Heppner's Tristan Yearby Philip Anson
/ July 1, 1999
Canadian tenor Ben Heppner is taking
this summer off. "Every second year is a No-Festival summer,"
he explained over brunch last month in New York. "I need
time for the wife and kids," he asserted, leaving no doubt
that the world's top heldentenor is a family man first, and an
opera singer second.
explains why the 43-year old star refused an invitation to sing
Lohengrin at the renowned Bayreuth Festival this year. "They
wanted a commitment for five consecutive summers, with very long
rehearsals. But I'm not going to change my family rules for Bayreuth,"
loss is Canada's gain since Heppner will have time to give two
very special recitals in July at Quebec's Lanaudiere Festival
and Ottawa's National Arts Centre. For the first time in North
America, Heppner will be singing the German Romantic opera arias
program (Wagner, Korngold, Weber, Beethoven) that he recently
recorded for RCA. It will also be the first time Canadian audiences
get a chance to hear Heppner singing an aria from Wagner's Tristan
und Isolde, an opera much on his mind these days.
With Tristans in Salzburg, Berlin, Florence,
Chicago and New York, Heppner calls this his "Tristan Year,"
yet until last summer, when he sand it in Seattle, Heppner had
avoided the killer role. The Tristan in August 1998 was
widely regarded as the opera event of the year. The first day
tickets went on sale the Seattle Opera's switchboard crashed.
All performances quickly sold out as fans from 44 states and
13 countries, along with every major music critic in the Western
world, headed to the state of Washington. The pressure was intense,
and no one had more at stake than Ben Heppner. Would he live
up to his billing as the next great heldentenor?
was a little scary," Heppner admitted. "I actually
chose Seattle for my first Tristan because it was off the beaten
path. I never expected it would become ground zero for the opera
world, even eclipsing Bayreuth." Despite two months of rehearsals,
he was still worried about getting through the five-hour vocal
ordeal. "I'm not usually nervous, but sometimes in rehearsal
I felt I wasn't at my best," he admitted.
made it through the eight performances with flying colours. Some
critics noted that Heppner saved himself for the grueling final
act. Today he admits as much. "Tristan is a long evening's
sing. A bad habit in Act 1 could develop into a real problem
by Act 3. You could run out of vocal resources," he recalls.
Reviews were generally positive. "A real Tristan has arrived,"
purred the New York Times. Paradoxically, Heppner ignores
the critics. "I never read reviews," he says. "I
prefer to listen to the people who know me and love me. They
are the ones who tell me the truth."
Seattle, Heppner carefully lined up Tristans around the world,
determined to perfect a role that he describes as "a cornerstone
of my repertoire and an opera that changed musical history."
He is particularly looking forward to next November's new Metropolitan
Opera production of Tristan und Isolde by German director
Dieter Dorn. "I met him in Munich this spring to discuss
the staging. It will look modern, but he won't be imposing any
the moment, Heppner is glad to be returning to Lanaudiere, where
his family had a great camping vacation two years ago. "Quebec
audiences love good singing and buy lots of records," he
notes approvingly. "They can handle a serious recital."
Ben Heppner will sing Weber, Wagner, Beethoven, Korngold with
the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit at the Lanaudière
Festival July 24. 20H00. Tel. (800) 561-4343. Also July 28 with
the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the National youth Orchestra
under Mario Bernardi. Tel. (613) 755-1111.