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Ben Heppner quits Metropolitan Opera's 'Ring' cycle production [Updated]

February 8, 2011 |  4:02 pm

Heppner The Metropolitan Opera in New York has lost its Siegfried for its costly new production of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle. The company said in a release Tuesday that heldentenor Ben Heppner has withdrawn from the production because the singer "has retired the role from his repertory."

Heppner's casting as Siegfried in the Met's new "Ring" staging was seen as a big draw since it would have been the first time that the Canadian tenor has performed the role with the company. The character of Siegfried appears in the final two operas of the four-opera cycle -- "Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung."

In recent years, Heppner has suffered vocal problems that have caused him to withdraw from a number of performances. The singer, who turned 55 in January, has long been regarded as one of the world's top performers of Wagner. But a combination of illnesses and stress is believed to have taken a toll on his voice.

In an interview with The Times before his recent appearance with L.A. Opera in a production of Wagner's "Lohengrin" he briefly discussed his vocal travails.  "It happens," he said flatly. "There have been some not-great moments in my more recent past. I'm working through it."

The role of Siegfried is considered to be one of the most challenging tenor parts in the entire operatic repertory, as much for its artistic difficulty as for the sheer amount of time that the performer is required to be on stage.

Tenors Gary Lehman and Stephen Gould will sing the role of Siegfried in the  operas, which will debut in the Met's 2011-12 season. The company also willpresent the full "Ring" cycle, directed by Robert LePage, during that season.

The Met's new "Ring" staging is a technically ambitious production that features a large moving set that is so heavy that it required the company to reinforce its stage. The production will feature an all-star cast including Deborah Voigt, Bryn Terfel, Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek.

Earlier this season, the Met debuted "Das Rheingold," the first opera in the cycle. Its production of the second chapter, "Die Walküre," is set to open April 22.

[Updated:] A spokesman for the Met declined a request to elaborate on the reasons for Heppner's departure from the "Ring" cycle.

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[Updated: an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that "Das Rheingold" opened last season at the Met. It opened earlier in the current 2010-11 season.]

-- David Ng

Photo (top): Ben Heppner. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Photo (bottom): A scene from the Met's production of "Das Rheingold." Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera


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