Ben Heppner, star tenor, announces retirement from singing
Singer 'has just given all of himself' in his performances, says COC's Alexander Neef
Opera singer Ben Heppner is stepping away from the stage, the world-renowned dramatic tenor has announced.
The singer — known for his signature Tristan as well as other roles in Wagner's challenging operas, along with Verdi's Otello and Berlioz's Aeneas — revealed the news this morning.
"After much consideration, I've decided the time has come for a new era in my life. I'm setting aside my career as an opera and concert singer," he said.
"I'm going to be making a transition to new things," he told CBC News Thursday morning in Toronto, adding that stepping down is a decision he has pondered for some time.
"I thought I would keep singing part time ... but I found that being a part-time singer just doesn't work. It's a full-time job. No matter how often you sing, if you're going to sing at a good level, a quality level, you've got to keep it up all the time. And I was finding that to be a little bit difficult. So that, plus the fact that I've been experiencing a little bit of unreliability in my voice — and that causes some anxieties — I decided it was time."
Though considered among the world's top tenors, British Columbia-born, Toronto-based singer has on occasion suffered from vocal strain that affected his performances or forced him to cancel engagements.
Regarding the unreliability of his voice, "everybody noticed it — it was quite obvious to hear," he said.
"It would just show up, surprising me in the middle of a phrase, and I would go "Whoa, I wasn't expecting that.'"
With the impressive vocal feats an opera star can achieve, and especially with taxing dramatic roles like the ones for which Heppner became known, we can forget that singers are simply human, noted Alexander Neef, general director of the Canadian Opera Company, which recently featured Heppner as Tristan and Peter Grimes.
"There's no singer in the world who wouldn't have had a vocal challenge at some point or another in his or her career. I think this has been hugely overplayed...I don't think he has had more or less issues than other famous singers," Neef added.
"[With his retirement], we lose one of the most generous performers: someone who has just given all of himself in a performance and that is really something that has grabbed our audience, like very few singers can."
International artist from B.C.
Heppner, 58, studied music at the University of British Columbia and shot to fame as winner of the CBC Talent Festival in 1979. Nearly a decade later, he gained even greater stature when he won the Metropolitan Opera auditions.
He has also earned both Grammy and Juno Awards and, in 2010, was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada — the honour's highest level.
Over his career, Heppner has performed with the world's top orchestras and at the most acclaimed opera venues — including New York's Metropolitan Opera House, London's Covent Garden and the Vienna State Opera — both in stage productions as well as in concerts or recitals. He has also released a host of recordings.
"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.
"A million thanks to those who hired me. Most importantly, I want to thank everyone who ever bought a ticket."
Last fall, Heppner took on hosting duties for two CBC Radio programs: the iconic Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and Backstage with Ben Heppner.
He said Thursday he has been enjoying his time as a radio broadcaster, finding it "very fulfilling" and that he's also looking forward to a new slate of non-singing gigs.
"I've got radio, that's going to continue. I've got other things that are coming up: I've got master classes and role-coaching. I've got being a jurist on a voice competition in Finland later on this year — it's a very prestigious voice competition. I want to do more of all that," Heppner said.
"The best thing is to be remembered well ... I always thought it would be a cool way to go out on top," he added.
"I'm not sure if I've done that, but sticking around just for somebody else's satisfaction just doesn't seem like the right thing to do."