The Metropolitan Opera’s new “Ring” cycle has lost its Siegfried. Ben Heppner, one of the best Wagnerian tenors around, withdrew from performances of the last two installments of the cycle, “Siegfried” and “Gotterdammerung,” next season.
Heppner is a Heldentenor (heroic tenor) – as termed by the German Theatre Fach System – and has the ability to sing the very taxing roles that Wagner composed for the tenor voice. The German Fach System further categorizes the main voice classifications of soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, and bass by vocal and dramatic demands required by certain opera roles. In determining a singer’s fach one must consider the orchestral writing of the opera, how sustained or florid the singer’s part is, and the morphology/physical appearance of the singer.
The Met likely had few options when it came to Heppner’s replacement for its Ring Cycle. The singer who is able to sing arduous roles like Wagner’s Tannhauser, Tristan, or Siegfried has a powerful voice and great stamina. The most famous Heldentenor of the 20th century was Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973), but he also balanced his singing of Wagner roles with roles such as Verdi’s Otello, Beethoven’s Florestan, and Leoncavallo’s Canio.