Ben Heppner, the much acclaimed Canadian tenor, grew up in Dawson Creek.
With eight brothers and sisters, it certainly helped to have a strong voice. The Heppner Family was a musical one and there was always singing in church and children’s choirs, but in 1972 the teenaged Ben was brave enough to sing a solo for the Christmas concert. The applause that filled Unchagah Hall that night filled his ears and his mind and his heart.
A few years later, Ben Heppner was singing at the New York Metropolitan Opera and other great stages throughout Europe and America, performing with the London Symphony Orchestra, The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra: he became a superstar of opera, collecting awards, prizes, and honorary doctorates with every performance and recording.
Critics have hailed him a heldentenor, the rarest of all operatic voices. Only a heldentenor is able to sing with the volume, presence and range necessary to perform the most challenging heroic roles. Few roles exist for the heldentenor because there are so few men with the power to handle such pieces, but Wagner’s heroic operas showcase such strength. Ben Heppner has played many of the heldentenor roles. It is Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde that is bringing the great tenor back to Canada this month after many years away.
The internet holds plenty of information and videos, making it easy to discover the voice of Ben Heppner. Even if you aren’t familiar with opera, you might recognize this tenor from his performance at the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in both Turin and Vancouver.
Despite the fame and worldliness under his belt, Heppner has never forgotten farm life in northern B.C. Dawson Creek hasn’t forgotten him, either: there is a street named after him in that city, and he displays a duplicate street sign with pride. The initial support from small town concert-goers is still an inspiration.
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