"Ben Heppner must have the ideal voice for Wagner: great strength and stamina combined with intelligence of phrasing and flowing legato. I will not try to compare with many other beautiful (modern) Wagner tenor voices that I know - for example such great (but very different) artists like Jon Vickers, Placido Domingo, Rene Kollo and Siegfried Jerusalem (maybe my favorite, especially in the excellent Barenboim Ring), whose recordings of this repertoire/role I love - because such an attempt would be way out of my league. Anyhow, Mr. Heppner is to my ears an intelligent singer who IMHO here finds a exquisite balance between power, strength and lyricism. His clear diction of the German 'poem' (as Wagner called his own libretto's) is just fine, and his delivery is always completely involved and convincing, without any sentimentality. Very 'pure' singing. And very pure and intelligent music-making as well. The Staatskapelle Dresden is a veritable wellspring of velvety, transparent and crystal-clear, naturally flowing Wagner sounds. The conductor Peter Schneider balances out the instruments exquisitely, so that one is able to hear instrumental details and colorings often unheard in other recordings, but never obtrusively so, because at the same time, orchestral sound is beautifully homogenous and naturally blended. I like it very much indeed. The sound reminds me very much of the early 1980's recording of Wagner's Ring by the same orchestra under Marek Janowski. This is a gorgeous orchestra! Richard Wagner himself didn't call it a 'Wunderharfe' (wonder harp) for nothing :-) And, by the way, we shouldn't forget Burkhard Ulrich's Mime, who is quite evocative, providing nice foil for Mr. Heppner's Siegfried. If I may be allowed to sum up or describe the characteristics of this recorded performance in just one or two words, then I would like to say it is intelligent and astute, beautifully balanced - literally, but figuratively speaking as well: I may be wrong here, but the music and singing always feels emotionally 'controlled'. But maybe that is an inappropriate description, and should I say 'refined'. But please, do yourself a favour, buy this album and decide for yourself what you feel when listening ... To end, I would like to say that I could never do without singers like Jon Vickers and Placido Domingo in this repertoire (whose timbres, sheer power and ability to evoke a sense of emotional abandon I like so very much), but beautiful Ben Heppner is quite something as well! Anyhow, we can only eagerly wait for his performance in the Ring des Nibelungen planned for 2008."
A great Heldentenor in thrilling form
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 06/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ben Heppner, our greatest and only true Heldentenor, has been waiting his whole career to make this recording. It comprises two Wagner roles he has sung in concerrt but, so far as I know, not on stage--Siegmund and Siegfried. Ever since he won the prestigious Lauritz Melchior Prize as a promising young singer, Heppner has nurtured his incredible voice through the stages of lighter roles (Walther, Lohengrin) to the much heavier Tristan, and now he seems ready to give us Siegfried, the pinnacle of the Ring cycle.
The centerpiece of this recital is Siegfried's Forging Scene, which Heppner tosses off with jaw-dropping ease. We haven't heard such mastery since the end of WW II, and here Heppner makes us realize that other tenors, even ones as great as Windgassen and Domingo, had to struggle compared to what he does so naturally. His Siegfried is powerful, secure, gorgeous of tone, and totally in control. Amazing. The other selections from Act 2 and 3 are just as thrilling--the young Siegfried is a perfect fit for Heppner now, on records at least.
DG was rather stingy not to hire a Sieglinde so we could have the whole ending to Act 1 of Die Walkure. Instead we get three snippets that end abruptly once the soprano is supposed to enter. No matter. Even though other semi-Heldentenors have given us good Siegmunds, Heppner is unique in his combinaiton of lyrical beauty and power: his cries of "Nothung, Nothung, neidliches Schwert" sound completely effortless. Peter Schneider's conducting is good, if on the servicable side, but thre Walkure selections feel underpowered. The Dresden Staatskapele is a luxury in the pit and plays beauatifully.
Siegried has little solo music in Gotterdammerung before he dies, and since this is a solo recital, DG fills in with two orchestral selections, the Rhine Journey and Funeral March. Since Heppner is vulnerable and moving in the death scene, I wish we could have heard more from this opera.
Any devoted Wagnerite hearing this CD will light candles and pray that DG records a complete Ring with Heppner and his regular Brunnhilde, Jane Eaglen. Both singers are aging, and their best Tristans may already be behind them without a CD set to show for it, only a DVD. It would be such a shame not to hear the complete Siegfried roles sung by the only singer who has truly owned the Heldentenor range in many decades.
"Heppner has justly established himself as one of the great Wagner singers of all ages. In terms of the gruelling stage stamina required for the roles of Tristan, Siegmund and Siegfried, he is probably unsurpassed since Melchior, Windgassen and Vickers. So how can I be in any way disappointed with this magnificent display?
Only reason: In his first Wagner recordings, such as Lohengrin with Davis and Walther in Sawallisch's Meistersinger, Heppner sang with magical charisma. Hard to imagine that this could be done any better, at least in the stereo age. Here were spine-thrilling top notes, enthusiastic fervour and vocal heroism in abundance. Witness also his unsurpassed dramatic achievement in some excruciating Liszt lieder on his debut recital album.
Now, Heppner got a bit older, his stage experience broader, and his roles heavier. All this shows in his voice. Still broad, still incredibly dramatic, yet the top notes have become a bit pressed and with less of the magical ring so wonderfully displayed in his more lyrical roles. Heppner makes up for much of this with very intelligent singing. No Bayreuth barks here.
Yet, I cannot fail to miss the "grimmiger Zorn" of e.g. Vickers as Siegmund, the sinister mark of a wounded warrior unexpectedly having a bit of knowingly short-lived happiness. Heppner's vocal effort is a bit on the safe and "tasteful" side and does not quite bear the same desperate mark of doom. Also the final outcries of Act I does not quite convey the defiant extasy inherent in Vickers version.
As for Siegmund, Heppner is perhaps suited. The Schmiedelied has the right kind of dramatic force. Yet again (to keep Melchior out of this), he has neither the full lyrical charm of Jerusalem, nor the germanic steeliness of Windgassen. It is again a tasteful and intelligent version of the role that goes to no interpretative extremes (as does, in contrast, Wagner's dramatic vision!).
Conclusion: Any neophyte wishing to enjoy Heppners Wagnerian magic is best advised to stick to his earlier recordings. Those, however, are real treasure troves."
A genuine Heldentenor
Steven A. Peterson | Hershey, PA (Born in Kewanee, IL) | 08/11/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ben Heppner is a genuine Heldentenor. That statement might sound like much, but it represents a real accomplishment. There are many who attempt this repertoire in Wagner, but not so many who can succeed. Is he Lauritz Melchior? No. But he is awfully good!
Let's take a few examples:
From "Die Walkure," the wonderful and elegiac "Wintersturme." He displays a big voice, first off, as called for to represent Siegmund. He sings smoothly. I am not sure that his version is as romantic as it could be (think Melchior), but it is well done indeed. An impressive version. Boy, do I enjoy hearing a voice like this in this specific piece.
Again, from "Walkure," the culminating singing from Act I, "Siegmund heiss ich und Siegmund bin ich!" It would have been nice to have a Sieglinde here, since that makes this work even more dramatic. Heppner's singing fits this heroic moment in the opera. As he draws the sword from the tree, one gets goose bumps because of his singing. Terrific work here.
And then, as a final example, the "Forging Scene" from "Siegfried." Here, he has counterpoint with Mime, and that makes the scene work even better. This is a fine, fine version. As Siegfried tries to forge the shattered remnants of Siegmund's sword Nothung back, he sings of the forging; Mime sings of his own plots. The result? One of the great scenes in Wagner's "Ring" series.
So, to conclude? Ben Heppner is, as they say, "the real deal." Heldentenors are alive and well in his person. "
Highly under-rated singer.
Abel | Hong Kong | 05/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You may wonder why this title, but... if you are looking for tenors to hold up the banner after the big Three, Ben Heppner certainly is one such. Probably he should be one of the big FOUR, but nobody in the 'popular' classical world seems to recognise this, except a bunch of diehard vocal followers. Big Ben has been around singing top quality stuff for more than a decade now. Surely, being burly and middle-aged, he isn't that fancy stuff for today's opera goers. Even the once good-looking face is aging fast. So what? His voice sounds young and vibrant. This recording of the Ring cycle tenor excerpts is a real gem in any collection. It is heartening to know that there IS around in this generation a heldentenor in the calibre as big Ben. His Siegfried is hard to beat - not even my favorite heldentenor Windgassen. Yea, DG is being stingy, and Ben deserves more recordings on Wagner. I am also dying to get a Tristan recording by him. Not necessarily Eaglen, but certainly very few sopranos could match Heppner in such repertoire. And I am dying to hear Ben in recital in my part of the world, too."