Ben Heppner is having a busy summer. Not too busy, mind you, as he has become adept over his career at pacing himself.
But his performances at the Stratford Summer Music festival starting Tuesday, which include a salute to Edward Johnson, past Canadian operatic tenor and former director of New York's Metropolitan Opera, may seem like a welcome stop closer to home in a hectic, multination schedule.
So where does Heppner see himself at this point in his career? For one thing, he'd like to cut back on traipsing around the world from one production to another. Instead, smaller concerts outside the traditional centres of the opera world beckon.
Thinking of Edward Johnson and his second career heading the Met, are you planning to get into administration at a future date or at least move in that direction?
When I was describing some of the things that I read about Edward Johnson to my wife Karen, she said, "Well, there you are. You can administer an opera company when you retire." And I said, "Noooo!" Nobody wants that, not me nor an opera company. That is not my skill!
Why, because you'd want to turn them into you, putting similar demands on them?
Yeah. I think there are other things I could do, but administration doesn't lie among them. That's not my thing.
Given that you have to have your life planned years in advance in opera, what's on the immediate agenda then?
When I come to Stratford, I will have just come back from Spain, doing Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky. Another one of those really inward, down kind of characters, obsessed with gambling.
Then following Stratford, I will be heading off to Baden-Baden and London, doing the second act of Tristan [Wagner's Tristan und Isolde]with an original [period]instrument tour. I'm not sure what the orchestra is, but it's with slightly lower pitches. And with [conductor]Simon Rattle. Then I have the rest of August off, and then back to Baden-Baden interestingly for a concert of Otello. And that Otello will go to Luxembourg and Paris. And then I go to Los Angeles and sing [Wagner's] Lohengrin in the later fall.
Are you going full guns or being more selective now?
The pacing is full bore. I probably could fit more in, but I've chosen for the last 14 years to limit how much time I am away from home. At first, I would talk about it being for my family. But I think the truth is it's for me, because I suffer when I'm away from home. I need the grounding of being at home in order to sustain myself while I'm away. This time, I've been at home for three weeks, but my son got married, so I was working very intensely on that. I live in metro Toronto. Now that the wedding is over, I'm trying to savour every moment at home.
Is there a five- or ten-year plan?
That's coming into the horizon [of my career]a little bit. What I would love to do is to drop the long-term times away from home and maybe limit my travel to two weekends a month. Maybe 10 days a month, rather than long travelling. To keep it more confined, that would be one of my goals. And maybe more concerts [as opposed to full operas]
To many, a life in opera would seem so exciting and hard to leave.
Well, you lose that one pretty quickly. The singers don't see the front part of the opera house very often. We don't see the glamour side of it. We have the hard-work side of it in the back, dingy room that you do not see, with dark lighting and dusty sets, and slivers on the floor and stuff like that. It's not nearly as glamorous as you think. And believe me, once you've not slept in your bed for months on end, or seemingly, what you want to really do is be home. At least that's the case with me.
Is that common among many performers?
Some people are more geared toward that. I thought that I was fine. But I realized in my experience that I miss that part of my life. So I'm trying to figure ways of regaining it a little bit.
Is there anything you would still love to do?
I don't think in terms of pieces [of music] I would actually like to do more French. There's some big French [operas]that don't get done very often. Things like Le Cid and L'Africaine. There's an opera called La Juive, and I'd play Eléazar, the father. It seems like that's a perfect role for me now that my kids are in their mid- to late-twenties.
Also to explore more. I love concerts. I have an initiative I do as often as I can: I do maybe 15 days a year touring smaller places. I've done a British Columbia tour, an Ontario tour. These are places that are not Toronto or Ottawa generally. Like I did Yorkton and Prince Albert, Sask., Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray, Yellowknife - one of my favourite places - and also Whitehorse - another favourite place.
Closer to your roots? [Heppner grew up partly in Dawson Creek, B.C.]/b>
In a certain sense. I didn't grow up that far north, but it's closer to my roots than Ottawa or Toronto is.
Ben Heppner will perform from July 20 to July 25 including in a concert and private reception Tuesday at 7 p.m.
This interview has been condensed and edited.