Ben Heppner–Recollections

Eddie Pensier writes:

Canadian tenor Ben Heppner has announced his retirement from the opera and recital stage, at the age of 58.

Heppner found his calling as a heldentenor, specializing in German repertory, specifically Wagner. He won the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council competition in 1988 singing Walther’s Prize Aria, “Morgenlich Leuchtend”, from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Here he is singing the same aria in 2006, sounding fresh as a daisy.

I never felt Heppner had the temperament (or voice) for the Italian dramatic rep he sometimes dabbled in. However, he showed a great affinity toward both English-language opera and contemporary works–he was well-known for his interpretation of Britten’s Peter Grimes, for instance. Here he appears in a San Diego Opera “video podcast” discussing the origins of Jake Heggie’s opera Moby Dick, in which he created the role of Captain Ahab.

My favorite Heppner role, and one I was privileged to hear him in several times, was Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio. His rendition of Florestan’s suicidally difficult second-act aria comes pretty close to definitive. (Close second was his Tristan, the only performances of that opera I’ve ever seen live, and which knocked my socks off.)

Heppner has decided to concentrate on broadcasting: his show “Backstage with Ben Heppner” can be heard on the CBC.

About Eddie Pensier

Television junkie, opera buff, connoisseur of unhealthy foods, fashion watcher, art lover and admirer of beautiful people of all sexes.
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3 Responses to Ben Heppner–Recollections

  1. Faze says:

    I’m jealous of you having heard Heppner sing “Fidelio” twice! No question of the man’s greatness. But, I have to say, his singing of the opening line “Gott! Welch Dunkel hier …” is still the cry of a living man with some hope for the future in his heart. That line needs to sound from the bottom of the deepest pit of despair, from the existential basement of the human condition. Heppner’s voice still quavers with traces of vitality. His Florestan hasn’t quite hit bottom. If that single word “Gott” were heard completely out of context, you might even take it as a cry of joy! I would contrast Heppner’s version with the reading given to that line by our mutual favorite, old you-know-who, at 3:31:

    Your opera posts are always enjoyed.


    • Callowman says:

      Good observation. Gedda’s aria is much more dire. I wonder if it’s not just a difference of temperament, though. I’ve been clicking back and forth between Heppner’s and Gedda’s versions: Gedda’s is more romantic and feels more like a lived experience, while Heppner’s is showier and feels more like a performance. Gedda is more method.

      My 2 cents – which is probably about what it’s worth, since you’re both obviously much bigger opera buffs.


      • You’ve got a point, gentlefolks. That opening line is one of the things that makes the aria so blinkin’ hard: it comes after a four-minute orchestral introduction, just enough time for the tenor’s voice to go cold before that naked high note. Some of the best tenors ever have shipwrecked on that.

        The recording I uploaded is from the RCA/Sir Colin Davis recording which is I believe out of print. The performances I saw at the Met are actually available on DVD, here. The peerless Karita Mattila sings the title role, and the Met chorus is on especially awesome form. It’s a great musical antidepressant.


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