Last night’s event in the Star Talks series at the Toronto Reference Library involved Richard Ouzounian interviewing Ben Heppner who is in town to sing the title role in Peter Grimes. It was a very genial interview; no tough questions about elitism or whether opera was dying. Rather it was very much the tale of the kid from Dawson Creek who beats Renee Fleming and Susan Graham in the Met auditions and becomes a superstar. It was curiously like Desert Island Discs without the music.
There were a couple of interesting stories. The best concerned Heppner and Richard Jones’ production of Lohengrin (available on DVD/Blu-ray with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role). It’s the one where Lohengrin and Elsa build a house then Lohengrin burns it down. Well it turns out the the three year old Ben Heppner managed to burn the family home down and during the dress of Lohengrin had a pretty strong repressed memory reaction at the point where he had to set the cradle alight. It says a lot for his professionalism that the first night went off without incident.
I did get to ask him for his views on different kinds of tenor singing the role of Grimes. After all it was created for one of the most ethereal operatic tenors ever but ids frequently sung today by full on heldentors. He said he didn’t think the voice was as important as how fully the singer inhabited the character and singled out Philip Langridge in that regard. I have to agree with him. I love Langridge’s Grimes. It’s a real pity the video recording of it is so awful.
Peter Grimes runs for seven performances at the COC starting October 5th.