LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Arias & Operatic scenes by Wagner, Beethoven, Weber & Korngold
PERFORMER: Ben Heppner (Tenor); NDR SO/Donald Runnicles, Bavarian RSO/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 63239 2
There’s a lot that’s good here. Characterful playing; magisterial conducting; a well-chosen conspectus of 120 years of German Romantic opera, neatly book-ended between Wagner’s nay-saying Tristan and Korngold’s yea-saying Paul; a novel solution, even, to the old problem of cutting ‘bleeding chunks’ from Wagner’s Ring (with Siegfried’s awakening of Brünnhilde segued daringly into his dying remembrance of that same moment a whole opera later).
There’s just one problem: the singing. Not that Heppner doesn’t boast many purely vocal virtues: a lovely even tone, an easy top, a long line. His technique is impressive, his phrasing musical. But it’s all so faceless, clean-cut, dramatically void. Hard to imagine that, when Heppner first hit the headlines, they called him ‘the new Jon Vickers’. Passports apart, the two Canadians have nothing in common.
Where Vickers was all about risk and abandon (try his Tristan, his Florestan), Heppner is a control freak, carefully husbanding his resources, containing his energies, playing it safe (no hallucinatory madmen here). Give him a big tune, like Rienzi’s Prayer, and he doesn’t even begin to know how to put it across. Perhaps, in the theatre, one would be grateful for his understated restraint; on disc, he comes across as just plain dull. Mark Pappenheim