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Ben Heppner, Wagnerian

November 13, 2010 |  8:30 am

“I really like Wagner because you can stage it many different ways,” says the Canadian tenor Ben Heppner. “You can set almost any Wagner opera practically on the moon or in the New York subway. It’s all about the relationships in Wagner. It’s not about the action.”

In this particular case -– the singer’s debut at L.A. Opera -– the Wagner in question will be “Lohengrin,” but neither the moon nor the Big Apple’s public-transit system figures into things. Instead, director Lydia Steier’s concept sets the drama during World War I -– rather than in some fictional medieval time, as the composer himself had it.

And though Heppner generally favors traditional productions, he’s open to new ideas if they make sense. By way of example, he mentions a staging in Nice, France, of Wagner’s “Meistersinger von Nürnberg” that dispensed with the small-town-in-Germany look in favor of something more modern.

“It was basically done on stark white steps,” the tenor recalls. “And it became a wedding cake by the end, with my character, Walther, and his beloved, Eva, at the very top -– like those plastic figures of the bride and groom. That’s one of my favorite pictures of anything I’ve been in.”

For the full Arts & Books article on the tenor, click here.

--David Mermelstein

Photo: The tenor at the L.A. Opera costume shop.

Credit: Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times