Recent History – 2001
Sept. 21, 2001
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
Ben Heppner’s renowned talent as a tenor has made him a hot commodity in operatic circles.
From Chicago to New York to London to Paris, Heppner’s itinerary will cover many of the world’s major centres over the next year or so.
But between his commitments to performing Die Meistersinger at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera Covent Garden in London, he’ll be on a 10-date solo recital tour.
And the tour includes a performance at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton on January 23, 2002. Expect a simple show, but one that should show Heppner’s diversity, in a quirky kind of way.
“It’s a recital. A piano and me,” Heppner said. “I’m doing some sort of classical-type folk songs, if that makes any sense to you.”
The 1,700 or so tickets, which range from $20 to $100, are on sale and are being purchased at a brisk pace according to Winspear Centre.
Heppner is currently in Chicago where he’s about to play the lead role in Otello, Verdi’s take on the Shakespearean tragedy Othello. It’s known as “the hardest role in Italian opera” but is possibly not as tough as the lead role in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.
Known as his “Tristan Year,” Heppner made it through eight performances of the five-hour epic during the summer of 1998 in Seattle, drawing rave reviews in the process.
“A real Tristan has arrived,” declared the New York Times.
That’s not to say that Otello, about a noble general driven to ruin by poisonous jealousy, is without its challenges.
“It’s shorter, which helps. But there’s more flash of emotion of either rage, or jealousy, or love, so that the emotional content makes it more difficult,” he said.
True to his reputation, Heppner remains modest about his accomplishments. “For whatever reason, I end up doing the really tough stuff, partially because my voice fits it I guess and I have good stamina,” he said.
Growing up in Dawson Creek, Heppner never anticipated such fame.
“I was never a prospective opera singer in Dawson Creek, although I did sing in church and community events and things,” he said. “It was never anything that entered my mind certainly, but I guess I had a fairly ordinary upbringing as far as that goes.”
Heppner enrolled in university with the aim of becoming a music teacher. “And I got sidetracked.”
“I didn’t actually feel particularly drawn towards opera. The artform I didn’t understand. It seemed foreign,” he said.
“You’re actually singing your text rather than speaking them and so I didn’t catch on right away, but as I became more exposed to it, I realized what a wonderful art form it was.”
That said, Heppner is looking forward to the solo tour.
“It’s a way that I can get to more places in less time. Opera eats up big quantities of time,” he said.
“Besides my performances, I also have rehearsals before my performances and they usually take up four or five weeks. Plus the performances take up a number of weeks as well.”
The tour will end with a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the arts have taken on a new significance for Heppner.
“I think now is a very important time for art to express our anxiety as well,” he said.