Meet Ben Heppner; a motorcycling tenor from Canada with a passion for jazz and kids movies.
It is a sunny August day in Oslo. I am sitting in a deep green chair in the lobby of Grand Hotel, waiting for the Canadian tenor and jury member, Ben Heppner. People are running back and forth around me, carrying heavy luggage. A bus full of Asian tourists have just arrived. In the chaos around me I see a big man walking towards me from the elevator. He is here.
We find a quiet corner in the back of the great hall away from the chaos. Heppner tells me about his family. He is the youngest of nine siblings.
- I grew up in a family where we sang a lot for fun. We were all quite good singers. I think if you could not sing, my parents would have given us away to some other family, Heppner says with a laugh.
Although he grew up in a musical family, he did not think of being an opera singer.
- I did not even like opera at first, it seemed so strange to be singing rather intimate things at fortissimo levels! And yet when you understand it, how else can you express these enormous emotions of love and passion? It must be expressed in the loud beauty of music. And then I found out that I had that type of voice, he explains.
Heppner is giving a masterclass at Oscarshall Tuesday 15 August, and according to him, a masterclass is just as nerve-racking for him, as it is for the contestants.
- I always feel like it is a performance for the masterclass giver. I get very nervous. I do not feel like I am a great expert, Heppner says.
He was surprised to see so much talent in the semifinal on Sunday.
- When I was listening to these guys on Sunday, they are better prepared now than I ever was when I was their age. The training and the discipline these guys have, it is unbelievable. Trying to teach these people, I mean, they are ahead of me, Heppner says with a laugh. When I try to argue that the contestants probably do not feel the same way, he comments:
- They have probably read something about me that my management wrote, so I sound a lot better than I really am. It can be scary for them, but I really hope they will be relaxed about it. I am going to learn along with them, we are going to have some fun!
After the preliminary rounds last week, 37 contestants were reduced to twelve. Eleven of these were men. Heppner was astonished.
- I was totally surprised by the number of men in the semi-final, that is not very common, it would normally be most women. It was a tough choice and personally I would have preferred more gender diversity. But that was just how the totals added up in the end, he explains. Heppner has chosen four out of the eliminated semifinalists to attend his masterclass.
Heppner had his first opera performance at the age of twenty, in his third year of university.
- I did Rusalka and it was very scary. I did not have a clue what I was doing! Heppner starts to laugh and explains; - The singing came naturally, but the acting, I was so bad! Oh, it was not good! I think I improved, not that I ever became a great actor, but it got better.
It is getting quiet around us. The newly arrived tourists have been shown to their rooms, and there are only a couple of people sitting on the other side of the hall. In addition to opera music, Heppner tells me about his wife who has been working as an accompanist.
- I had another accompanist, but he was not always available. So, this young lady that I was interested in, started to help me learn my notes, and get things ready, and that is how I met my wife.
Heppner and his wife are both working in the classical music field, but they also have another passion in music.
- I am a big jazz fan! We have jazz brunches at home where we clear out all the furniture and replace them with small French café tables. Oh, and I like musicals too!
Heppner is not your snobby music type, he himself claims he dresses like a poor 22 year old student. And he surprises me by telling me about his hobby.
- I am a motorcyclist, I love motorcycles. I have a big cruiser. I went to go on route 66, it was fantastic! He has a big smile on his face and talks with great passion about his bike. - My bike is so big, it has 6 cylinders.
I do not even know what a cylinder is, but Heppner happily explains. - Most bikes have 2, I have 6, it is really smooth!
But the surprises do not stop there, Heppner tells me he loves kids movies.
- I cannot wait to see Despicable Me 3, I am going to take my grandchildren. But there is a problem; if I am travelling the world alone, and there is a new kids movie that has opened, I really want to go, so I do, and I sit in the theatre with all the kids and their mothers. And I am the only guy! The old man with the grey beard! And people look at me and think, well, that is a little weird, Heppner explains, and starts to laugh.
We discuss which kids movies are better, and we both agree that Lion King is a classic. The sun is shining through the big windows in the hall, and we both agree to go outside and enjoy the nice weather. - Good luck tomorrow, I say. – Toi, toi, toi, he replies – You never wish an opera singer good luck, you know! – Break a leg, I quickly say instead. Heppner starts to laugh. – Consider it broken!
Text: Astrid Linnea Løland Hovde
Photo: Kristin Hoebermann / CAMI