Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

10 Questions for...
Ben Heppner

November 17, 2010

Ben Heppner Photo: Sebastian Hanel

It’s a big couple of weeks for fans of Wagner’s music in Los Angeles as L.A. Opera welcomes Lohengrin back to the stage this Saturday. And perhaps the main source of the excitement is the local debut of Canadian tenor Ben Heppner who’ll be singing the title role. He faces virtually no serious competition for the title of world’s leading Wagnerian tenor, and though his performances as Tristan are legendary, his Lohengrin is perhaps the role he has been most closely associated with for nearly two decades. With this kind of reputation, it might be easy to overlook the varied Italian, French, and Russian roles he has excelled at all over the world. He’ll be singing Lohengrin and Tristan in Munich later this season and will also be in London next summer as Peter Grimes at The Royal Opera House. After that, if you believe the gossip you read on the internets, he may be bringing his Siegfried to the Metropolitan Opera in 2011. His appearances in Los Angeles are long overdue and it’s a great opportunity for local audiences to hear one of the world’s great living voices right here in our own backyard.

Out West Arts posed its "10 Questions” to Mr. Heppner this week:

1. What role would you most like to perform, but haven’t yet?
I sing most of the operas that are of the greatest interest to me already. However, there are a few titles that would be interesting to me. I have always thought that my voice and musical feeling would suit French repertoire. So Le Cid seems like a good choice. Also, to sing Paul in Die tote Stadt.

2. What role would you never perform, even if you could?
Nothing comes to my mind except perhaps Pelléas. Someone once said it is like Parsifal without the laughs! I have referred to it as ”Vocal Novocain” :)

3. What’s the best thing about singing Wagner?
I love the feeling of being in the middle of the musical texture. With Wagner, there are very few times when the orchestra acts as the accompanying instrument, so the singer is part of the orchestra most of the time. Also, I love the challenge of strategizing my way through a role, and each time you sing a Wagner opera there is a new challenge. Nothing is guaranteed.

4. What’s the best thing about singing something other than Wagner?
I get to go home much earlier!

5. You’ve been singing Lohengrin for more than two decades. How has your relationship to the role changed over time?
Lohengrin does seem much easier now. It is one of Wagner's shorter operas and I find that Act 2 is not as intense as it once was. I can go more places with the character of Lohengrin than I once did. I see more humanity in him than at first. There is great hurt for Lohengrin in having to reveal his name and origin. He loves Elsa and saw things finishing in a much better way.

6. Which music made you want to sing opera?
Country and western music. I hate country and western music...

7. Earlier this year, you had a big success with the role of Captain Ahab in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. The next role written especially for you should be...
I think that I would like to do a world figure like De Gaulle or Churchill.

8. Your iPod is destroyed by a vengeful mezzo. Which lost tracks would you miss most?
You’re expecting me to obsess about opera here? I would miss the great jazz and gospel music that I have put on the iPod.

9. What's your current obsession?
I suppose the easy answer would be motorcycles. However, I have recently started doing some radio shows in both classical music and jazz. I'm hoping that I can do more of that down the road.

10. With which of your operatic roles do you have the most in common?
Early on in my career I got to sing Walther von Stolzing in Die Meistersinger. From the moment I got to know that character, I felt a kinship. Like Walther, I didn't have the inside knowledge of most of the up and coming opera stars or a pedigree with elite teachers and institutions. I knew that I had a great love—singing. It was this love of singing that helped me hang on when things didn't always go my way.



Nicely done.
So nice to read an interview that isn't Anna or Jonas or Angela or...just the talented, low key Ben Heppner!
If he could get through it without his voice collapsing, I too would like to hear him do Paul in Die Tote Stadt. You listening to him, James Conlon? DTS is still due in the Recovered Voices series.
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