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

GD (4/28/2014 4:00:00 AM)
This announcement got me really sad... Thank you, Ben. I enjoy your singing, from Tosti to Giordano and Wagner...

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



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