nico began “broadcasting” the game in Puerto Rican dialect Spanish! He had brought a tape recorder to the game. He didn’t miss a beat when the hot dog guy came by!
    As many people know, he spoke 7 languages fluently as well as dialects in all. One summer about 10 years ago when he was diction coach at Santa Fe, he and I took a Sunday excursion on the Cumbres and Toltec RR in northern N. Mexico. While on the ride he decided to write limericks, which he was known for. Only this time, he wrote 4 about me, 2 in English and 2 in Italian! I was stunned. I still have them today on the paper he wrote them on.
    And on a more sensitive note, on another Sunday excursion I decided to play a recording of Schubert’s Die Schone Mullerin, with Nicolai Gedda singing. I knew that Nico loved lieder and had included numerous lieder on recitals he’d give over the years. After a while as we were driving, I looked over and there were tears running down Nico’ cheek. He said he was so moved by Gedda’s interpretations, and he went on to explain why in detail how Gedda’s singing and interpretations were so to the point. Just incredible. Nico could hear it all!
    Well, rest well my friend, “pal-o-mine” (Nico, like me, love the Honeymooners). Parajon! Estrai juan!

  • Peter Freeman says:

    Can anyone identify that lovely Rossiniesque aria sung in English?

  • Audrey Stottler says:

    I was introduced to this fabulous teacher,and master of language through my great voice teacher, David Adams. Nico held diction classes, (in those days) in his living room, standing before us like a great conductor as we all, in unison, articulated the correct sound of a ‘rolled’ Italian R and a ‘flipped’ Italian R. It was wonderful! When I made my Metropolitan Opera debut, he was the prompter for the rehearsals. What a thrill for me! I will remember him always. A lover of language, a lover of opera, and an inspiration to all who called him our teacher.

    My deepest sympathy to his family.

  • Helene Williams Spierman/Lehrman says:

    Brilliant linguist, superb teacher.

  • patricia wise says:

    Many fond memories of Nino’s exquisite portrayals next to me on stage in the early days of my career at NYCO. It was hard to keep my mind on my own performing because he was so engaging and real. Always a lesson to be near him, and he has left an indelible impression as singer, actor, writer, teacher–and friend.

  • Sasha Castel says:

    Thank you all for the very kind words. For the record, Nico was fluent in, and taught, six languages (English, Spanish, German, Italian, French and Portuguese). He did not consider himself to be “fluent” in Yiddish or Ladino although he sang in them and taught their vast musical literature to his students. And contrary to what has been said elsewhere on the Web, he was not a “native speaker” of Ladino, and in fact there has been no such person for about 500 years.