The atmosphere in Walter Hall at the Faculty of Music was electric, and when Ben Heppner entered to teach a master class, the room filled with rousing applause. The world-renowned tenor – known for his prodigious turns in Die Meistersinger, Fidelio and Tristan und Isolde – cocked a sly smile and said, “I’m still not going to sing.”
On Nov. 6, nine voice students took to the stage to perform opera solos and invite feedback from Heppner. The class was part of the celebration of the Lois Marshall Chair in Voice Studies, established in memory of one of Canada’s best-loved singers.
Janet Harach, a soprano completing a master of music in vocal performance, was the first to sing. Her rendition of “Dich, theure Halle” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser received strong praise from Heppner, who suggested only that she provide more vocal contrast with the lyrics. “Give Wagner his due,” he said. “Find the music within.”
For Heppner, a student at U of T in 1981-82, the opportunity to come back to the university and work with students was a delight. “I thought, Wow, at their age I certainly wasn’t prepared this well,” he said. “And sometimes I feel like I’m still learning so much. “