The Wit & Wisdom of Tenor Ben Heppner

Ben Heppner is undeniably one of the major figures of the 20th century, the tenor dominating all around the world in many of the most challenging dramatic roles of the opera repertoire.

Heppner, born on Jan. 14, 1956, the tenor was a major figure at the Metropolitan Opera for many years where he showcased his talent in such works as “Idomeneo,” “Tristan und Isolde,” and “Lohengrin” among others.

He has also enjoyed a successful retirement from the stage, becoming the host of his own podcast and even opening his own voice academy.

Heppner is not only incredible because of his vocal feats during his prime, but also his wisdom. Here are some of the most memorable moments of insight and wit from one of opera’s most charismatic figures in a wide range of topics, spanning from his own psyche to singing some of the toughest repertoire in the business.

1. “Figure out what you’re passionate about. If you’re not passionate about something, go find it. Because we do not need more unengaged boring people to inhabit this planet.”

2. “It is funny, I don’t feel old enough to give advice… But with the advisers you trust, you better listen to them. It may be bad news but that’s the only way you’re going to improve.”

3. “I am learning to be more vulnerable and open on stage. This comes with the development of my acting abilities.”

4. “Wagnerians are always rather gregarious and supportive of each other. I guess this happens because we’re all in the same boat with a common goal whereas, in Italian opera, there’s always an element of competition in the air. It isn’t a question of how did he do versus Madame X? It’s a question of how did he do versus Wagner?”

5. “I like to say that I sing for free. I just charge rather heavily for time and mileage.”

6. “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.”

7. “When you first achieve success in your career, you want to take advantage of opportunity, because you feel like maybe it won’t come again. At one point, I was traveling upwards of 300 days a year…I realized that I was letting my career control me and that I wanted to have some control over the time I spent away. I gave myself permission to set limits.”

8. “You need to know who you are and what you’re willing to do. This is probably the best advice that I would offer to young singers. It’s an industry where everyone is always going to give you advice, but just because somebody is advising you doesn’t mean that they are qualified to do so or that you need to listen. I think in life you give permission to people to give you advice and it’s worth thinking long and hard about the people you let in.”


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About the Author

David Salazar
Prior to creating OperaWire, DAVID SALAZAR, (Editor-in-Chief) worked as a reporter for Latin Post where he interviewed major opera stars including Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Vittorio Grigolo, Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazon among others. His 2014 interview with opera star Kristine Opolais was cited in a New York Times Review. He also had the opportunity of interviewing numerous Oscar nominees, Golden Globe winners and film industry giants such as Guillermo del Toro, Oscar Isaac and John Leguizamo among others. David holds a Masters in Media Management from Fordham University. During his time at Fordham, he studied abroad at the Jagiellonian University in Poland. He also holds a dual bachelor’s from Hofstra University in Film Production and Journalism.

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