A candid conversation
with the Canadian tenor,
by TESS CREBBIN and
SISSY VON KOTZEBUE
Heppner is one of the most outstanding dramatic tenors of our time. He was born in 1956 in Murrayville, British Columbia, some eight hundred miles northeast of Vancouver. They only had two channels on their local television and Heppner's first experience with opera was to watch it on CBC and to wonder why people would be singing such intimate things at each other. As a student at the University of British Columbia he switched from theology to music with a concentration on singing and by the age of twenty three, in 1979, he had already won two national talent festivals that were broadcast Canada-wide. He continued his studies at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music and with the tenor William Neill.
His first US appearance was in 1988 at a command performance for the King and Queen of Sweden and in the following year he gave his début as Lohengrin in Stockholm with the Royal Swedish Opera. Since then he has sung in the leading opera houses of the world and he has been called the finest living interpreter of Beethoven's Florestan and Wagner's Tristan, Lohengrin, and Walther von Stolzing. Heppner was also celebrated for his interpretation of Britten's Peter Grimes. In Chicago in 1992 he sang the lead in the world première of William Bolcom's McTeague. His own heroes are Fritz Wunderlich and Jussi Björling and he likes to think of himself as a lyric tenor because he can bring exceptional sensitivity even to heavy roles.
Ben Heppner in 'Lohengrin'. Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper
A 1988 Met Opera Auditions finalist, Heppner was also the recipient of the first Birgit Nilsson Prize in the same year. He has performed under the baton of the likes of James Levine, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Seiji Ozawa and Claudio Abbado. His other love is solo recitals -- his first public solo recital tour of North America took place in 1998. Meeting Heppner is a really nice experience because, for all his immense talent, the man is modest, incredibly funny and very kind.
Copyright © 23 May 2004
Tess Crebbin and Sissy von Kotzebue, Germany