This is the second time that I have heard tenor Ben Heppner's voice crack in the middle of a Wagner opera at the MET. The first time that it happened within a personal earshot was at the matinee broadcast of Die Meistersinger a few years ago, and now he did it again Saturday afternoon, at another matinee broadcast, this time during a performance of Lohengrin. The only difference was that I heard the Meistersinger accident on the radio, but Saturday afternoon I was there. My good friend Marta and her husband Bill, members of The Metropolitan Opera Club, invited me to lunch at the club, and then to the performance. Listening to a tenor crack on the radio is one thing, being there is a truly complex musical experience.
Heppner seemed a bit tight during the first act, but managed to finish it with only minor mishaps, really noticeable only on a secondary hearing. However, during the course of the challenging and long Act II, he cracked in two separate places towards the end of the act. Most noticeably on the A natural on the words "Heil dir, Elsa! Nun lass vor Gott uns geh'n!" I am not sure if I can call it "cracking" on the note, it was more like he was vocally unprepared for delivering the phrase, thus leading to the production of one of the ugliest sounds I have ever heard at the MET. Ironically and sadly for Heppner, that was the last phrase that he had to sing before the end of the Act. On the bright side, he was able to finish the performance, singing a lovely third act, and a very effective "In fernem Land."
I think that Ben Heppner has the goods, and oftentimes, he tends to deliver them. Whether or not his voice is that of a true heldentenor (or whether or not he will be the next Siegfried) belongs in another discussion. However, last time this vocal embarrassment happened to Heppner during a MET broadcast, we started hearing reports that he was suffering all kinds of vocal problems that were leading to the cancellation of recitals up and down the U.S. and Canada. Eventually, he took a break from singing for several months and lost weight, which he has managed to keep off.
I am worried that he is going down the same path again, and I am especially worried that his first Parsifal at the MET might be compromised by whatever vocal problems might be plaguing him at the moment. Let us hope that he gets over this, and that he is able to debut in Parsifal successfully.