Obituary: American Heldentenor Claude Heater Dies, Age 92

By Logan Martell

Opera Singer and Broadway star Claude Heater passed away on May 28. 2020 from cardiovascular disease.

Born in Oakland, California on October 25, 1927, Heater studied as a baritone in Los Angeles, and made his Broadway debut at the age of 23 in “Top Banana.”

Two years later, he was the baritone member of the trio in the world premiere of Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti.” Joining the opera circuit, Heater decided to study in Milan and went on to perform in Spain, Germany, and Switzerland before spending three years with the Vienna Staatsoper under the renowned Herbert von Karajan.

In 1959, Heater made an uncredited appearance as Jesus Christ in William Wyler’s film “Ben-Hur.” While he was chosen for the role after being seen performing in Rome, Heater’s face and voice were not depicted in the film due to British law at the time, which prevented depictions of Christ to speak or be seen if they were a “secondary character.”

After retraining his voice, Heater became the leading dramatic tenor at the Bavarian State Opera from 1964 to 1968. He made his debut in the title role of Henze’s “Konig Hirschat,” and performed in Wagnerian roles internationally. Retiring in the 1970s, Heater spent the following 30 years teaching students out of his studio in San Francisco.

Heater is survived by his partner Juyeon Song, as well as six children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.