Collection: German Romantic Opera

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Korngold,Wagner,Weber
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

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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.

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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