Heppner sang all these with restrained eloquence -- confiding in us his longings and fears and, finally, his joy. He wasn't there like some opera singers, merely to put his glorious instrument on display . . . His purpose, and that of his sensitive accompanist, Craig Rutenberg . . . was to serve the music . . . Endearingly unpretentious, yet stylish and even profound, Heppner did everything right. If more art-song recitals were like this, the art-song recital might not be a dying form.
Concert Review /
Boston Phoenix / 17. January 2003
. . . this is a striking, vocally outstanding portrayal of a difficult character . . . Heppner has a new CD out of songs by Tosti, and most welcome it is . . . Heppner's 19 songs make a pleasing recital.
Mail on Sunday / 11. July 2004
. . . the Canadian tenor clearly loves this repertoire, and his ardent and idiomatic singing of these lovely Paolo Tosti songs provides unalloyed pleasure . . . Heppner's program offers a well-chosen selection . . .
Record Review /
Lawrence A. Johnson,
Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale) / 28. May 2004
Heppner restores . . . their rightful diginity as charming period settings of superior lyrics, full of buoyancy and grace.
Record Review /
Observer (London) / 04. July 2004
Heppner's selection of mostly Italian, but also English and Frensh songs get "salon orchestra" treatment from Michael Rot and Steven Mercurio . . . Heppner sings them with all his heart (a big one) and soul, and his voice, while not juicily Mediterranean, can counterfeit Italianate passion. His diction is exemplary.
Record Review /
The Sunday Times (London) / 01. August 2004
Ben Heppner's choice of 19 of the musician's 400 or so songs stresses the passionate, yearning side of Tosti's output . . . Heppner has the instrument to make them sound wonderfully direct and honest.
Record Review /
Classic FM (London) / 01. September 2004
By far the greatest Tristan of our time, and arguably the greatest Tristan of any time, Ben Heppner's sizeable and heroic voice can take on the sweetness and lyricism demanded by these works. His pianissimos are quite wonderful, and wonderful as well is the absolute sincerity and commitment hey conveys . . . the finest works, "Ideale", "A vucchella", etc., are delivered with incomparable luster and integrity . . . Sound engineer Hans-Ulrich Bastin provides us with an opulent and still intimate ambience.
Record Review /
Fanfare (Tenafly, NJ) / 01. September 2004
Heppner maintains a true singing-line, nourishes his tone, feels the music and the words, doesn't stint, doesn't overdo and succeeds wonderfully well in adapting his voice and its timbre to a type of music not readily associated with it . . . This i s a good record, and the accompaniments . . . are tastefully arranged and performed.
Record Review /
Gramophone (London) / 01. October 2004
beachtenswert . . .
Record Review /
Bühne (Wien) / 01. January 2004
Ben Heppner stellt sich vorteilhaft in eine lange Ahnenreihe. Da wird nicht geschmettert, sondern fein phrasiert . . .
Record Review /
Fono Forum (Euskirchen) / 01. May 2004
Excellent musicien, capable, malgré la largeur de sa voix, de phrasés subtils et d'exquises nuances, Heppner apporte à ces échos salonnards sa foncière probité...
Record Review /
Diapason (Paris) / 01. February 2004
Heppner consigue extraer una sonoridad casi lírica, suave y muy sentimental, sin caer en el empalago o en la blandenguería, ya que sabe encontrar el tono apropiado. ... Heppner deja de lado la potencia o el heroicismo de sus roles operísticos y demuestra que se puede frasear y cantar con la morbidez adecuada ... Heppner logra combinar el fraseo refinado con el sentimiento sin caer en excesos melodramáticos ni en la asepsia o la inadecuación de otros. ... este recital de canciones de Tosti es un placer auditivo ...
Record Review /
CD Compact (Barcelona) / 01. April 2004
... Ben Heppner nos emociona con una voz de color mediterráneo, desgranando [las canciones] con una ductilidad y sencillez encomiables y dotándolas de los acentos necesarios para conformar un disco en que se revaloriza la estatura de este autor de salón considerado secundario.
Record Review /
Ritmo (Madrid) / 01. May 2004
Een goede cd voor wie hunkert naar een stukje nostalgie . . . de sypathieke Ben Heppner . . . is weer helemaal terug.
Record Review /
Luister (Hoogland) / 01. April 2004
Ben Heppner on Tosti Songs
In April 2003, while in Berlin for Tristan und Isolde and a recitalat the Staatsoper, the Canadian tenor took time out to talk with Roger Pines.
RP: When did you initially become aware of Tosti songs? BH: My wife's beloved piano teacher from the University of British Columbia, Phyllis Schultz, asked me to sing "Goodbye" for her retirement recital. That was around 1976. Later I'd hear Pavarotti sing "Non t'amo più," also di Stefano, Bergonzi, but no one was doing a whole disc of Tosti - the songs were usually tenor encores!
RP: What Tosti songs do you currently include in recitals? BH: The ones I did the other night here in Berlin: "Entra"; "Chitarrata abruzzese"; "Io ti sento"; "Ideale"; and, of course, you have to end with "L'alba separa della luce l'ombra," probably the song that awakened my love of Tosti. After I discovered it, I saw that there were other wonderful pieces.
RP: Hence your interest in an all-Tosti disc. BH: I usually try to do a "serious" disc, then something lighter. My repertoire is so ernst and difficult - not popular stuff that people will run out and buy! I try to find more listenable material that audiences will understand right from the first hearing. Tosti songs meet that criterion. After my coach pinned down the many songs that could work, I narrowed those down from the twelve Tosti volumes that I had from Ricordi. I picked some of the well-known songs, but others that are less familiar, such as "Pierrot's Lament," "I dare to love thee" and "Lasciali dir."
RP: How did you decide between Tosti in Italian, French, and English? BH: The disc must reflect that the overwhelming portion of Tosti's work is in Italian, even though he spent his working life mainly in England - it was fashionable to sing in Italian at the time of Queen Victoria. The recording also includes four English songs and two French. Tosti's French material has a real Parisian café-on-the-Champs-Élysées color. Among the English songs, I picked "Goodbye" because of the connection with my dear friend Phyllis Schultz, and since it represents my first exposure to Tosti; "Pierrot's Lament," because of Pagliacci; "I dare to love thee," which has a fine flow to it; and "In the hush of the night," a strong song with an operatic feel.
RP: What's the most important priority for a good Tosti singer? BH: Communicating the poetry. Those who know better than I talk about Tosti choosing rather more refined poetry than people from the Neapolitan school, and his having a certain distinguished sensibility, a "gentlemanly" way of composing.
RP: How do you deflect the charge that Tosti can get pretty sentimental? BH: By not choosing those songs! If you put your tongue in your cheek when singing Tosti, it absolutely will not work. I chose the pieces on the disc because I could sing them honestly. I really enjoy them, and am now developing an hour-long show that would use Tosti songs as a "spine." It will be done in Stratford [Ontario] this summer, in conjunction with the theatre festival. I'll then be able to shorten it to create the second half of a recital program.
RP: Do you have favorites on the CD? BH: "L'alba separa," which is a great tune. Also "Io ti sento," which was written for Caruso, as was "Chitarrata abruzzese." Another favorite, "Lasciali dir," is a slow love ballad with a different color from the other songs.
RP: How was the disc's accompaniment conceived? BH: It was my idea. Since the songs are written mostly for piano, I was trying to add instrumental arrangements that would give the performances a longer shelf life. I wanted the feeling of a salon orchestra, but not with a heavy string sound that would seem too lush. We had a harmonium, five single strings, single winds, also piano. The maximum number of players in any piece was eleven. I felt the different colors could help to sustain the pieces better than working with just piano.
RP: Aren't certain Tosti songs as challenging technically as anything in a lyric or spinto tenor's operatic repertoire? BH: You could say that about "L'alba separa" - it's about the length of a Puccini aria - and messa di voce is essential in "Ideale." Singing loud is one thing, but singing messa di voce is the real, refined art.
RP: Clearly you believe in the sentiments expressed in all these songs. BH: Probably the ones I relate to more easily are the English ones, where it's easier for me to capture the colors within them. As a romantic type, it's easy for me to believe in the love songs - "I dare to love thee," for example.
RP: Such directness comes through in the texts. I'm thinking of "Lasciali dir," for example - "T'ho datto tutto ... voglio morir con te." BH: That song has a wonderful simplicity. I'm not sure why it's not done more often.
RP: Would you recommend these songs to other singers? BH: Certainly! They're a great way to communicate with your audience. People can see more than the artist Ben Heppner - they see the person through these songs.
RP: This is the first disc you've recorded since returning after a hiatus from performing. BH: I've always felt that if my performances aren't approaching my own level of expectation, then I won't continue singing. I had an instinct to stop after finishing DieMeistersinger in the autumn of 2001, but I didn't listen to it. The second time it happened, I said, "I'm stopping." Beginning 17 January 2002, I didn't sing for three months.
RP: What turned things around? BH: A fortuitous conversation in Edmonton. A doctor, who was also an amateur singer, talked about my symptoms and said, "You take an ACE inhibitor [blood-pressure medication], don't you?" I said, "Yes, I do." "That's your problem!" I needed to get my blood pressure down so I could survive without anything artificial, so I did it!
RP: How did you "come back"? BH: I sang some concerts in late April and early May, then didn't perform until June - a recital, then Schmidt's Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln in Toronto. That went well, and it's a pretty tough sing! In July I did a small concert and then Bernard Haitink's farewell performance at Covent Garden. Until I went to Amsterdam in September, I did only small things in out-of-the-way places to help build myself up.
RP: At the same time, you lost 95 pounds! BH: I used that old diet called "common sense." And also exercise - bicycling is my exercise of choice.
RP: Has anything changed in your singing? BH: I think I have better messa di voce and more squillo at the top. I also have more freedom onstage, with a lot more courage than before. Many singers have taken time off, but it's as if it were something terrible and unmentionable - somehow a great failure. I decided to be much more open-handed about it, and I'm feeling very positive about how things are going.
Roger Pines, editorial dramaturg at Lyric Opera of Chicago, also writes regularly
for recordings, music magazines, and programs of major opera companies.
Tosti - Prince of Melody
This disc calls to mind the three decades prior to World War I, when salon repertoire was welcomed and even expected from the greatest singers of the day. Among contemporary vocal works regularly heard on the recital platform, few, if any, were more familiar and beloved than those of Francesco Paolo Tosti. Indeed, the same Tosti songs interpreted by the likes of Melba, Tetrazzini, the de Reszkes, Caruso, and Battistini were also embraced by amateur singers in countless salons and drawing rooms - above all in London, where the composer spent his most productive years.
The bel canto orientation of Tosti's melodies, as well as the sincerity and ingenuousness of their texts, eminently suited the venue's refined ambience. Tosti was himself a fixture of the most fashionable London salons as composer, singer, and accompanist. After war forced the salon into a rapid decline, the eventual transformation of popular culture via radio and cinema radically altered public perception of the composer; his music was now regarded as a relic of a bygone age. Fortunately the tide has turned, and in recent years Tosti has entered a period of renewed respect.
It was Ben Heppner's admiration for the magnificent "L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra" that prompted his thorough exploration of Tosti's songs. The singer immediately recognized their manifold vocal rewards, as well as a musical and textual accessibility that he was eager to share with his audiences. In addition to "L'alba separa," his particular favorites include the irresistibly buoyant "Io ti sento" (dedicated to Caruso) and the poignant "Lasciali dir" Heppner enjoys the operatic quality of "In the hush of the night" and what he describes as the "café-on-the-Champs-Élysées color" of the French pieces. "Goodbye" was chosen as a reprise of his very first performance of Tosti.
Who was this extraordinarily cultivated figure who rose from humble beginnings to become the composer of nearly 400 songs, a colleague of the most illustrious names in singing, and a favorite of Queen Victoria?
The son of a cereal dealer, Tosti was born in 1846 in the coastal town of Ortona in the Abruzzo region, north of Naples. That city's San Pietro a Maiella conservatory accepted him as a twelve-year-old scholarship student. His instructors included the renowned opera composer Saverio Mercadante, whose encouragement proved invaluable. After completing his studies, Tosti returned to Ortona at the age of 20 as cathedral choirmaster, serving from 1866 to 1869. He suffered a serious breakdown, however, requiring a lengthy convalescence, during which he produced the first songs of his professional career.
Rome beckoned to Tosti as a far more exciting artistic milieu. Shortly after his arrival in 1870 he was presented in a début concert, exhibiting not only his pianistic talent but also a very pleasing lyric tenor voice. The event was so successful that Princess Margherita of Savoy named him as her singing teacher. In 1873, an even more important association for the composer was initiated with the house of Ricordi, which over the years would publish virtually the entire Tosti œuvre.
During his first trip to London in 1875 and annual visits there over the next four years Tosti felt totally at home; he established permanent residence in 1880. During his London years his excellence as a singing teacher benefited stars of Covent Garden (Melba for one), students of the Royal Academy and Royal College, and talented dilettantes who could meet Tosti's exacting standards. London society regarded him as an engaging personality and an essential presence at any musical soirée.
The ultimate stamp of approval came with his appointment as singing teacher to the younger children of Queen Victoria, herself a fervent devotee of vocal music. Her secret diaries reveal great admiration for Tosti, who proved himself indispensable as her music administrator. He arranged frequent performances at the royal residences, in which many prominent artists performed with him. Having become a British citizen in 1906, he was knighted two years later by Edward VII. The king's death proved a major factor in Tosti's decision to return to Rome for good, but he spent only four years there before his own death in 1916. The most courtly and gentlemanly of musicians, he exuded an unforced charm and graciousness. His best songs certainly do likewise.
Whether in English, French, "pure" Italian or Neapolitan dialect, the effectiveness of Tosti songs stems in large part from an unfettered legato style (albeit one allowing ample scope for the singer's interpretive imagination). His profound understanding of the voice is apparent in consistently grateful lines that promote relaxation and freedom in the vocalism. Generally he concentrates on the middle voice, only occasionally exploiting extremes of range; "In the hush of the night," for example, spans from low D sharp to high B. Many of the top notes one expects in certain songs are interpolations not written by Tosti, the close of "L'alba separa" being an obvious example. Those climactic high phrases that he did compose are beautifully prepared and yet always comparatively "contained." Tosti included Puccini and Mascagni among his dearest friends, though their feverish verismo expansiveness was hardly his stock in trade, and indeed, would have seriously undermined his basic expressive approach.
Tosti committed himself almost exclusively to contemporary texts, although not necessarily by the greatest writers. London's salons gladly accepted his choice of English poetry - sometimes endearing, more often unabashedly sentimental. In his French settings significantly more distinguished literature comes to the fore, including Hugo, Musset, and Verlaine, whereas in Italian he invariably chose poems that get to the heart of the matter through a disarming emotional directness. Among Tosti's Italian writers, the only truly consequential figure was his lifelong friend, poet-dramatist Gabriele D'Annunzio. Perhaps most noteworthy among their collaborations are the superb Quattro canzoni d'Amaranta, three of which are included on this disc.
The majority of Tosti's texts deal with some aspect of love (it is perhaps worth noting that Ben Heppner has characterized himself as "the romantic type"). Of the 19 songs recorded here, it is the idea of suffering in love that dominates in "Goodbye," "Lasciami! Lascia ch'io respiri," "Plaintes d'amour," "Pierrot's Lament," "Non t'amo più," "Chitarrata abruzzese," and "Penso". Tosti is also a master at portraying lovesick longing, whether in passionate outpourings ("In the hush of the night," "Entra"), stark simplicity ("Lasciali dir") or tender intimacy (the exquisite, justly celebrated "Ideale"). He also captures the lover's unbridled joy ("Io ti sento"), impatience ("Seconda mattinata"), sweetness ("'A vucchella"), and defiance ("I dare to love thee"). Heppner's program moves beyond love to encompass both life's optimism ("Demain") and its misery ("Invan preghi"), as well as two views of death: "Vorrei morire" expresses a willingness to die if nature proves calm and welcoming, while in "L'alba separa" the singer asserts that death and heaven are preferable to a dream unfulfilled.
Tosti's original piano accompaniments are well matched to melody and mood, but are often excessively spare in texture and, frankly, seldom inspired. Rather than rely solely on the piano, this recital opts for the captivating sound of a "salon orchestra." With no selection involving more than eleven instruments, the arrangers avoid the unnecessary lushness to which many of these songs have previously been subjected. This accompaniment may not have been in the composer's "mind's ear," but he would surely have applauded the elegant manner in which it enhances Ben Heppner's heartfelt performances.
The author acknowledges the cooperation of Prof. Francesco Sanvitale,
director of the Istituto Nazionale Tostiano in Ortona, which since 1983
has promoted Tosti's works internationally through publications and concerts.
Ben Heppner - A Biographical Timeline
Born on 14 January in Murrayville, BC (Canada)
Begins studies at the University of British Columbia Music School
Winner of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Talent Competition
Recipient of first Birgit Nilsson Prize at the Metropolitan Opera Auditions. United States début at Carnegie Hall in Command Performance for the King and Queen of Sweden. US opera début as Walther von der Vogelweide in Tannhäuser at the Lyric Opera of Chicago
European début as Lohengrin at the Royal Swedish Opera
Début at La Scala, Milan as Walther von Stolzing in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Japanese début with Das Lied von der Erde
Salzburg Festival début in title role of La clemenza di Tito. Creates title role for the world première of William Bolcom's McTeague at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Receives Echo Deutscher Schallplattenpreis for "Singer of the Year"
Début as Peter Grimes at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Winner of Vanier Award from the Toronto Junior Board of Trade
Sings the role of Walther von Stolzing in concert performances of Die Meistersinger under Sir Georg Solti
First staged performances of Andrea Chénier, for Seattle Opera. Winner of Seattle Opera's "Artist of the Year" award. Appears as Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos with the Metropolitan Opera on tour in Frankfurt
First staged Tristan performances in Seattle Opera's Tristan und Isolde. Gurrelieder with the Minnesota Orchestra
First solo recital tour of North America, appearing in Kansas City, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Carmel (California), and Fairfax (Virginia)
Television appearances include "Something Special - Portrait of a Tenor" for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and "An Evening with Ben Heppner"
Millennium gala concert in Toronto. Appears as the Emperor in Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Vienna State Opera. Florestan in Fidelio at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. First performances of Aeneas in Les Troyens in London with the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis
Début at the Opéra national de Paris as Peter Grimes. First performances of Otello in concert with the Munich Philharmonic under James Levine; stage début in the role with Lyric Opera of Chicago. Created Officer of the Order of Canada. Signs exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon
Concert of German arias for VARA Radio in Amsterdam with Edo de Waart. Recitals in Canada and the US, followed by further concerts of German and French operatic repertoire throughout Europe. Recording
of French opera arias released on DG (Juno Award 2002)
Sings Aeneas in a new production of Les Troyens with Levine at the Metropolitan Opera. Stars in festival performances of Tristan und Isolde at the Berlin Staatsoper with Daniel Barenboim and also gives a solo recital at the Staatsoper. Concert in Puerto Rico followed by concert performances of Fidelio with the Munich Philharmonic and James Levine. Reprises role of Aeneas in multi-award-winning Les Troyens with the London Symphony and Sir Colin Davis at the BBC Proms, followed by another complete performance in Birmingham's Symphony Hall. Further performances of Tristan at the Met. Walther in Die Meistersinger at the Paris Opéra. Recitals in Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, and Atlanta. Christmas season performances of Messiah in Kitchener, Ontario. Deutsche Grammophon releases to include DVDs of complete live performances of Fidelio (October 2003)and Tristan (January 2004) from the Met, both with Levine.
Recording of Tosti songs to be released by DG (international release: 2004)
Plans include the Marilyn Horne 70th Birthday Gala in February at Carnegie Hall, recitals in the US, Lohengrin at the Bavarian State Opera in April and May, with a Munich solo recital, and Peter Grimes at Covent Garden in July