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Heppner was born in Murrayville, British Columbia, and lived in Dawson Creek. He began his musical studies at the University of British Columbia and first attracted national attention when he won the CBC Talent Festival in 1979.
Since then, he has gone on to become one of the most prominent contemporary dramatic tenors. He is associated particularly with the Wagnerian repertoire, but he performs a wide range of operas from the German, French and Italian canons.
Heppner performed frequently with major opera companies in the United States (including the New York Metropolitan Opera) and Europe, as well as concert appearances with major symphony orchestras. He has appeared in the DVD recordings of the Met's productions of Beethoven's Fidelio, Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, two of his signature roles. (He first performed Tristan with the Seattle Opera in 1998.) He specialises in some of the most challenging of operatic roles, including, in addition to Tristan, the title part in Lohengrin, the title part in Otello, and Berlioz's Aeneas.
Heppner has recorded widely on many labels, participating in both complete operas and solo albums of arias and songs. He is currently signed to an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon (DG). His first solo recording for DG, made in 2001, was Airs Français. It won a Juno Award.
Heppner has received Honorary Doctorates from Queen's University (2006), McMaster Divinity College (2005), York University (2003), Memorial University of Newfoundland (2003), University of Toronto (2002), McGill University (2002), and University of British Columbia (1997).
In 1988, he won the Birgit Nilsson Prize. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999, was promoted to Officer in 2002 and Companion in 2008. He performed at closing ceremonies of two Winter Olympic Games. In Torino in 2006, he sang the Canadian national anthem. Four years later, in Vancouver, he sang the Olympic Hymn. Both times, he mixed English and French. Heppner has worked as a broadcaster on Canadian radio, hosting Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and Backstage with Ben Heppner on CBC Radio.
Heppner announced his retirement from singing in April 2014. Heppner felt unable to be a "part-time singer," feeling that "No matter how often you sing, if you're going to sing at a good level, a quality level, you've got to keep it up all the time. And I was finding that to be a little bit difficult. So that, plus the fact that I've been experiencing a little bit of unreliability in my voice — and that causes some anxieties — I decided it was time."
Heppner plans to continue broadcasting as well as hosting master classes and coaching singers for roles, and appearing on voice competition juries.
1992: Weber: Oberon (Hüon von Bordeaux). Cologne Philharmonic Orchestra - Gürzenich Orchestra, James Conlon. EMI.
1998: Dedication. Craig Rutenberg. RCA.
2003: Ideale: Songs of Paolo Tosti. Members of the London Symphony Orchestra. Deutsche Grammophon.
1995: Various: Along the Road to Bethlehem. Members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Jean Ashworth Bartle.
1997: Mahler: Symphony No. 8. Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis. RCA.
2001: Somers: Songs from the Heart of Somers. John Hess. Centrediscs.