Parlando: The COC Blog


The COC Celebrates Ben Heppner

Canadian Ben Heppner, one of the world’s finest dramatic tenors, has announced his retirement from the stage.

"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.

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. A million thanks to those who hired me. Most importantly, I want to thank everyone who ever bought a ticket.

I'm really enjoying my time on CBC Radio as host of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and Backstage with Ben Heppner, and look forward to what the future has in store." - Ben Heppner


Ben has excelled in some of opera’s most challenging roles, drawing worldwide acclaim for his beautiful voice, intelligent musicianship and deeply-felt dramatic presence.

Audiences at the Canadian Opera Company’s recent productions of Tristan und Isolde (2012/2013 season) and Peter Grimes (2013/2014 season) would have witnessed this first-hand and were privileged to see Ben in two of his signature roles – Tristan and Peter Grimes – in what are now among his final stage performances.

Ben Heppner in Tristan und Isolde as Tristan
 Heppner in Peter Grimes in the titular role  

Appreciation from Alexander Neef and Johannes Debus:

Alexander Neef, General Director, Canadian Opera Company

“I’ve admired Ben Heppner for a very long time, well before I even began working in opera. In fact, Ben was one of the first opera stars I was exposed to when I was growing up in Germany. To have had the opportunity to not only know him personally but work with him professionally has been the realization of a childhood dream.

"It has been an unreal experience for me to go from seeing him perform in Vienna in 2000 as Der Kaiser in Robert Carsen’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, to crossing paths with him while working at the Paris Opera a few years later on Lohengrin and Tristan und Isolde, to ultimately evolve into being in a position to bring him back to the Canadian Opera Company’s mainstage.

"Ben is one of opera’s finest artists, and it has been my greatest pleasure to follow his career. It is the honour of the Canadian Opera Company to have not only brought him to our stage as Tristan, in a very special production of Tristan und Isolde, but also to have hosted his last stage performance with our Peter Grimes this past fall. 

"We hope that we can work with him again, in whatever capacity he chooses.”

Johannes Debus, Music Director, Canadian Opera Company; conductor of Tristan und Isolde and Peter Grimes

“When Ben sings, I carefully listen. When he appears on stage, I watch attentively. I’m spellbound and fascinated (and I even forget that I might be conducting at the same time). I’m captivated by the power of his truthful expression and overwhelmed by the naturalness and convincing “logic” of his music-making. Ben’s singing is always meaningful and relevant, it always makes sense and it’s never a hollow “end in itself.”

"And – God bless him – what a mind-boggling, glorious, unique voice he has! What an embracing, lush presence, what radiance, what a rich palette of colours and nuances his voice offers!"

"His Tristan performances at the COC belong to the most powerful, touching and incredible things I have ever experienced in my life at the opera. It was far beyond the norm, how Ben retraced the fever curve over the three acts with ceaseless energy and an enormous, youthful vocal vitality. Where others have to fight to “survive” that killer role, Ben, in his extraordinary way, added new dimensions of expressivity. He delivered an unsparing and utterly human insight into Tristan’s soul and all its madness."

"With Peter Grimes, Ben delivered another ingenious example of his artistry and artistic integrity. His identification with the role and his multi-faceted portrayal of the outsider Grimes were absolutely magnetic and mesmerizing. Grimes, the unsung hero; Grimes, the troubled outsider; Grimes, the optimistic dreamer; Grimes, the man of nature; Grimes, the fragile, broken being – all facets of this role Ben vocally and theatrically brought to life. His rendition of the mad scene at the end of the piece belongs, for me, to the most beautiful, heartbreaking and unforgettable moments of operatic theatre."

"Working with Ben was one of the most memorable and fulfilling experiences of my life. There are many great artists working in this field, but only a few might share with Ben the rare combination of a unique voice, a humble, honest, humorous, cordial down-to-earth personality, and the capacity to powerfully express and deeply move.”

Look back at Ben’s past performances with the COC, starting with when he first took to the COC stage in the early 1980s as a member of the company’s young artist training program, the Ensemble Studio. 

More from the COC - articles, interviews and videos:

Heppner on Peter Grimes


Critical Praise for Ben Heppner at the COC...

Tristan und Isolde: "Ben Heppner was magnificent Tuesday night on the stage of the Canadian Opera Company. Stunning, open-hearted, in robust and thrilling voice, creating a dramatic homecoming that banished all worrisome thoughts anyone might have had about this remarkable performer." - Robert Harris, The Globe and Mail

Tristan und Isolde:  "Ben Heppner was in grand form, hailing the love potion in clarion tones in Act 2 and bringing us thoroughly into his world of exalted suffering in Act 3..." - Arthur Kaptainis, The National Post

Tristan und Isolde: "To do so as Tristan, one of his old signature roles, turned into a particular treat... All the big money notes were there, as promised." - John Terauds, Musical Toronto

Peter Grimes: "In a magnificently nuanced performance, Heppner builds a memorable Grimes, completely human, undone but undiminished by his own obstinacy." — John Coulbourn, Toronto Sun

Peter Grimes: "Ben Heppner’s voice flows like a golden river that brings to life emotional landscapes of the imagination: tender yearning, blind ambition, relentless grasping, brutality, weakness, vulnerability, stubbornness and resignation." — Stanley Fefferman, OpusOneReview

Peter Grimes: "Heppner sang with mastery and delicacy as he struggled through the glares of his countrymen... His tenor tones were sung with all the grace and agility of a gymnast." — Christina Strynatka, Toronto Performing Arts Examine

For more information on Ben Heppner, visit his website at

You can also follow him on Twitter @benheppner or tune in to CBC Radio where you can hear him as the host of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and Backstage with Ben Heppner.

Melanie Diener as Isolde and Ben Heppner as Tristan Tristan und Isolde (COC, 2013). Photo: Michael Cooper; Ben Heppner in the title role in Peter Grimes (COC, 2013). Photo: Michael Cooper; Ben Heppner as Tristan in Tristan und Isolde (COC, 2013). Photo: Michael Cooper; Ben Heppner with Joanne Kolomyjec in the Ensemble Studio’s Summer Festival production of La Bohème (1984). Photo: Gary Beechey; Ben Heppner as Canio in Pagliacci (COC, 1996). Photo: Michael Cooper; Ben Heppner in the title role in Peter Grimes (COC, 2013). Photo: Michael Cooper.

Posted by Meighan Szigeti / in Opera Appreciation / comments (1) / permalink


Devereux Dream Team: A Stellar Cast Brings Elizabethan Court To Life

By Gianmarco Segato, Adult Programs Manager

Leonardo Capalbo and Sondra Radvanovsky in Roberto Devereux

Bel canto (literally, “beautiful singing”) is an elusive term. It is most often used as a convenient, catch-all phrase referring to the early 19th-century period in Italian opera dominated by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. But it also denotes a singing style, the hallmarks of which are beauty of tone, wide range, extreme flexibility and expressive utterance of text. For this spring’s Roberto Devereux, the COC has assembled an ace team of highly trained vocal athletes who are ready to meet bel canto’s extreme demands in Donizetti’s great historical drama about the last days of England’s “Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I (Elisabetta).

In that pivotal role, superstar soprano Sondra Radvanovsky makes her hotly anticipated return to the COC after bringing down the house as Aida in 2010. While her career has mainly been centred on core, late-Romantic Italian roles such as Leonora in Verdi’s Il trovatore, Radvanovsky’s exploration of earlier 19th-century bel canto heroines like Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda (who together with Elisabetta make up Donizetti’s “Tudor Trilogy”) is much more recent. The soprano’s account of the path that led her to bel canto is fascinating and frankly revealing. In 2002, a polyp (caused by a botched childhood intubation) was removed from her vocal chords. “I had to learn how to sing all over again. It opened up a whole new world for me, a world I never thought or imagined musically I would be singing in.” Radvanovksy credits her voice coach Tony Manoli with steering her in this new direction. Despite her many accomplishments as a Verdi singer, he was convinced she had the potential to be even greater in the bel canto repertoire. Together, they re-worked her technique post-surgery and in the process, she feels she became “a better singer. It was a godsend. No one else heard it; [Manoli] was the only one.” The ultimate affirmation of this vocal transformation was her recent fall 2013 Metropolitan Opera Norma (the summit of all bel canto roles) – “it was a huge success… HUGE!”

Sondra Radvanovsky in Roberto Devereux

Radvanovsky notes that elsewhere in his Tudor Trilogy “Donizetti chose to highlight earlier stages of the Queens’ lives whereas Elisabetta is at the end and she’s worn down; she’s a broken woman. She was a very strong Queen, as we know, but here she’s angry a lot and it shows in the vocal writing Donizetti gave her. If you look at the length of the role, Elisabetta is the shortest, especially compared to Anna Bolena which is a marathon. In fact, Elisabetta doesn’t appear in quite a bit of the opera but she has the key moments and by far the hardest music. In terms of vocal range, hers is the widest with a great amount of dramatic coloratura that is just unrelenting.”

Roberto Devereux’s title role will be shared between two debuting artists, Italian-American tenor Leonardo Capalbo and Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti

Leonardo Capalbo comes to Toronto fresh from his fall 2013 success as Roberto Devereux with Welsh National Opera where his performance was praised for its “power and elegance” (The Guardian). A tenor on the rise, since debuting in 2004 Capalbo has performed across the world for companies like the Welsh National Opera, Oper Leipzig, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Opéra de Lyon and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Capalbo sings Devereux on April 25, 29 and May 3. 

Giuseppe Filianoti is a regular at Europe’s leading opera houses, North American audiences will know him best for his riveting portrayal of the Emperor Tito in the recent Metropolitan Opera HD transmission of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito. “From the start, Roberto knows there is no escaping the jealousy of the 63-year-old queen, wounded in her pride and in her love,” says Filianoti. “[He] represents the typical romantic hero: young, attractive, ambitious, valorous and merciful in war but, unfortunately, in love with the wrong woman. He hopes until the end to be able to save himself from an unjust death sentence and to redeem the honour of his beloved Sara. Although his execution inevitably takes place, we at least get to hear his final appeal in one of the most beautiful arias Donizetti wrote for the tenor voice, “Come uno spirito angelico” (“Like an angelic spirit”). Filianoti sings Devereux on May 10, 15, 18 and 21.

Allyson McHardy as Sara, Russell Braun as Nottingham

The third member of this tragic love triangle is Sara, Duchess of Nottingham sung by COC favourite, Canadian mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy. “Sara is an opera singer’s dream,” enthuses McHardy. “She lives a tortured life married to someone she doesn’t really love [the Duke of Nottingham]. She feels a certain allegiance to Elizabeth and therefore, must hide her feelings for Devereux. She fights through the entire opera to save him and do the right thing no matter what the consequences are for her. This is beautifully laid out in Donizetti’s music: moments of torture, love, tenderness and desperation.” McHardy concurs with the generally held opinion that Roberto Devereux’s success is largely due to Salvatore Cammarano’s superior libretto with its strong command of text and clear storyline. “The characters are so real and so complete. Their interactions are intense, complex and so wonderfully nuanced. It takes English history and sets it on fire!”

The fourth player in the drama is Sara’s husband, the Duke of Nottingham. In general, bel canto opera does not bestow the same gifts on baritones that it does on sopranos and tenors, however, Nottingham is an exception to this rule, blessed as he is with one of the opera’s great melodies, “Forse in quel cor sensibile” (“Perhaps in that sensitive heart”). This isn’t lost on Canadian star baritone Russell Braun: “His music is wonderful and the character is very mature actually. He’s very ordinary at the beginning but what happens to him as the result of jealousy, and through the sense of a loss of power is what makes the drama. Because he’s so human at the beginning I feel his transformation is believable and really shows what actually can happen to each and every one of us in this situation.”

Roberto Devereux runs from April 25 to May 21 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. For tickets and more information, click here


Photos: (top) Leonardo Capalbo as Roberto Devereux and Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta; (middle) (far right) Sondra Radvanovsky; (bottom) Allyson McHardy as Sara and Russell Braun as Nottingham. All photos from the Canadian Opera Company’s Roberto Devereux, 2014 by Michael Cooper.

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Roberto Devereux / comments (0) / permalink


An emotional response to Hercules

Corporal Romeo Daley

On April 3, 2014, the Canadian Opera Company invited veterans groups and their families to the BMO Financial Group Student Dress Rehearsal of Peter Sellars' production of Handel’s Hercules. See what they had to say about this moving production and watch as they share their experiences with us.

Learn more about Hercules here:

Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Hercules / comments (0) / permalink

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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001

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