Tenor Ben Heppner Announces His Retirement

Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 02:00 PM

Ben Heppner, one of the leading Wagnerian tenors of the modern era, says he is closing the curtain on his 35-year operatic career.

"After much consideration, I've decided the time has come for a new era in my life," he wrote in a statement on his website. "I'm setting aside my career as an opera and concert singer.

The 58-year-old Canadian tenor said he plans to continue to host the CBC Radio shows "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" and "Backstage with Ben Heppner," and to "look forward to what the future has in store."

Heppner made his opera debut in 1981 as Rodrigo in Otello at the Vancouver Opera. He focused mainly on light roles in his early days including Camille in The Merry Widow and Alfredo in Die Fledermaus. But after going back to school, he reemerged in the late '80s as a dramatic tenor with an emerging specialty in Wagner roles.

Over the course of his career, Heppner starred in Wagner, Verdi and Puccini productions at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and Lyric Opera of Chicago, among other houses. He had a long-time contract with Deutsche Grammophon, for which he made numerous recordings.

In a 2007 WNYC interview, Heppner talked about the all-consuming nature of singing Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. "It's not about whether I get more applause than the soprano," he said. "It's about the music: did I sing the music in a way that I can be proud of, or did the music get the better of me tonight? No matter how much voice you come into doing Tristan, you leave it all onstage."

"I wish to thank the countless people who inspired me, supported me and encouraged me to embark on a fantastic journey over the past 35 years," Heppner said on Thursday. "A million thanks to those who hired me. Most importantly, I want to thank everyone who ever bought a ticket."

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Comments [5]

John from Miami

While Mr. Heppner had a typically lyric 'Irish Tenor' sound, he should never have sung some of the dramatic tenor roles he took on and his inability to keep his larynx down caused such cracking the likes of which one has never heard. His Tristan in Seattle was the beginning of the end I think and he couldn't really sustain that level of dramatic vocalism after those straining performances. His recent performances were an embarrassment. He is intelligent enough to know it is over, and I think it is wise he has retired, coming close to "why doesn't he" as opposed to "why did he?"

May. 03 2014 11:03 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

BEN HEPPNER you have the best wishes from those of us who have heard you in performance, on the radio, TV or on records. I knew the all-time great heldentenor LAURITZ MELCHIOR personally and got to hear him at the MET OPERA and also in concert. Without a doubt we will always need echt Wagnerian tenors. The 1930s and 1940s abounded in scores of true heldentenors, but the opera tastes of the public and the financial opportunities for those making lifetime professional decisions as Wagnerians has dwindled considerably. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor having sung 76 opera roles including premieres in operas by Serge Prokofieff, George Antheil, Ralph Vaughn Williams and Marc Blitzstein. May your endeavors and activities be a Rainbow Bridge to a better era !

Apr. 26 2014 03:05 PM
Kenneth from Grand Junction, CO

I think Heppner has a secure legacy. Just listen to his LOHENGRIN in the recording released by the Met in honor of Levine's forty years there. Who sang that music better during Heppner's time? It took a few attempts, but I finally got to hear his Tristan. It was worth the wait. I also have good memories of a well sung ANDREA CHENIER. He was one of the few singers in recent memory who could actually sing OTELLO (as opposed to groaning or shouting it). Of course, there were occasional signs of vocal trouble, such as in the last LOHENGRIN I heard him sing: his voice cracked on every note above the staff. All in all he had an honorable, excellent and worthy career. I hope he lives a long, healthy and happy life pursuing other interests.

Apr. 25 2014 05:55 PM
Eileen from New York, NY

You know, one has to admire a man when he knows its time to hang up the instrument. Unlike most singers that go on long after their time has come and gone. Best wishes Mr. Heppner - Enjoy your new life but please don't stop and not sing again!!!

Apr. 25 2014 10:45 AM
Russ Stratton from USA

Perhaps not the sweetest of voices, but an honest musician who gave 100% every time (which is even rarer).

Apr. 24 2014 04:25 PM

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